Starting in the early 80s there was a group of movies that came out where a group of ordinary kids did something or came into contact with something fantastical. These movies had their roots in the films that the directors loved as kids themselves, such as old creature feature films, monster films and science fiction films.
The results varied. There were more subdued takes, such as Explorers. There were lesser visions such as Batteries Not Included. The form would even grow up into more adult oriented horror fare, including Silver Bullet and The Lost Boys.
Then there were the best of these movies; epic and timeless adventures that explored fully the realms of childhood imagination, movies that hold up to this day: Goonies, The Monster Squad and E.T.
Chances are that if you are of a certain age, you remember these movies well and the adventures that you took with those young protagonists. Super-8 is a film in the tradition of the best of these movies.
The emotional core of the movie is largely effective when it stays with the kids. When Super 8 strays briefly into the POV of the two fathers near the end, it rings hollow and unearned because it is rushed and assumed. Thankfully, Super 8 sticks to the kids throughout much of the movie.
Super-8 deals in awe and sensawunda and plays its emotions straight, wearing its heart on its sleeve. We feel their awe and confusion; their surprise and their fear.
The kids are developed well through action and especially dialog. When the group of them is together it's like my house on a Saturday morning after a sleepover. There are 10 different conversations happening between half the amount of kids. They interrupt each other, veer off in different directions, and pick up on old threads. They are rude and crude and call each other names. In other words, they act exactly the way that we expect them to when they aren't around adults.
As the movie progresses we see the main character, Joe, grow into and become more comfortable in the role of leader though he didn't start the movie out as one. It's exactly because of the way his home life plays out on a daily basis that provides him the platform to grow into the leader.
Consequently the initial leader of the group of the kids eventually eases into the back seat of the narrative and his home life informs his change in roles. The relationships of the characters influences who they are and who they are stays natural to the story.
The kids witness the train wreck that leads to the main narrative engine of the movie pretty early on. The pace and suspense never wavers and continues to ramp up as the movie progresses. The suspense is handled masterfully with insertions of humor that relieve the pressure for a moment before making us jump.
The visuals are rich with carefully framed shots that operate on different levels. One shot of the kids running through the evacuated neighborhood while Army tanks and soldiers are firing away makes this kids look like they are on a scale model set and are toys themselves.
Other than a couple of nits to pick (one mentioned above), Super 8 is an epic and grand adventure movie that is a throwback to a pre-CGI style of filmmaking.
Highly recommended. It's the first Holy-Hell, Must See movie of the summer.
Here is the the Super 8 movie site. For another Super 8 review, check out RevSF's Geek Curmudgeon Rick Klaw at Moving Pictures.