I missed my chance to see Thor. But other than that, today offered a "perfect storm" of summer blockbusters. I could have chosen a Jim Carrey vehicle, the adaptation of the beloved children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins; another comic book flick, The Green Lantern with male eye-candy Ryan Reynolds in the hero role; sequels to The Hangover and Kung Fu Panda, both hilarious movies that I enjoyed; and yet another X-Men prequel with a cast crammed full of hot young things. There was even a Pirates of the Caribbean picture playing at one of the theaters I frequent. Overwhelmed by all these guaranteed hits, I opted for a J. J. Abrams film with low-key publicity, good buzz, and a very vague online synopsis: Super 8. And for the first time in I don't remember how long, I was so pleased with my choice that I was sorely tempted to stay for a second screening.
Let me lay it out flat: Super 8 is this generation's E.T. Spielberg can't be feeling too bad about that. He exec-produced it. It has a cast of everybody's-next-door-neighbor kids who can really act, topped by a super-cute couple including Dakota Fanning's younger sister Elle, and supported by the considerable (but underrated) talents of Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, and Noah Emmerich. It has the period look of 1979, which would put the main characters about 5 grades ahead of me in the everybody's-hometown setting of Lillian, Ohio; and it has a story that is mysterious, scary, violent, gently sad, and sweetly hopeful, one after another and all mixed up together.
It's like Predator, The Iron Giant, and E.T. stuck in a blender and pureed together. Nicely structured, funny, touching, action-packed, full of vibrant characters and weird surprises, it adheres to the scary monster-movie convention of keeping you wondering what the beastie looks like until the last drop of horror has been wrung out of it, then switches to the expected [DELETED FOR SPOILER REASONS] scenario, but only at the very, very end. The alien is much less cuddly and cute than E.T., another point in favor of this movie. The music is good, the special effects are great, the cast does a terrific job, the pacing is perfect. Frankly, I don't know how to recommend Super 8 strongly enough.
I went into the theater not knowing whether I was going to like or hate this film, but did not expect to end up loving it. I was impressed before a single word of dialogue was spoken. The first two images were of a man on a stepladder changing the numbers on a steel mill's "Days Since Last Accident" sign from "754" to "1," followed by a boy in church clothes sitting on a backyard swing with his mother's locket drooping from his hand. Before anyone says a word about what has happened, you already know the general shape of it, and the early dialogue can thus devote its energies to revealing the quirkiness of the youthful characters, including the fat nerd who shoots zombie movies on a Super 8 camera, the shrimpy metal-mouthed pyromaniac who never goes anywhere without a Zippo and a sackful of hand-rolled fireccrackers, the aspiring actor who can't remember his lines but can projectile-vomit on cue, and the little boy from Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium as, ironically, the most neurotic but least interesting member of the hero boy's club.
The film then traces the arc of the boy's relationship with his sheriff's-deputy father, the daughter of the local ne'er-do-well, and the locket itself, in a way made no less touching by the fact that a colossal train wreck interrupts the innocence about 10 minutes in, followed quickly by the arrival of some dangerous customers in U.S. Air Force uniform and of a creature that seems to be as ravenous for human flesh as for the machines that keep disappearing all over town. Eventually it transpires that [DELETED FOR SPOILER REASONS], but then [BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH], and all's well that ends well, right? I mean, seriously, go see the movie yourself! UPDATE: Be sure to watch the closing credits. There's a nice bonus to make it worth your while!