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.