Film Review from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
This is a commercial not an art film and any ideological content is entirely subservient to box-office earnings. Its appeal is primarily to young teens and their forty-something daddies. It mates an undemanding kids-versus-aliens storyline to a meticulously detailed 1970s social-realist setting. It is widely said to be the most Spielbergian film never made by Spielberg (who is, however, credited as producer). As such, the cinema-goer gets full value for money: gooey emotion, scares, laughs, big bangs, weird happenings, puppy love and heroic geeks. Essentially this is director, JJ Abrams’s tribute to the master, extensively referencing Spielberg’s life and movies including ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.
There are two interesting aspects to the film. Firstly, the portrayal of the military (the word is evil). The head honcho oversees the torture of the shipwrecked alien into insanity, runs an assassination programme against witnesses including a busload of young teens, and holds an injured high school teacher in grossly unhygienic conditions before murdering him by lethal injection. No comment has been made about the credibility of this portrayal. In the light of the well publicised atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it is unlikely there will be none forthcoming. Most would not acknowledge that “they have the right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing” and that we can’t stop them from doing anything.
The second is the nature of the alien. Although it does some scary things, when revealed in full it is not a scary thing – much resembling the comic horror of ‘Cloverfield’, which JJ Abrams produced. In essence, this is a human in alien clothes, perhaps even more human than the humans. Unlike the saintly ET, this alien, tortured and incarcerated, reacts like a human being with anger. It is, however, unlike the demonic aliens from ‘Alien’. Like any human, it can be appealed to on grounds of its own self-interest. The boy hero wisely does not apply logic or an appeal to the alien’s better nature.
Of course ‘Super 8’ is stupid and unrealistic in many respects. But sci-fi’s purpose is to provide an eye-catching scenario within which an entertaining drama can be played out and ideas put forward and issues raised. ‘Super 8’ does this. This is not a ‘socialist film’ but like JJ Abrams’s other creation, the much vaunted ‘Lost’, there is food for thought here.