Structure: 1.5/5 | Entertainment: 4/5
Super 8? Super disappointing. To be fair, it is funny and scary and nostalgic, but the story itself…it simply doesn’t work.
Honestly, a trailer that good deserves a film that delivers the kind of emotional resonance of the Spielbergian films it evokes. There is an attempt to weave an injured family’s struggle to overcome loss with sci-fi elements, but so much time is spent reliving the late 70s and the joys of adolescent filmmaking that the emotional throughlines—the ones that really bring those tears to fruition—are left weakened and underdeveloped.
Main Character Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), while the kind of earnest and goodhearted character we can instantly fall in love with, is a virtual no-show in the area of point-of-view. In fact, we have no clue as to his unique perspective on things until he tells the space crab at the end Accidents happen, but you can still live. OK, that’s sweet and all, and the music behind that revelation drives home the point, but why wait so long to expose it to the Audience? This is the kind of thing that should be present from the very beginning of the story and develop its way to that meaningful moment. Otherwise you have what happened here, a moment that felt like it came out of nowhere.
Speaking of beginning, the story really doesn’t begin until the train crash and it takes forever to get there. Exposition, exposition, yawn. Because the crash wasn’t the First Act Turn (the one that turns the story from the First Act into the Second) as it should have been, the story has to really shift into overdrive for what little time it has left. Again, the emotional throughlines suffer the fallout from this choice.
Granted there is one, count it—one—scene between Joe and his Influence Character father Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) where they get a chance to argue their differences, but that’s it. As such, the hug at the end, while nice, feels like an obvious and forced beat. Why did Jackson suddenly feel the need to hug him? Was it because he recognized he was in the wrong? Or was it simply to give the Audience something to cry about? Without that interplay of ideas and point-of-view conflict between the two emotional characters throughout the story, that bonding moment came off light and meaningless.
And lastly, speaking of crying—the final shot with Joe holding on to the necklace was really really nice. Beautiful idea and a great image. But the wrong person was holding it. How much more powerful would it have been if it was Jackson who had held on to the necklace all these months, and it was Joe who had to help his dad “let go” and release it to the water tower? By placing his hand around his fathers and gently helping him to release his mother’s memory to the heavens, the story would have resonated with the kind of meaning it had aspired to. It would have worked better with everything that came before it. Of course, for it to truly mean something Jackson would have had to make the conscious choice to loosen those last fingers himself.
But it didn’t.
The gravest mistake for the story’s structure, however, was in regards to Main Character’s final resolve. It smacks of an attempt to blatantly copy the Main Character’s Change of Resolve at the end of E.T., rather than an honest change of character that grew organically from the story itself.
Super 8 was telling the story of a Steadfast Main Character (Joe) who, by virtue of their unwavering approach, manages to Change the approach of his Influence Character (Jackson). Countless great stories have been told with this dynamic, primarily by Authors who understand What Character Arc Really Means. Tacking on the idea that Joe had to let go too (signifying a Change of resolve) breaks the story and simply doesn’t make sense. When both of the central characters change on the story’s main inequity, the story loses all meaning.
And lens flares need to go. They were cool in Star Trek, but are super annoying in Ohio.