Brilliance in Storytelling – A writer’s Review of “Super 8”

I mentioned before that I watch movies very differently now.  If I realize half way through that I am really enjoying it (or not enjoying it), I start to analyze why and I try to wiggle the plot into “rules” of storytelling.  Wow, did Super 8 hit the mark!

Now, mild disclaimer… I am easily entertained.  I love explosions and chase scenes.  Put them in your movie and it’s pretty hard to put me off.  I’ll even ignore bad acting.  But recently I HAVE BEEN bored while watching big blockbuster movies.

Let’s talk for just a minute about the second and third Transformers movies, just to make my point.  Giant battling robots… what’s not fun about that?  Well, what was “not fun” was the poor storytelling, poor characterization, and really poor attention to plot.  These movies were about the explosions.  Period.  I really didn’t care if any of the characters got killed, because I was not emotionally engaged with them.  Also, the plots were not solid and easy to follow.  There was no “meat” behind them to back up the explosions and action.  Even with everything that was going on, I was bored and watching the clock… hoping it would be over soon.

Now, are there explosions and chase scenes in Super 8?  Yes of course, and the special effects are great… but it was more than that.

The writers sat down and thought this movie over.  They followed all the rules.  Sometimes maybe unbelievably so, but for some reason it still worked for me.

General Plot:  (No spoilers)  This kid (not the MC) really wants to make a movie to enter a contest.  He gets his friends to help him.  While they are filming the movie, a train de-rails right in front of them.   Something HUGE breaks out of one of the de-railed cars.  The army comes and takes over their town while they try to clean up.  Something nasty starts attacking people.  The original kid pulls everyone together, and uses the chaos happening around as a backdrop to his film.

Okay, I can’t tell you much more without spoiling it.

(Forgive me, I’m not good with names)

MC lost his mother recently.  His father, the deputy, is not really coping well with being a single father

MC meets a girl while making the movie. They like each other.

The girl’s father (a drunk) and the boy’s father (deputy) don’t like each other

The girl and her father don’t get along at all.

Secondary Characters:

One of the friends likes to blow up things

One throws up a lot

One is a wimp and always gives in

The kid making the movie never gives up

The teacher who causes the train accident (the mentor, who inadvertently lets us all know what is really going on)

The General (might have title wrong) who is heading the crash investigation (bad guy)

The “Big Nasty” Attacking people

Now this is what I was mulling over after this movie…  EVERYTHING gets tied up.  Again, some I might not completely believe as a long-reaching emotional fix…  But for the sake of this story, it worked… and I was left thinking “Wow”.

Also, almost every character has a concrete reason for being there, and being “the way they are”.  The only thing that was unnecessary was the kid throwing up all the time.  That served no purpose and could have been removed… but the others all dragged the story forward.

There were separate “real life” plots going on while this big event was ripping up their tiny little town.  Every “Real Life” plot was sewn up, as well as the main “creature” plot.  (Even the kid making the movie gets sewn up, if you stay for the closing credits)

Most of the main characters experience that “change” that is necessary in storytelling.  This is one thing that struck me very hard.

The MC’s Father has a change (two, actually)

The Girl’s father has a change

The Girl has a change

The MC has a change

Someone else on the list has a change because of MC intervention.  (Don’t want to give a spoiler)

Every stinking thing that was presented was resolved, and in a very satisfactory way.  Everything that happens (except for the puking) has a reason for happening.  Even the wimpy kid that “gives in” had a role in getting one of the main characters to where he needed to go… just by being how he is.

From a writer’s perspective, this movie is brilliant.  Even if there were not any explosions or chase scenes, I think I would feel the same way.  For the first time in a long time, I was left thinking, “Wow, I wish I wrote that.”

Now, to give it one negative, if the kids were not cursing all the time this would have been a great movie for my kids… great action, and a theme of overcoming your fear to do the right thing. (Among a family friendly theme that would be a spoiler if I told you)    Unfortunately, my kids will have to wait until they are teenagers because of these kids’ mouths (Except for the MC, who didn’t curse at all.  Kudos.)

If you’ve seen this movie, think it over.  Every little thing was well planned.  Everything used, everything sewn up.

If you have not seen this movie, jump up and rent it.  It is not “all action” and it is not “really scary” and there is no gore.  I think it is enjoyable across genres, because this is really NOT A MONSTER MOVIE.  It is about interpersonal dynamics in a time of intense struggle.

I think everyone should give this one a watch, and pay very close attention to the storytelling.  Personally, I was floored.

