In other aspects, Super 8 is not so different from other films we've seen before. It combines the youthful adventure and nostalgia of The Goonies, the moral allegory of District 9, and the apocalyptic atmosphere (and token Fanning child) of War of the Worlds. While the first half of the movie feels exciting and fresh, the more the plot is revealed, the more it seems like a mash-up of movie tropes, like the grieving father struggling to raise a child alone, puppy love thwarted by pigheaded parents, government conspiracies, and, of course, *SPOILER ALERT: Don't read beyond this point if you haven't seen the movie...* the misunderstood monster/alien creature tortured by human scientists.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the reveal of the "monster." (To be fair though, I was mostly just disappointed that it wasn't the Smoke Monster from Lost.) Like the film as a whole, I (unfairly) expected it to be something thoroughly original, but what I got was an amalgam of movie mutants (and not the fun kind with psychic powers and Adamantium claws). As it turns out, the mysterious creature is really just E.T. with a Predator makeover. I understand that there's no such thing as a one hundred percent original idea, and that everything we create is influenced by what came before us, but I didn't expect Super 8 to be quite so derivative of other films, specifically E.T. (also produced by Steven Spielberg) and Cloverfield. That being said, it is still an enjoyable movie with a good (if not subtle) message that we shouldn't judge a group of people (or a species) based on the actions of one individual, whether it's Hitler or Gandhi.
Another even less subtle (and spectacularly humorous) lesson from Super 8 is that, if you smoke pot, you will be left in a car to die while the town is obliterated by men with tanks and flamethrowers. To quote one of the frightened young boys trying to escape said car whilst David Gallagher (7th Heaven) remained passed out in the front seat, presumably from smoking too much marijuana: "Drugs are so bad!" The young cast is one of the most successful parts of the movie, in my opinion. Since I typically can't stand watching movies with children in them (don't ask me to explain this aversion, because I don't understand it either), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance by newcomer Joel Courtney, who plays main character Joe Lamb. The fifteen-year-old actor (though he looks much younger) somehow manages to evoke charisma far beyond his years, while simultaneously mastering the self-deprecating sheepishness that every middle schooler possesses. Joe's zombie-movie-making friends are equally amusing in their awkwardness, but the most noteworthy performance is Elle Fanning (yes, that's Dakota's little sister) as Joe's love interest, Alice. That little blonde prodigy can cry onscreen better than most actors twice her age, and she also nails the defiant teen attitude, despite her cherubic appearance.
By having a group of adolescent characters at the heart of the story, the film conveys a sense of youthful optimism and curiosity that is rarely found in films that focus solely on adult characters. Watching the events unfold through the eyes of Joe and his friends reminds us of what it was like to be that young and innocent, so brazen and yet so supremely terrified, but still convinced that you could make a difference in the fate of your world. What Super 8 has given us is not something we've never seen before, but rather a way of seeing it like we've never seen it before. Okay, so maybe we saw a little bit of it in E.T. (directed by Super 8 producer Steven Spielberg), in which the main (human) character is a ten-year-old boy, but nonetheless, Super 8 is different in many ways. If you can look beyond the fact that much of the plot has been done before, and instead appreciate the mystery and the adolescent perspective of the film, then you will see what truly makes Super 8 unique.