It's been almost 30 years since Steven Spielberg brought tears to the eyes of moviegoers with E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Now, J.J. Abrams tells a very similar story for a new generation in Super 8, which opens today. This movie is being shown in 2D only, and like X-Men: First Class, I didn't miss 3D at all.
In a small Ohio town during the summer of 1979, a group of middle-school chums is shooting a zombie movie on super 8 film when they witness a horrific train crash, inadvertently capturing the catastrophe with their camera. Soon afterward, strange things start to happen in the town, and the footage turns out to be a crucial clue as the kids stop at nothing to uncover the truth about the U.S. Air Force's treatment of an extraterrestrial trying to get home.
The movie opens as the townsfolk mourn the death of the mother of Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a plot device that adds some emotional depth to the characters as they deal with the tragic loss along with the invasion of their town by an alien and the military. Putting aside the central alien premise, however, the story strains credulity now and then, especially when the kids avoid and then escape capture and solve the puzzle before any of the adults. On the other hand, the construction of the alien's spacecraft is an advanced concept posited as plausible by physicist Michio Kaku on his TV show Sci-Fi Science.
Earlier in the day, I heard a radio interview with Abrams, who said his main goal was to make a movie with heart, much like Spielberg did with E.T. In fact, Spielberg is one of the producers of Super 8, so it's no wonder the new movie feels a lot like its progenitor with some Close Encounters thrown in. It's definitely an Amblin movie, complete with kids on bikesthough they don't fly in this case. Unlike E.T., however, we don't see the alien until the very end, and it's a lot bigger and scarier.
The sound levels were quite reasonable, and I actually removed my ear plugs because I couldn't understand much of the dialog while they were in place. The overall average level was 77.7dBA, and the highest 1-minute maximum was 92.0dBA, which occurred during the train crash about 18 minutes in. The level exceeded 82.5dBA 10 percent of the time, 76.0dBA 33 percent of the time, 71.5dBA 50 percent of the time, and 57.5dBA 90 percent of the time.
Overall, I thought the movie was very good, with excellent performances by Courtney (who looks a lot like Elliott in E.T.), Elle Fanning (Dakota's sister), Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, and Gabriel Basso as the budding filmmakers, Kyle Chandler as Joel's grieving father, and Noah Emmerich as Nelec, the hard-nosed Air Force officer in charge of the operation. Super 8 might not be quite the tear-jerker that E.T. was, but it's definitely worth seeing.