So I’d heard good things about Super 8 (and, no, I can’t remember where), which is why I invested the time and attention to watch all of it on television – something I rarely do for films or even television programmes since the internet became my primary medium for TV viewing.
It wasn’t worth it.
The film starts promisingly enough: a bunch of film-obsessed teenagers are making their own amateur film out in the sticks when they witness an enormous train crash. The military is crawling all over the crash site, and one of their cameras catches something huge and monstrous prowling around the wreckage. Meanwhile, in the small town where Our Heroes live, cars stall, the electricity goes out, dogs go missing.
So the first half of the film builds tension nicely: in a particularly inspired touch, the camera never allows us to see the alien menace stalking the town properly – all we have to go on is the occasional glimpse, and its strange effects on electrical items. The film’s palette is dark, midnight blues leavened by rare bursts of CGI colour. This is a film about seeing, and, more importantly, unseeing: the flickers at the corner of the camera’s eye.
But then it all falls apart; resolves into a thoroughly conventional narrative, if quite competently handled. The alien is of course the subject of secret government experiments – and though this classic conspiracy theory is an apt choice given the film’s mood of half-glimpsed secrets, the government is too straightforwardly evil, the alien too straightforwardly sympathetic, to make it properly compelling here. The emotional arc which accompanies the SFnal plot, in which the fathers of two of the teenagers resolve their differences in favour of rescuing their children (who have of course entangled themselves right in the heart of things), is nicely done, stressing the importance of communication and empathy, but as an arc it feels derivative. And the film’s central romance is simply irritating: two of the boys fall out over the single girl in their group of budding film-makers – and, indeed, the single named female character in the entire film; she’s then captured by the alien so that Our Plucky Protagonist has to go and rescue her and thereby win her heart.
Super 8 is supposed to be heavily inspired by Alien Films that Have Come Before, and I suspect that if I were more of a film buff I might have appreciated it more. But, at the end of the day, this is a film meant as blockbuster entertainment. If it’s only worth watching for the references, I’d argue that makes it a failure.