Jennifer Eaton

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16 responses to “Brilliance in Storytelling – A writer’s Review of “Super 8”

  1. Looks like it’s getting rave reviews by you and the other commenters. It just might make its way into someone’s stocking this Christmas. 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you, I love movies with explosions but Transformers 2 and 3 *yawn*, it was ‘just’ explosions, specially 3. Whereas Super 8, loved it, I want to write as tenth good as that when I ‘grow-up’ as a writer. I have to disagree though about the puking being unnecessary, I normally don’t like gratuitous vomiting in movies but I think it was necessary in this one because the kid puked every time something scary happened and it was almost done to a comic relief effect to counter point the scary-ness. Also it was generally in the background only, there was (if I can remember correctly) always another character in the foreground doing something else at the time. That’s one of the things I love so much about this movie, the level of background detail was fantastic, there was always something going on, I particularly liked the scenes in the film makers house with his large family.

  3. Pingback: Super 8 « Lacer's Life

  4. i’d also add – the middle grade voice in this film was spot on. it’s the closest thing to a ‘goonies’ that kids these days have, in my opinion 🙂

  5. Great post. I watched this film over Christmas and agree about the story telling. It is difficult to watch something and not have a writers hat on, but when they are good I think it stands out even more. I thought it was a good film and would definitely watch it again.

  6. Very good review, and love the way you did it. I saw Super 8, even reviewed, and loved it. I have caught myself looking at movies, tv shows and books more as a writer, watching the character devolpments and plots which in series works better on marathons. All the points you made on here are right on target. Hope you are having a great New Year!

  7. I loved Super 8. I watched it last month and promptly recommended it to all my friends. I told people that it felt like a cross between Stand By Me and E.T. Your comments about the cursing surprised me. I’m trying to remember that because I didn’t even notice it. Now I don’t have any young ones at home to be concerned about watching this, but was there really that much? Anyway, I agree with your analysis and thought it was a fun movie.

    • The cursing was enough to bother me. When we sat down to watch it, my husband said “just be ready, Speilberg loves to make kids curse”.

      He was right. I just don’t see the need, or reality in kids cursing like that. Do kids curse? Sure. My kids mention it all the time.

      Do all kids curse, and especially that bad? No, I don’t think so. I just don’t see the need to promote it like it’s okay. To me, it was distracting.

  8. I fully agree with everything you have said about Super 8, it is an awesome film in every respect 🙂

  9. I saw this when it opened in town. My friend, Cella, wanted to see it and I’m the one she calls. (She’s 79 and no longer drives). We’re both big kids and totally related to the whole thing–the story, the tightness of the script, the kid actors–all of it. What a fun movie!

  10. It’s funny you mention this because I was noticing the same thing in my movie watching as well as book reading. While I agree with your analysis of super 8, I actually was unimpressed by the movie. Seemed rather bland to me. While the storytelling was admittedly, technically, tight, it was unimpressive and I’d never watch it again. A movie I saw recently that I performed a similar analysis on was the latest pirates of the cari movie. Way too many plot holes. Far too much happens conveniently without explanation or even sense. You get hints that there might have been backstory or something else happening in the past that makes things possible, but these are never explained. And even accepting that this is more a fun fantasy than any other genre, it required far too much suspension of disbelief. You can give me mermaids and I’ll shrug and say, “ok,” but when you start flagrantly violating the rules of physics by sliding your rope-bound form (located conveniently far away from the captor’s camp) up and over a fully grown and branched palm tree, you’ll annoy me. My friends from college still tease me about deep blue sea when I accepted the fact that there was a “smart shark” but criticized the way they swam as unrealistic. Or saying “that’s unrealistic” during a superhero movie in regards to some action or other I’ve long forgotten about.

    • I completely agree about Pirates. It’s over. They need to stop. There are no concrete plots in them anymore, and way too many loose ends. I was very disatisfied with the last one, which was a shame, because I really liked the first in the series.

  11. Hi Jennifer, I agree with you. I loved super 8 because of the good story behind the movie.The movies that pull you into the story and make you care for all the characters, are unfortuately, far and few. If you have a chance, I have my favorites, which you may enjoy. Chocolate, Bagdad cafe, Return to me, Signs, The Color Purple, and the foreign version vampire movie called Let the right one in. Have a great Happy New Year

  12. You know, I picked this up the other day while searching for gifts and I almost bought it but then I hadn’t heard much about it, so I didn’t take the chance. I’m glad I read your review and I think I will rent it. Thanks for the breakdown. It’s always good to hear someone else’s opinion on a film before you buy or rent it.