Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
Super 8 is a 2011 science fiction film written and directed by J. J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. It is an homage to classic "adventurous children" movies, particularly those made/produced by Spielberg like ET The Extra Terrestrial, The Goonies and especially Close Encounters of the Third Kind.A group of middle schoolers in a small Ohio town in 1979 are dedicated to making a zombie movie to enroll in an upcoming film festival, with Charles as script-writer and director, his best friend Joe as the make-up artist and other cast and crew members like Martin (lead actor), Cary (pyrotechnic/pyromaniac) and Preston (misc crew/extras). Charles manages to convince a girl and classmate, Alice, to play the part of the wife and she and Joe start to form an affection for each other. Unfortunately, there are some lingering emotions surrounding the death of Joe's mom several months prior, as well problems with his distant father, a deputy in the local sheriff's office.While filming a scene late at night, they happen upon a freak train crash and barely escape before the authorities show up. Shaken up by the experience, they find that they accidentally filmed something on their Super 8-mm film camera in the aftermath of the crash, and soon they're caught up in strange happenings and a secret military operation.An interactive version of the teaser trailer is bundled with Portal 2, found in the game's Extras section. There's also a prequel comic book that was bundled into the second issue of the Batman: Arkham City comic book tie-in. It details the 1958 events referred to in the film and how Col. Nelec got involved with the situation. It can be read here (SPOILERS ALERT).Not to be confused with Eight MM. Has nothing to do with the motel chain.
This film provides the following examples:
Adorkable: Joe, when it comes to his hobby of making train models or his obvious crush on Alice.
Alcoholic Parent: Alice's father. He was drinking the morning of the factory accident, which led to Joe's mother taking his shift and her untimely death.
Aliens Somewhere West of Dayton: Area 51 stuff happening in a small Ohio town, possibly tying into the rumors that the nearby Wright-Patterson AFB was the storage place of the alien bodies and wreckage from the Roswell crash.
Allohistorical Allusion: The Three Mile Island accident, which took place in the same year as the events of the film, is mentioned in the news in one scene.
Area 51: That's where the train's cargo comes from. So, obviously, it's trouble.
Armies Are Evil: Not entirely so, but army men are not pleasant guys to deal with, and one of them tortured the alien and turned him against humanity.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After the train derailment when the kids are all driving away, they're freaking out over Woodward's warnings. Charles is just as distressed, but not about entirely the same things.
"You will die; your parents will die... this is not good information!" "I've never had a teacher aim a gun at me!" "That train could've killed us!" "Oh shit, the focus ring fell off my camera! The lens is totally cracked!"
Dr. Woodward, due to his guilt over being one of the scientists that kept the alien imprisoned, and finding out from a mental link that it's just scared and wants to go home.
Alice's father turns out to be this as well, as he was indirectly responsible for Joe's mother's death and sought out forgiveness.
Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Donny saying "fuck" (amongst other curses from the children) and Nelec's unusually gory death were probably put in to ensure a PG-13 rating.
Badass Teacher: Dr. Woodward, the biology teacher at the main characters' school, crashes into the train. The best part is that he survives the crash. Turns out he's also one of the scientists who studied the monster.
Bad Bad Acting: Averted. Most of the acting in the movie the kids are working on is believably bad. Joe himself was called upon to play a soldier and was particularly stiff. Martin seems to be alright, but Alice got so emotional and into character as the wife during the rehearsal take that she stunned everyone. Amusingly, the poor editing of Charles' movie (seen over the ending credits) conceals this, since he chose to use a take where she had to yell over the sound of the train. As a result, she sounds just as bad as the other kids.
Bare Your Midriff: Charles has an older sister whose wardrobe choices consists entirely of this trope.
Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Upon being tortured and experimented on by the military, the alien came to believe all humans were a potential threat and lashed out at them, taking civilians for his food supply and kidnapping anyone who sees him. In this case, he's not so much evil as he is dangerously paranoid.
Big Bad: Colonel Nelec. While the creature gets its sinister musical motif, the Colonel gets his own, which sounds somewhat like a certain March.
Bizarre Alien Biology: The alien is thoroughly weird-looking. It has six arms, feet that end with digging "chisels," and a body with multiple gaps or negative spaces that do not exist in Earth vertebrates. Its face looks surprisingly humanoid at first glance, but the lipped mouth can split horribly into a fanged set of mandibles, and the human-like eyes are normally covered by a reflective membrane.
