I don’t think we get “true” family films anymore. The kind of film that tries to appeal to everyone in the family. A film that is like an event, all encompassing, exciting and completely devoid of any real target audience, other than as many people as possible.
Pixar are the only people trying but even that doesn’t really qualify. There is a difference, as subtle as it may be, between making a film for children that adults can enjoy and actually making a film that the whole family can find enjoyable. A couple of jokes aimed at the adults isn’t enough.
There was a time when you could list classic, “family” films. These are films that were exciting, funny, action-packed but also had some sort of emotional resonance. There was something in them for everyone; a bit of action, a bit of romance and usually plenty of humour. A clever plot for the adults but enough to keep the kids engrossed too. These films varied from The Goonies to Back to the Future, E.T. to Home Alone, Short Circuit through to Batteries Not Included.
It surprised me that when the marketing and publicity for Super 8 began, it didn’t just talk about recapturing the spirit of E.T or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but reminding people what a family film is supposed to be like.
Super 8 has it all. The protagonists are children but not silly, stereotypical, comedic kids. They aren’t so heroic that they don’t appeal but actually feel like “real kids.” They are doing something slightly more mature; making a film. It’s a zombie film, but that adds humour, something else a family films needs.
The kids are a great mix of brave beyond his years Joe Lamb, strong-willed girl Alice, nervous and rational Martin and “chubby” funny character Charles. They are all characters we have seen before but that doesn’t matter because they are played so realistically and so well that it just feels much more “authentic.”
That’s a big success considering the film is a science-fiction movie about an alien encounter in a small town. This is a second, effective family film trait, keeping the situation and scenery small but making the effects and action huge. The alien encounter all happens in a small town, watched over by a recently widowed sheriff. This is a great comparison to the huge set-pieces, like the initial train crash that starts off all the films events.
The action looks fantastic and the effects are brilliant. I would have loved to have seen this film at the cinema, for the train crash scene alone. The film also increases that feeling of peril and how small the characters really are, which in turn increases their heroism. When the military come in and begin to interfere, the actions of the kids seems even bigger and braver, adding to the appeal of the movie.
The other positive for Super 8 is that it’s not all about the alien and science-fiction. Of course, this plays a huge part and is the main strand throughout the movie but the characters are really well-developed. There are loads of deeper elements going on, from a hit-and-run which affects the children specifically to the sheriff’s struggles to connect to his son. It all echoes the great themes that were always apparent in “true” family films.
It’s not a perfect movie. The story begins to lose itself slightly towards the end, feeling like it’s created this huge situation but doesn’t really know where to go with it. Some of the child characters are lost along the way too, making more room for the two “main” children. These are small complaints in a very enjoyable, exciting and engrossing film which really felt like one of the old “family” films that I would always sit down to watch with my sister at Christmas.
Overall, great characters equalled with great performances, surrounded by a fantastic location which plays host to some amazing action scenes, results in a movie which feels like a traditional family film. Super 8 echoes what made films like E.T, Short Circuit and Back to the Future so great and timeless. Its got a little bit of everything and I think everyone can take something away from this movie.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)