Super 8: How Early Should You Reveal the Monster?

I had the pleasure of seeing a sneak preview of J. J. Abrams’ movie Super 8 this weekend. This is a completely spoiler-free blog entry that touches on that movie a little bit.

In monster movies, how early should you reveal the monster?

Just to get you in the mindset of monster movies, here are some examples:

  • Jaws
  • Cloverfield
  • The Host
  • Predator
  • Jurassic Park
  • King Kong
  • The Thing
  • Alien
  • The Fly
  • The Incredible Hulk

These movies all have something in common: You don’t see the monster in the first third of the movie. You see destruction caused by the monster and people’s reactions to the monster, but no monster. This is important–you’re building up suspense, curiosity, and dread.

It’s the next two thirds of these movies that are different. Some of them choose to reveal the monsters in the second third (The Host, Predator, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The Thing, Alien, The Fly, The Incredible Hulk), while others wait all the way until the last third to end the long tease (Jaws, Cloverfield).

No offense to Jaws, but I think the big reveal belongs in the second third of the movie.

Here’s why: It’s all about the audience getting a payoff.

We go to movies–specifically, we go to movies in theaters–to see something larger than life. Something bigger and more bad-ass than I’ll ever see in real life. I can see people’s faces in real life all the time. Albeit, not terrified faces, but faces no less. When I go to see a monster movie, I want me some monster!

Now, I understand that our imaginations are way more powerful than anything we’ll see on the big screen. When you see a giant footprint in the mud, your mind fills that footprint with something bigger and more terrifying than a computer-generated monster. So you could say that the best monster possible would be invisible (not unlike the Predator).

But still, I paid $10: I want a giant monster for two-thirds of a movie. What do you want?

Monsters aside, J.J. Abrams has created a fantastic world for his movie to occupy. It’s a movie about kids creating something before the world takes creation away, about first love (Fanning is fantastic), about friendship, and about fathers who don’t know how to be fathers. This movie didn’t even need a monster to be good.

5 thoughts on “Super 8: How Early Should You Reveal the Monster?”

  1. Having a monster two-thirds of the way through a movie sounds great, that is exactly what I want, but not for the price of $10. For 10 hard earned bucks, I also want a small bag of popcorn and a small ice cold Dr. Pepper, is that too much to ask for? Call me greedy, but looking at monsters just isn’t as enjoyable these days when it costs as much as the movie to have the other accoutrements that SHOULD and are necessary for some of us film watchers to enjoy the flick. 🙂 That being said, I understand the film industry has to make its money somehow, and so does the theater, so this will never happen.

    Other than that, yeah, a giant monster two-thirds of the way through provides sufficient timing to get the audiences’ adrenaline going! 🙂

  2. I expect to see Super 8 in theatres because it’s a return to what made Spielberg great, and that’s building suspense. But what you’re dubbing “monster movies” are really a lot of different kinds of movies that have unrealistic characters in them.
    *King King is like ET. The new being is going to be a character that you need to know something about, so you need to be introduced early.
    *In Jaws you’re talking about pure, unadulterated power with no consscience. But you know it’s a big ass shark! The reveal gives you the line of the movie (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”). You don’t know that until you see the thing. Kind of the same thing with the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Lake Placid, Open Water, Deep Blue Sea, and Anaconda are not concidered cinematic masterpieces partially because they rely too heavily on visualisation of the monster to do the heavy lifting for them and they have very little plot.
    * With the Alien, Predator (and maybe Cloverfield [I haven’t seen it]), you have no idea what this monster is. So you see the different kinds of destruction, and try to assign traits to the creature as you go. Not until the creature gets screen time do you start to compare your expectations with the reality of the character (mouth in a mouth, acid blood etc).
    *The Fly and Incredible Hulk are transformation movies (like Wolfman), and the suspense has to do with the ACTION of transforming from man into monster. Weird stuff should start happening by the end of Act 1, but you should not know what the how much of a monster it is vs. how human it is until nearly the end of the film.
    If you want to know who the killer is in a book, read the end first. If you want to see a big monster tear up a city, rent Godzilla. From what you’re saying, that’s not what Suer 8 wants to be.

  3. Not going to lie: When I saw the title of this entry, my first thought was, “well it depends on how well the date has gone.”

    Then I realized it was about movies and my reaction was inappropriate.


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