[Sorry there hasn’t been a review for a while, but I’ve been busy with stuff like vacations, visiting Washington D.C., oh yeah, and I had a birthday last Wednesday. But fear not, I have seen a movie and it is ready for reviewing, so…better late than never. Enjoy.]
Directed by JJ Abrams
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning
MPAA: PG-13 – For intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and some drug use]
Ask me what my favorite movie was today, and you’d get answers along the lines of Fight Club, The Shining, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Eraserhead, La Strada, The Fountain, etc. However, if you were to ask me what my favorite movie was as a seven year old, you’d get answers along the lines of E.T., Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, etc. Today, those clasic films still hold a special, special place in my heart, and re-watching them again, they bring me back to a childhood obsessed with movies and, more specifically, Steven Spielberg.
Fast-forward a few years later, and the teaser trailer for Super 8 appears, doing very little to impress me and tell me what would make it stand out from another JJ Abrams monster film, Cloverfield. And then, a few months later, the Super Bowl commercial for the film was finally released, shedding to light that it wasn’t just a mere monster film, but a labor-of-love homage to the Spielberg films of old, instantly winning me over with its John Williams inspired music track in the background. So, my anticipation for the film instantly sky-rocketed from “mildly interested” to “absolutely must-see”. The only problem is that JJ Abrams has a habit of not living up to the implausibly high hype-machines he sets-up (See LOST), but after finally seeing it for myself, I think that this is the first JJ Abrams project that has actually exceeded my expectations.
Super 8 is a 1970’s period sci-fi film centering around a boy named Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), helping his friends (Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, and a star-making performance from Elle Fanning) make a low-budget Zombie film called The Case for a Super 8 film festival. Things are going rather well until all of a sudden, a train is derailed by an oncoming pick-up truck, completely obliterating the entire train, and all of its precious cargo. The only thing that could make this kind of scenario worse for these kids would be if the train was actually carrying some sort of top-secret military cargo that would cause many of the townspeople to disappear, and a government cover-up plan to completely wreck everyone’s shit up. Well, I guess even the young ones aren’t safe from the myriad Hollywood monsters, aren’t they.
It may be a little hard to see the Spielberg influences in that plot synopsis, with the exception of the setting, but believe me, the second the logos pop up set to yet another classic John Williams inspired track, and the viewer sees that one of the logos is the Amblin Entertainment logo with Elliot and E.T. flying in front of the moon, you know that your nostalgia levels are going to go up through the roof. Super 8 is like a Frankensteinian amalgation of the traits of every single one of Spielberg’s classic genre films that don’t involve WWII. It contains the charm and wonderment of E.T., the mystery of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the suspense of Jurassic Park, and the minimal creature usage of Jaws, all if it were played with the entire cast of The Goonies.
And what a cast it is. Considering how rare it is to find good child actors these days, it’s insane to me how JJ Abrams was able to find an entire boat-load of talented young actors who never end up being too annoying to even the most jaded viewers. The kids obviously wear that Goonies influence and charm on them proudly, but they are all still able to find their own unique voice and personality without completely aping any of The Goonies characters. Even Joel Courtney, who’s character is almost an exact replica of Sean Astin’s main character in that film still lends the character with his own special charm. The writing and dialogue also play a big part in helping this kids evoke Goonies without completely ripping it off, and just as I mentioned before, Elle Fanning (Who you may remember from the Sofia Coppola directed Somewhere) is sure to become a huge hit with audiences after this film. She’s the only character who isn’t directly inspired by any Goonies characters, and as such, has a lot more to work with, bringing a great charm and surprising amount of toughness to her character.
As for the rest of the technical stuff in this film, it all works really well. Special effects are used effectively without getting in the way of the character development; the creature design from Neville Page (Who also did the creature design for another Abrams project, Cloverfield) is a badass mix between the aforementioned Cloverfield monster, a Locust corpser from Gears of War, a gigantic spider, and motherfuckin’ Cthulu; and all the action is incredibly well-shot and edited, able to show an insane amount of chaos and explosions without ever becoming disorienting or hard to follow. The icing on this already delicious cake is that Abrams really puts a lot of effort in bringing the audience back to the time period, and really gives the viewer a sense of the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Even little touches such as characters using Walkmans, a frightened neighbor who thinks that Soviets are behind the disappearances, and the pot-head camera store clerk really immerse the viewer into the setting, and Abrams clearly shows us his love for this period of time, and the films he grew up with, then.
And speaking of our director, let’s talk about the man himself. Abrams has become rather notorious for creating ridiculous amounts of hype for films, and leaving the viewer unsatisfied. LOST‘s season finale left fans with less answers than initially promised, Cloverfield was a fun little monster movie that was unfortunately perceived by an eagerly anticipated audience to be much more considering its insane ARG campaign, hell, even his Star Trek reboot kind of crapped all over itself in the halfway mark when Leonard Nimoy dropped by to force the original series’ continuity into what was supposed to be a new slate. However, I think there’s a main reason why Super 8 is the first Abrams project, at least in my eyes, to exceed the hype.
I’ll say the same thing I said in my defense for LOST, and it’s that while Abrams clearly can’t deliver on head-scratching mysteries, he’s really good at creating characters that the viewer cares about. The problem with LOST however was that those loveable characters were put to the side in the later seasons, while the heady, implausible, convoluted mysteries of the island took the center stage. Super 8 doesn’t have this problem because the characters and the setting are put into the limelight; not the mysterious creature, or the government conspiracy. It’s because of this that even when certain resolutions underwhelm the viewer, there’s an emotional resonance that’s achieved in the end that Abrams gets right more than anything else in the film.
If there are any flaws with the film, it is that, as stated before, Abrams is bad at providing satisfying payoffs for his insane mounds of hype. While the creature design ends up being really cool, its motives are so ridiculously cliche that you can feel Abrams just slapping you in the head ‘V8’ style, whilst belching out an obnoxious “DUH!!” at your face.
And that’s not the only payoff that disappoints. There’s a wonderfully done subplot involving the parents of Elle Fanning’s and Joel Courtney’s characters, and the tension there is between the two of them. It is really well-done, but unfortunately, it is resolved extremely quickly in a car-ride where the two of them just stare at each other and exchange “sorry”s.
Also, I know that this is me picking nits, and many other people have picked this particular nit many times before me, but it must be said: JJ Abrams’s fetish for lens flares is incredibly distracting, irritating, and unnecessary. Seriously, it wasn’t that distracting in Star Trek since it kind of fit the futuristic aesthetic, but here it is really out of place, and sometimes really distracts your eyes from otherwise heartwarming scenes.
All of these complaints aren’t dealbreakers, however. And with all of this being said, Super 8 is the best blockbuster of the summer, so far, and it is likely to be one of the best blockbusters in general that we’ll get all year.
Final Verdict: Super 8 transcends it’s largely nostalgia-driven charm by being a genuinely great movie in general, as well as a homage to the Spielberg films of old. The directing (minus the lens-flares) is top-notch, the entire cast is terrific, and while certain things do not payoff, the emotional core at the center of the film is able to win you over again. Add that with one of the best ending credits sequences of the last few years, and you have grade-A summer entertainment. Super 8 is (I am so going to hell for this) SUPER GREAT!! AMIRITE GAIS?!?! HUH?! HUH?!
That is all.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to re-watch all my childhood favorites again. Oh, the delicious nostalgia. Bye!