I have to say that they make trailers these days really good. When I first saw the early ones for Super 8, I was buying the premise straight away. The whole kids-film-a-train-crash-that-has-some-shady-goings-on thing was mint - that was about all that was strong with this film.
A reviewer on IMDb wrote that is essentially felt like two films that never really met in the middle - and I have to say I agree. It doesn't help that J.J. Abrams said that he had an idea about kids filming with Super 8 and then had another idea about an alien style story and so he threw them together. Yup, 'throw' is about right, rather than 'join.'
The film starts off really promising and the highlight is the epic train crash that goes on for quite a bit - the amount of carnage that happens, it's a wonder that the kids that escape the numerous explosions and raining train wreckage aren't paralysed into a fear that prevents them from leaving their bedrooms for a week - and that the camera remains unscathed though the train ploughs head long into the station. Minor details, *shrug* because I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
For anyone who has watched 'LOST' and is familiar with Abrams' work, will know that he really brings the suspense and mystery, setting up scenarios where you're kept guessing for quite a while only for the reveal to come and then...you're left a wee bit disappointed (hence I gave up on Lost, assuming that there really couldn't be a satisfying explanation that could live up the wonderfully bizarre and cool madness on that island). So once you reach the third act and the audience is told about the alien and it's real motivation and back story, it loses a heavy dose of charm and magnetism.
Somehow it didn't hold up for me - there wasn't enough in a way; the reason for the alien's behaviour and why it's in captivity at all is tres weak and delivered in a lazy five minute sequence that makes use of the continual motif of film reels and projectors (the most poignant and resonant scene in the film utilises this best when Jo and Alice watch an old film about his mother).
There was a lot of heartfelt moments but it didn't need the alien story to be there in order to bring them about. The last third of the film fell back on hopeless cliches - boy who likes girl must go rescue her, reconcile with aloof and cold father played by Kyle Chandler and he then must make peace with the man who is half responsible for his wife's death (though not really), who in turn is the deadbeat dad of Elle Fanning's character, Alice. One patently clear strength of the film is the calibre of Elle's acting - she outdoes the rest of the cast by a mile so it was with some disappointment that her arc was subdued by a quasi-damsel in distress sequence.
Furthermore, I found it hard to believe these kids would be so brave and all but love is ever the motivator into the wild and unknown - I can't argue too much against that because it is coming of age tale and this is the seminal 'rite of passage' for Jo's character (played well by Joel Courtney).
The climax was somewhat dry for me (the whole alien-human empathy of shared loss and bad experience malarky is kinda lame), what with the typical 'maligned and terrible alien is no 'real' monster at heart' narrative not being given actual weight or time to impress and as such, it lacked real emotional kick. Twas a shame but it was enjoyable as a time pass and a treat to watch visually.
The kids' stuff was by far the more superior element of the film and so when the credits roll, be sure to wait and watch their final film (the one they are bent on making so that Jo's friend can submit it to a film festival), for that's where the real laughs come in and as a film student, I can relate to the thrown together but inventive tactics used to make an amateur zombie flick.