Black Dude Dies First: Somehow, both averted and played straight. The first violent scene in the movie involves a train crash, in which Dr. Woodward — a black guy — is apparently killed when his truck gets hit by the train. However, despite appearing dead at first sight, he is actually alive and scares the crap out of the kids who come to investigate. Many people in the town die, but the first of the soldiers on the bus to die is the black guy, who appropriately gives the Colonel an indignant look when asked to go outside and shoot the alien with a tracking dart. Though it is notable that three black characters — Dr. Woodward and two soldiers — die, with the former getting euthanized by one of the latter.
Bratty Teenage Daughter: Charles' sister, Jennifer, who is constantly complaining to their mother about wanting to go to a girl's party, but can't, due to babysitting duties. Used as a plot point, it's the only way Charles is able to get them places during the events of the film by promising to babysit instead.
A woman at the police department is looking for someone with brown hair and "rollers." She's one of the people taken by the alien.
The Electronic Football. When the kids break into the "Dungeon" where all the confiscated items and Woodward's items were, the next scene has the kid it was confiscated from playing it in the background.
Car Skiing: Happens when the creature slams into the military bus transporting the gang. Of note is that while the driver does succeed in getting the car back on the ground, the raised tires are totally destroyed on impact, forcing him to stop.
Catch Phrase: Charles has "That was mint!", "Shut up!", and "Production value!"
Character Development: Joe. He starts off as a bit of a pushover, constantly helping Charles with his film and initially letting him blow up his model train. After bonding with Alice, Joe starts standing up for himself, eventually directing the kids to help Charles and taking Donny with him to save Alice. As noted by Donny, "When did he get so bossy?"
The "dungeon," Dr. Woodward's container in the school parking lot, is mentioned briefly after the train accident before it turns out that is where Dr. Woodward's research is located.
Donny has a crush on Charles' sister Jennifer, who wants to go to Wendy's party next week, but their mother makes her babysit the twins. This comes in handy when Charles convinces her to flirt with Donny so that the gang can be driven back to town to rescue Alice in exchange for Charles doing the babysitting for her so she can go to the party.
The film used during the train accident is later given to Joe's father by Preston, bringing him up to speed on the alien situation.
The water tower is shown a few times in the background before it is given any relevance.
The strange metallic cubes that the train was also carrying.
Chekhov's Hobby: Cary's obsession with fireworks comes in handy later on when they need a diversion.
Chekhov's Skill: A double one. The alien's ability to bond, and Joe's passion for train models, come in handy when it is time to build a new spaceship.
Deconstruction: Of a sort. The plot shows a grittier realization of an E.T.-style alien arrival and some Goonies-esque meddling kids' entanglement in it. Ultimately, the kids have next to nothing to do with the alien's escape from Earth. Rather, the story is about the humans learning to forgive and move on with their lives. Whether or not the alien learned about human emotions it's likely unable to comprehend is pretty much irrelevant. In fact, the kids' and the alien's paths only briefly intersect a couple of times.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Alice, who is initially cold towards Joe but quickly warms up to him once they spend time together.
Didn't See That Coming: When the kids play one of the rolls of film from Woodward's trailer, Woodward is shown at one of the windows of the alien's prison cell, dangling a hunk of meat near the bars. The guy is just begging to be yanked through the window by an alien tentacle or whatever, and the audience steels itself with anticipation when all of a sudden he's snatched up by the alien's arm, sticking through another window thirty-something feet off the ground.
Director Trademark: Slusho appears again as one of the advertised items at the Kelvin Gasoline store.
Dirty Communists: Invoked when a woman suggests that all the weird stuff going on in town is a prelude to a Soviet invasion.
Disney Death: After the train accident, the gang find blood on some of the train wreckage and think that it's Alice's. Alice appears behind them and is uninjured; the blood is just fake blood from Joe's make-up box.
Dogged Nice Guy: Joe towards Alice. It turns out Charles had the same idea too.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: The alien is first briefly seen in the reflection of a gasoline puddle.
Friend Versus Lover: Sort of. Alice wants Joe to stand up to Charles and not let him blow up his train model, while Charles is annoyed by Joe's new-found independence (or, as he puts it, "bossiness") due to Alice's encouragement. Although what really bothers Charles is that Alice likes Joe better than him.
Three: When several of Martin's scripts sheets blow away, he is seen chasing them across the screen behind Joe and Alice. A little later, when Joe is putting make-up on and having a conversation with Alice, Charles and Martin have a heated argument over one of his lines being changed slightly just before filming.
