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#733 - Super 8
J.J. Abrams, 2011

In 1979, a group of schoolkids are working on an amateur film at the same time that their small town is thrown into chaos by a supernatural danger.

As of writing, Super 8 marks J.J. Abrams' sole cinematic work that is not based on an existing intellectual property - however, it does come with the caveat that it shamelessly wears its influences on its sleeves. The most obvious associations that the film conjures up are with the various works of peak Steven Spielberg (who also co-produced this film), especially in how it involves a Goonies-like collection of youthful misfits, though Abrams at least tries to offer a distinctive variation on E.T.'s plot about small-town kids dealing with the sudden arrival of a lone alien creature. The eponymous film format comes into play because the aforementioned misfits are busy working on their own homemade zombie movie at the same time that a passing train is derailed. From there, things get scary as an unknown entity gets loose and starts threatening the townsfolk and the unsurprisingly villainous military move in with the intention of handling the situation. Naturally, it soon ends up falling to the small handful of kids to resolve the situation when the grown-ups prove ineffective in one regard or another.

Super 8 isn't terrible so much as it is extremely passable. It offers virtually nothing of interest in its own right, instead trading off a certain degree of nostalgia thanks to its period setting and Spielberg affectations. Even the protracted teasing out of the film's extraterrestrial threat serves to remind one of the Abrams-produced Cloverfield but with a decidedly weaker handling of tension and scares. For a film that is primarily dependent on following a group of kids, things could have been worse - at least there's two or three kids who are interesting (especially the chubby director kid whose insistence on finishing his zombie movie at all costs does prove to be more engaging than the protagonist's grieving over his recently-deceased mother and awkward crushing on the zombie movie's lead actress). Otherwise, characters either get confined to stock characters or have no memorable definition whatsoever. This even extends to the technically decent effects that are nevertheless deployed in a substandard manner, creating a slick rendition of one very boring and forgettable alien creature. Super 8 had a somewhat promising concept in having its young heroes try to film a movie while a real monster ran amok all over town, but the overall execution is horribly bland for the most part. When the most entertaining part of your effects-heavy Hollywood blockbuster ends up being the deliberately poor footage taken from the main characters' amateur movie, then there's a problem.