When the trailer for JJ Abrams’ Super 8 first hit the public eye, everything about it seemed so mysterious. It appeared as a sort of supernatural film, but it was hard to be sure if it was about a monster or alien being. It looked like a government conspiracy film with the shots of the securely guarded cargo train winding through small town America.
The reveal of the alien around two thirds of the way through the film felt like an anti-climax. Too much of the film’s early excitement dissipated with yet another story of how a CGI’d alien arrived in town. What followed after the reveal was an onslaught of action and thrills – startling showdowns and struggles to shake such a spectacular force. While totally exciting, it was ultimately too easy of an ending for what started as such a nuanced and beautiful film.
Yet, after a number of years, Super 8 still holds a special place in my memory. And, in a certain curious way, its lack of a satisfying ending helps unearth its realistic subtext. With so much of the film concerned with a group of rag-tag children who harness the wonder of cinema through their unyielding curiosity, the importance of the alien itself seems secondary. Instead I was drawn to the youthful interactions between the characters and how they manage to stay together in the midst of a number of coming-of-age mini-dramas. These dramas maintain the heartbeat of the film: the complicated relationship between a widowed father and his son, the thrill of teenage romance, coping with the loss of a mother, and the dream of creating longstanding summer memories with friends.
When the alien arrives in full, the characters drop everything they’ve been experiencing in order to band together to uncover its presence. The seemingly ordinary events are the ones that prepare them for their fight for survival. It isn’t so much about the alien as it’s about growing up to the point where they can look at fear in the eye. And, in the process, they realize how much they cherish one another. Sometimes, it takes an alien to appreciate that.