In the same scene, watch Preston's mouth as he fakes conversation on the pay phone. Shortly afterwards he stops trying entirely when he's entranced by Alice's performance along with everyone else.
Even Deputy Lamb trying to find out what's going on with the disappearances in town is reminiscent of Chief Brody's investigations in Jaws.
The deputy punching out bad guys to steal their uniforms is a pretty blatant call back to Indiana Jones.
Genre Savvy: The boys collecting their equipment. After the train wreck is an example of this; without them picking it up, the Army would have been able to find them pretty quickly.
Although they did end up leaving some evidence so it may have just been the fact that they needed their camera and film to complete the movie.
Giant Spider: The creature sort of resembles one. It has six (not eight, but still many) limbs, its face can open up to reveal a spider-like maw, it has black, spider-like eyes when hunting, it can produce web (which it uses to tie up its human prey), and it is a carnivore. It's also subterranean, possibly referring to funnel web spiders. The creature can be more accurately described as a giant spider-human hybrid though, considering its humanoid torso, hands, face, and most importantly, its incredibly human eyes whenever it's calm.
Grey and Gray Morality: The conflict between the army and the alien. The army is highly xenophobic, and willing to go to grand lengths to bring the alien down. But they're mostly just doing their jobs, and even the worst of them has his redeeming qualities. Namely, sacrificing his life to let the kids escape the alien. Meanwhile, the alien has no problem with killing or kidnapping innocent people that get in his way, using kidnappees as a food source while he rebuilds his ship. However, he's more interested in leaving Earth than causing harm, and the whole reason he's attacking humans at all is because his terrible and inhumane treatment at the hands of the military has led him to believe that all humans are a potential threat.
Averted. There is an explosion of blood against the bus window as the creature kills the Colonel as well as a shot of the creature feeding on a human leg after he consumes one of the hostages.
Played straight when a bone is said to be poking out of Martin's leg after an explosion in the house and it has to be physically arranged back, but neither the injury nor the process is shown.
The Guards Must Be Crazy: There's a crashed military train with an escaped alien loose, a town that needs to be locked down, people and dogs disappearing all over the place... and nobody seems to notice a group of kids filming all of it? Eventually Colonel Nelec notices, but by then Joe's dad shows up to take both camera and Joe away.
Headphones Equal Isolation: A gas station attendant is so busy rocking out to Blondie on his brand new Walkman that he doesn't hear the monster attack, nor feel the shockwaves from a police car being bounced off the ground 50 feet away.
Homage Shot: The setup of the train crash is nearly identical to the one in Cecil B. De Mille's The Greatest Show on Earth. Indeed, it was Steven Spielberg's childhood attempts to replicate this train crash that led to his pursuit of a film career, which this film pays homage to.
Humanity Ensues: In "The Case", Det. Hathaway is about to reluctantly shoot his infected wife when the antidote starts taking effect.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: Basically, the creature itself has been stranded on Earth since the 1950s, and has been imprisoned and experimented on for the last couple of decades, and has only wanted to return home via its ship. More or less the reason for its aggression is because every human it sees (other than Dr. Woodward, with whom it establishes a mental link) is a potential threat, or expendable for the most part.
Averted with Joe, whose chat with the alien in the tunnel — "Bad things happen" — reveals to it that in a way, everybody hurts. And since the alien is holding Joe at the time and establishes a mind link by contact, the alien can see that Joe — who had by then forgiven Alice's father for what happened — is right.
From the prequel comic's tagline: "The Soviets sent a dog. The U.S. sent a Nuke." This is actually justified: the Soviets' probe was shot down, causing all the worst reactions...
Immune to Bullets: The alien, which is a bit of a problem for Colonel Nelec when he's trapped in a bus by the alien with only an M-16. Even escalating to tanks doesn't help, as it's capable of making them veer off course with magnetism.
And during the finale when the two fathers are together hunting down their missing kids, Alice's father tries to apologize and admit he should have died instead of Joe's mother. Joe's father, after a few moments of soul-searching, finally says, "It was an accident."
Insufferable Genius: Charles can be quite arrogant and bossy when it comes to his film, but he clearly wants to make it more in-depth by adding emotional investment to it, such as giving the detective a wife. Which makes the amusingly awful result all the more funny.
