Review: Super 8

Chick 1 says:super_8

Is JJ Abrams the new Steven Spielberg?  Possibly.  He is certainly an outstanding storyteller.  He can come up with fantastic concepts (Lost, Alias).  He can take us on heart-pounding adventures (Mission Impossible 3) that still resonate emotionally (Star Trek).  And in the tradition of Spielberg, all his great characters have daddy issues.  (He even used that as an episode title.)  So Super 8 is poised to be this generations E.T.  Did it succeed?  The jury’s still out.

The Basics:  In 1979, a group of young teens accidentally capture the crash of a U.S. Air Force train on film while shooting a zombie flick.  In the aftermath of the crash, bizarre events and missing person cases spread like a plague around the small town while the military takes over without offering any answers or help.

What I Liked:  Man, I love JJ Abrams!  He really is an amazing director.  From the very first frame we are given important information about the story in an entertaining and beautiful way.  In the very first scene, we’re handed a load of emotions (there’s even a little fight, apparently) but most of the time the camera stays on our young star, recording his reaction to what’s happening. The actual events are incidental.  And that’s really all we need to know; that this movie is about what’s going on inside this teen. 

All the major elements work well here.  Abrams frames every shot beautifully; really is a work of art.  He still throws in his signature lens flare but considering we’re following a bunch of amateur filmmakers from the 70s it fits the mood and he doesn’t go overboard as he has in the past.  The brilliant Michael Giacchino does his thing, making a current score timeless while practically channelling John Williams in his E.T. days.  The art direction and set design is flawless.  This feels like a movie shot in 1979 and that may account for some of the emotional response I had to this movie.  Those of us who lived through that era (I was a kid about the same age in 1979.) will connect with the storyline simply because of nostalgia.

Finally, the cast and their dialogue are spot on.  It’s a risk, making your six main characters under age 15.  But all the kids are a blast.  They deliver the funny moments, talking over each other in the chaotic way teens do and handle the more poignant moments as well, especially the two leads. The still-baby-faced Joel Courtney, at the wise old age of 15, carries the movie ably, although he is helped greatly by the rest of the cast, most notably by Kyle Chandler as his dad.  And it will come as no surprise that Elle Fanning hands in a fine performance as well, often showing us glimpses of an old soul behind her young eyes.  (And yes, she is Dakota’s baby sister.)

What I Didn’t Like:  It’s tricky; building up a monster and finally showing it to you.  Abrams knows himself, having talked about the power of mystery here.  Even the Smoke Monster from Lost came to an uneven resolution, depending on your reaction to that finale.  Other directors have struggled with this problem as well, particularly Shyamalan in Signs.  (Shut up!  I liked that  movie!)  It’s just that it’s often disappointing when the big reveal finally comes and that’s the case with Super 8.  I don’t think it’s a problem of monster design.  I thought the look of the alien was fine.  (Sorry if you think that’s a spoiler but you really should have guessed that from the very first teaser trailer.)  And I find that problem interesting, especially considering that in E.T. we saw the alien very early on.  He wasn’t even CG but a puppet.  But we connected with him emotionally and I think that is the real issue here.  You can see the filmmakers trying to establish that connection, talking about “psychic connections” and such.  But we as the audience aren’t allowed to make that connection ourselves.  We aren’t even allowed to see that some of the characters, who say they have that connection, really do.  That breaks the first rule of cinema; show – don’t tell.  Stop trying to tell us what the monster feels and show us!  And that is why the third act doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

Bottom Line: I never thought I would use the phrases sweet spirited and scary to describe the same movie but those two ideas neatly wrap up my feelings about Super 8.  Abrams manages a three base hit, giving us a lot of laughter, a fair share of scares and thrills, and just the right amount of tears.  Not quite a home run, but still a fantastic play!

Posted on by Chick 1 in Reviews, The 2010s Leave a comment

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