'Super 8' Leaves Little To Get Excited About

Super 8 is the story of what happens when half a dozen middle school kids from Ohio set out to create a student short and end up enmeshed in something much bigger and scarier. Steven Spielberg is the film's producer and it was written and directed by J.J. Abrams.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The menace of something hidden and hard to control animates the new movie "Super 8." The ads for it are dominated by two well-known names: writer-director J.J. Abrams - known for "Mission: Impossible 3" and "Star Trek" - and producer Steven Spielberg, who's known for being Steven Spielberg.

Our film critic Kenneth Turan tells us what he thought of their collaboration.

KENNETH TURAN: "Super 8" is the story of what happens when half a dozen middle school kids from Ohio set out to create a student short film and end up enmeshed in something much bigger and scarier. "Super 8" starts with those student filmmakers eager to make a zombie epic to enter in the rarified precincts of the 1979 Cleveland International Super 8 Film Festival.

To up the film's emotional quotient, an attractive blond classmate, played by Elle Fanning, is asked to be in the movie, too.

(Soundbite of movie, "Super 8")

Ms. ELLE FANNING (Actress): (as Alice Dainard) How am I supposed to be a zombie?

Mr. JOEL COURTNEY (Actor): (as Joe Lamb) Oh, pretty much just be a lifeless ghoul with no soul, dead eyes, scary. Did you ever have Ms. Mullen for English?

Ms. FANNING: (as Alice Dainard) Yeah.

Mr. COURTNEY: (as Joe Lamb) Yeah. Kind of like her, but hungry for human flesh, like she wants to turn somebody into a zombie, because that's kind of what zombies do.

Ms. FANNING: (as Alice Dainard) OK.

TURAN: On the night of the filming, the director's quest for production value leads to shots of a truly spectacular train crash that happens right in front of that Super 8 camera.

Mr. COURTNEY: (as Joe Lamb) Guys, watch out!

(Soundbite of explosion)

TURAN: Something unseen escapes from that train. And before you know it, all kinds of strange and mysterious happenings traumatize the town.

Mr. KYLE CHANDLER (Actor): (as Jackson Lamb) I've got property damage. I've got theft. I've got nine people missing now. There are things happening around here that I can't explain.

TURAN: "Super 8" is old-fashioned and genteelly entertaining, something more like Steven Spielberg's work than J.J. Abrams' usual high-energy productions.

But you only have to compare "Super 8" to the Spielberg film it most resembles - the impeccably entertaining "E.T." - to see the ways the earlier film felt fresh and inventive, while the new one has the aura of stuff we've already seen. The problem with "Super 8" is not how much there is to complain about, but how little there is be excited about. Given the abilities of the accomplished names involved, that has got to be a disappointment.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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