It Will Never Catch On: The sheriff is not impressed by the idea of everyone having their own Walkman. He isn't totally ignorant of its potential, though, and in fact sees how such an innocuous device could inspire an entire new trend. "It's a slippery slope," indeed.
It's All My Fault: It's eventually revealed that Alice's father blames himself for Joe's mother's death, as she took on his shift at the factory on the day of the accident.
Jerkass Façade: Initially, Alice and Louis both treat Joe with anger and resentment. As it turns out, this is merely a front.
Karmic Death: The Colonel finally meets his end at the hands of the creature he ordered experimentation on.
Kick the Dog: One of the soldiers takes Joe's mother's locket. Joe gets it back later from the guy's corpse.
Lens Flare: A drinking game based on them would end very badly for all involved. It's a J.J. Abrams movie.
Let no Crisis Go to Waste: The kids take advantage of a train crash and the soldiers in town in order to increase the "production values" of their film.
Joe's mother's funeral, which starts out very somber and then switches to the kids all arguing about the grisly manner in which she died.
The climax, when Joe talks down the alien from killing him and his friends immediately followed by Cary's indignant reaction to the fact that it actually worked.
After the moment where Joe lets go of the locket, followed by the ship leaving, the credits continue the sad music... only to cut to show the hilarious movie of the kids, "The Case". And then, "My Sharona".
The New Rock & Roll: Parodied a little bit when the Sheriff makes a passing mention (upon finally catching the store clerk's attention) that the Walkman is "pointing down a slippery slope of juvenile distraction".
Nothing Is Scarier: The classic version is used repeatedly when the monster abducts someone. The third version as well: when Joe and Cary are in the monster's lair, the sheriff's body is right next to them, though you might not spot it until they do, and when Alice is abducted, there appears to be something blurry in the background. Which starts moving.
Overprotective Dad: Joe's and Alice's fathers when they forbid their respective children from spending time with the other.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Jackson's stolen Air Force uniform. Everyone from town knows that it's him when he uses it to infiltrate the evacuee center run by the Air Force. It works for the soldiers, since the military is, obviously, a very big organization.
Parental Abandonment: Joe's mother is dead, and his father attempts to send him away to a six week baseball camp over the summer, arguably so he doesn't have to deal with raising Joe by himself.
Parental Neglect: Both Joe's and Alice's fathers share neglect towards their respective child, Joe's father due to his work and emotional baggage carried from Joe's mother's death, and Alice's father due to his resentment over Alice's mother leaving him and his guilt over Joe's mother's death, which he is indirectly responsible for.
Precision F-Strike: Other characters swear plenty of times, but "fuck" is specifically saved for the perfect moment towards the end:
Donny: [looking at wreckage of bus] What the fuck?!
Police Brutality: Mild case. Joe's police officer dad strongarms Mr. Dainard into the back of his police car and drives him away, apparently for the crime of... showing up at a wake. Subsequent events explain his motive, though.
Post-Hug Catatonia: Averted with Joe and Alice. He looks astonished for a split second, but then hugs her right back.
Prequel: The comic bundled into the second issue of the Batman: Arkham City comic. Long story short, it's revealed that the alien's ship had been monitoring Earth for quite some time and humans only discovered it with Sputnik; the Russians were scared shitless and so were the Americans, through OSS intelligence. The Russians sent Sputnik 2 (with Laika on-board) to investigate, while the Americans sent a probe of their own, which the alien ship promptly atomized. The U.S. response? A nuclear warhead.
Reassigned to Antarctica: At one time, Dr. Woodward was a military research scientist with a top-level security clearance. After he spoke out, he wound up teaching Middle School science classes in a steel-mill town in Ohio.
Pyro Maniac: Cary constantly totes a satchel of fireworks, blows things up at random intervals, and builds his own M80s. Lampshaded when Charles chews him out about his extreme obsession with fireworks.
Red Shirt: The woman and the Sheriff eaten by the monster in the cave.
The Reveal: Eventually, the kids find the footage and the recordings that explain what the creature is — an alien who crash-landed years ago who only wanted to rebuild his ship and go home, but government officials got a hold of him first and kept him in captivity for experimentation. The alien did not take this treatment well and therefore was not shy about killing people as he gathered the equipment necessary to rebuild his ship, though it is clear that he eats human beings for sustenance despite being less than fond of them.
A bit ruined if you happened across the prequel comic.
Rule of Three: The three male zombies in "The Case" are all played by Cary, who looks exactly the same in all three roles except with a change of clothes.
