Super 8 : Something for the whole family, if your family is as weird as ours.

It occurs to me that I haven’t really done any pop culture story dissections (otherwise known as “review posts”) in a while.  Summer is near it’s end, and I’ve been sadly remiss in my duties as I’ve yet to do a “summer blockbuster movie review” or a “summer reads review.”

So what say I tackle the movie review tonight, and do the book review for ya tomorrow? You all good with that? Mm hmm. Thought so.

First up, my lone summer movie review: Super 8.

First of all, let me say that this movie probably isn’t for everyone.  That said, I am firmly planted in the target audience for this movie. That is to say, I’m young enough to have been a kid who enjoyed the classic Amblin Spielberg movies this one is trying so hard to recapture, and I’m old enough to have PG-13-eligible kids who’ve never seen a movie like Goonies or E.T.

Chris was a bit skeptical, but since he became completely addicted to Friday Night Lights this summer via Netflix, ultimately the Kyle Chandler factor won him over.  We took a risk and went as a family, ended up enjoying it tremendously as a family, despite surprisingly strong language and some predictably scary/suspenseful scenes. My seven-year-old’s reaction at the end was to jump out of her seat and yell “That was awesome! We HAVE to get this on DVD!” (Bear in mind, I have an unusually adventurous 7 year old. There were a few intense parts where she buried her head in my shoulder. YMMV.)

It seems odd to describe a movie set within my lifetime as a “period film,” but it really was. If you’re the kind of person for whom the movie will be ruined by things like Rubik’s cubes being mentioned a year before they hit the U.S., well, I feel bad for you. Go watch a historical documentary on cable or something. The details are only there to evoke the feel of a period of time, and Super 8 does that remarkably well. I thought Chris was going to jump out of his seat with excitement when a certain Electronic Football game he’d owned as a kid showed up. It’s those kinds of details that wake up your inner child of the 80s.

If you’re trying to remember what year the Walkman came out, instead of remembering how you felt when you first saw one, you’ll need to readjust your perspective a little to enjoy this movie.

No, the plot wasn’t particularly complex (it really is a standard 80s Amblin plot), but the dialogue was wonderfully written, and delivered with pitch-perfect emotional accuracy by the cast of mostly unknown kids. For a summer blockbuster with a lot of really excellent explosions, it was a very talky film. But that said, the effects were as well-done as you’d expect from J.J. Abrams and crew. The train derailment scene alone made it well worth seeing it in the theater with full surround sound.

For us, there was really something for everyone in this movie. Chris and I enjoyed it as both a nostalgic trip back to our childhood and a well-written and well-acted film.  The Boy (age 14) enjoyed the explosions, the main cast close to his age, and the kids-making-a-zombie-movie subplot.  The Girl loved the “adventurous and plucky kids save the day” of it all, and the amateur zombie movie during the credits.

From a “some parents have actual standards” perspective, the language was surprisingly strong for a pg-13 movie cast with mostly kids. (But if your kid rides a public school bus, it’s nothing he or she hasn’t heard.) Also, one young adult character smokes pot, although he does at least refuse to drive in that state. Then again, he makes the questionable call of letting a pre-teen drive instead, but I guess when you’re being chased by the military industrial complex and a terrifying alien creature, some questionable decisions are probably going to be made.

This is a bittersweet summer for us. The Boy is starting high school. The Girl is going into 2nd grade, which is an odd kind of unexpected milestone because preschoolers feel like kindergarten is a whole new world, and kindergarteners feel like becoming a “grader” will be a whole new experience.  Second grade is the first year of school that feels like “no big deal, I’ve got this” to your kid. For Chris and I, the summer was bookended by my 20 year high school reunion in June and our 20th wedding anniversary this month.

It’s a weird “everything is changing” time, kind of like what the kids experience in the movie.  So I think Super 8 may have been the perfect summer movie for us this year, in the way that it caused us to look back, and look around at the moment, and recognize that ultimately what matters isn’t the adventure you’re on at the moment, but the group of people you’re experiencing it with.

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