Over the years the Amblin logo has announced the beginning of many a film. The iconic image of E.T’s silhouette crossing the moon on Elliot’s bicycle is a signal of the type of film to come; films like E.T itself, as well as The Goonies, Gremlins, Harry and the Hendersons, The Little Rascals and Casper.
While the logo has graced many other types of film, it is most strongly associated with tales of children getting caught-up in risky adventures and the fun they have along the way. It is precisely this association which J.J. Abrams is reaching for in Super 8.
Super 8 opens on Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a young boy living in small town Ohio in 1979. Lamb is dealing with the recent death of his mother and trying to foster some semblance of a relationship with his distant father (Kyle Chandler). What Joe really needs is a good adventure.
To kick it all off, he joins up with his buddies to make a zombie film on Super 8, a medium much used by budding directors of the time (including Executive Producer and Amblin co-founder Steven Spielberg). To add to the sense of adventure a love plot is introduced in the form of Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning… Yes, Dakota’s sister). Dainard is cast in the Super 8 zombie film giving Lamb plenty of opportunity to bond with her as he applies her make-up.
And so the gang head off in the middle of the night on their adventure to make a zombie film. Dainard (and incidentally, Fanning) turns out to be a truly remarkable actress, causing all the boys to fall in love with her.
Then a train crashes through everything.
The train crash is a terrific and visceral piece of cinema which wonderfully brings out true mystery and paranormal activity to the gang’s adventure. A new threat is unleashed upon the town and the Amblin kids are sure to get involved.
Abrams is trying to make a more grown-up version of the adventure films he watched as a youth in the ’80s. This can be seen in the adult themes explored. Particularly the attention focused on Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of the struggling single father. The level of violence and danger is also more grown up than the ’80s adventure films but it is also the source of the film’s downfall. The threat in the film is far too sinister. While E.T (controversially) has walkie-talkies instead of guns, Super 8 has tanks and bloody, horrific deaths.
Rather than the paranormal becoming the source of adventure for the gang of kids, it seems to have gotten in the way of their chance for adventure instead. While the kids should be away sleuthing their way through a fun filled summer of saving the day, they are instead in grave danger at every turn as an evil military battles an evil, paranormal threat.
The sense of danger overrides the sense of fun. Only the kid’s zombie film seems to have gotten the fun, but we don’t get to watch that until the credits.