Scenery Gorn: The train crash. Explosions, scraping metal, flying train cars, and frightened kids are all captured in full detail to show the massive amount of destruction that takes place.
Selective Magnetism: The magnetic field at the ends attracts guns, appliances, and even cars, but the military vehicles remain on the ground. Justified in the case of tanks and armored cars, which clearly weigh a lot more than civilian vehicles; done wince-inducingly straight with the metal chain Alice's dad wears around his neck and Cary's braces, which both remain firmly in place while Joe's locket goes floating off into the air.
Could be justified: braces might have been made of different material back then, but today, dental braces are very rarely magnetic. The metal chain could be a similar example of a non-magnetic metal.
The Seventies: Takes place in 1979, and does a fabulous job of capturing the look of the time.
'70s Hair: Farrah Fawcett hairdos and long sideburns all over the place. However, most of the male kids' hair isn't all that different from 2011 fashions.
Shoot The Fuel Tank: Deputy Lamb blows up the truck carrying the fuel used to create the "wildfire" that prompted the evacuation to create a distraction for him to make off with a car.
Shown Their Work: The alien is being transported to Ohio, as seen on the map. Wright-Patterson AFB, the home of the Air Force's Project Bluebook is in Ohio.
In fact, if you look closely enough at the two maps that appear in the film, you find that the [fictional] town of Lillian is about twenty miles west of Dayton — the home of the aformentioned Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Woodward's map makes it clear that the train was indeed headed for Wright-Patterson before he intervened.
In-universe example: For their age, the kids seem to be pretty well-versed in the process of film-making. Which in the end makes their final product all the more ironic, although for a movie made by kids, it's pretty solid.
The Smurfette Principle: Alice Dainard is the only female in a group with 5 young boys making a film and navigating their way through their adventure. In fact, she's pretty much the only female in the entire movie, other than Charles's mom and sister.
Stylistic Suck: "The Case," the zombie movie that the kids are filming, is shown during the credits. It is so bad. Joe in particular is a horrendous actor during his one scene in "The Case."
Survivor Guilt: The reason that Alice's father, Louis, initially acted like a jerkass to Joe was because he felt indirectly responsible for Joe's mother's death. Alice even tells Joe that he wished he had died instead of her.
The film has Walkman cassette players just hitting the market. And because it's 1979, none of the kids have cell phones or computers to keep in touch with each other. They do have two-way radios, though.
The 3-day (minimum) turnaround time to have the film developed is a crucial Plot Point. While Super 8 film and cameras still exist and are still popularwith amateur film-makers (and some professionals), kids in an otherwise similar present-day setting would most likely use instantly-viewable digital, especially since any amateur contest would require the content to be uploaded rather than mailed on physical media.
Title Drop: It is the name of the film and camera the gang uses and it is the name of the film festival that Charles wants to enter.
Took the Bad Film Seriously: Alice, in-universe. Her character as the wife is just a Sacrificial Lamb, but during rehearsal Alice acts out the part so emotionally the entire crew is in shock. And then it gets mostly edited out of the film anyway.
Totally Radical: Justified, as the movie is set in the 1970s, but who really says stuff like "That was mint!" anymore?
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A few, courtesy of Martin. In the special features, cinematographer Larry Fong notes that this may the first instance of computer-generated vomit in a movie.
We Need a Distraction: One implied, one stated. Joe's dad blows up a tanker truck to provide cover for his escape from custody, and Joe asks Cary to set off some fireworks so they can get out.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Before the end, the creature, when seen, had predatory-looking black eyes, killed people, and for the most part seemed utterly monstrous. When it picks up Joe, after he makes it clear that he understands what happened to it and just wants the creature to leave in peace, the black lids slide back, revealing startlingly intelligent and human-like eyes. It then proceeds to put the boy gently down, lets him and his friends leave, and makes its own exit.
Would Hit a Girl: Joe, but hesitantly and only because it was the only way to wake her up so that they could run for their lives.
X Days Since: A rare non-comedic example. Used at the very start of the film to instantly tragic effect. Joe's Mom broke the streak.
You Meddling Kids: Mostly subverted, the kids are too scared by the threat of military action to actually do anything about the creature, it's only at the end of the second act when Alice is captured by the creature do the kids actually do anything important to the plot. JJ Abrams even mention on the DVD commentary that he didn't want the kids be the Scooby-Doo gang.