I never liked ET.
To be fair, it terrified me as a child, and I didn’t give it another chance until we watched it auf Deutsch in German II at Hudsonville High School. But even with a language barrier, those visuals that I hated and the themes I found contrived were there. Theoretically, I understand why this is a childhood favorite of many. Practically, I can’t compare it to my own.
So when I heard Super 8 was a sort of love letter to Spielbergian sentimentality, my expectations shifted. I love J.J. Abrams. He’s a brilliant storyteller with radical ideas about what modern entertainment should look like. Lost is one of my favorite shows, Star Trek is one of my favorite reboots, and the issue of Wired he guest-edited is the one I’ve permanently stolen from Scott. (Sorry, Scott.) Plus, Jurassic Park is the movie I enjoy more than any other, and Spielberg had a hand in plenty of fine films. Both Abrams and Spielberg are visionaries, people I admire for their accomplishments.
But once heard Super 8 compared to ET, however loose the comparison, I had trouble getting excited for it. I knew this was unfair and thus actively avoided reviews. I didn’t want to come in with a bias, positive or negative. And, as it turned out, that was the best approach I could take. Any expectations I had, Super 8 blew them away.
I always worry that other viewers might make comments during a movie, and my fears are often confirmed. This wasn’t the case with Super 8. The audience remained engaged through the film, and with good reason. It moves seamlessly from humor and drama to suspense and horror, then does it all over again. No transitions feel forced, any sentimentality feels completely sincere, and the terror feels real.
Super 8 doesn’t rely heavily on any one element. The story, the setting, the effects, and the actors—each is as important and impressive as the next. Because Abrams is an expert in the field of showing, not telling, the threat of the monster is always looming. Occasionally, a scene takes you out of the action completely and gives the viewer insight into complicated, realistic relationships between friends or significant others or fathers and their children. Other moments are light, charming, and funny, giving you a minute to catch your breath. When the threat shows up again, it’s scary, but never in a way you’d call cheap or forced.
Plus, it’s rare to see child actors this talented, and to have gathered so many in one place is nothing short of remarkable. As you might have guessed, the adults are every bit as remarkable as the kids, and I can’t recall the last time I saw a film in which every performer was as talented as the next—at least, not to this extent.
If you haven’t already, see this film. Don’t go in with any preconceived notions of what it’s going to look like or how it’ll play out in the end. You’ll be happier for it. And that was my reaction to this movie: pure, unadulterated happiness. It’s rare for me to be this wholly satisfied with a movie. If you go in the way I did, slightly hesitant, but still open-minded, I think you might feel the same.