I try to review one new movie a year on this blog. Usually its the summer's big non-sequel blockbuster, and yes there is usually only one. Last year, that was Inception. This year it's Super 8.
The verdict: Super 8 more than lives up to the hype. The writer/director J. J. Abrams has a great eye for how to capture moments in a story with memorable images. He's also written the most emotionally powerful script in years. But the movie isn't perfect. With a budget of $50 million the computer effects often look second-rate and the first two acts are superior to the third, though I think the let down was inevitable.
So what makes Super 8 great? In a word: theme. Super 8 is one of the few movies that gets a coherent theme across, finding a way to convey a meaningful (if trite, as all themes are) message into the movie in a natural way. The message is that, to be crass, "shit happens" and we see evidence of it from the first shot, which shows a worker changing a sign for the local employee-owned steel mill--where safety is the number one priority, as evinced by the sign--that used to say 700-some odd days since an accident but now reads one. The "shit happens" message is central to the main character's story but also to the alien's and unfortunately that needs the conclusion, which in retrospect seems obvious and inevitable, to feel like a bit of a let down. You'll know what I mean.
Other aspects range from ok to stellar. The cinematography is outstanding. The acting is first rate, esp. on the part of the children and the main character's father. The music is above-average but not James Horner's best work. The dialogue is mediocre (I can remember a lone quote) but passable. The story requires a little more suspension of disbelief than I'd like to see, which throws off the feel for a bit, and some technical plot points relating to alien seem unresolved, but that doesn't detract much from the experience. I didn't even think much about the editing and pacing while watching, which is a good thing, although the pace does grind to a halt, just for a moment or two, toward the end.
I highly recommend Super 8. It's a movie that stands out in a year of disappoints.