Super 8 Review
by Bret Dorman
The Problem: They (filmmakers) just don’t make ’em (movies) like they used to.
The Solution: Pair up a talented young filmmaker with the experienced expert of Blockbuster movies and make one like he used to.
The Story: Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) helps his friend Charles (Riley Griffith) make movies and has a crush on Alice (Elle Fanning) even though their Dad’s don’t like each other! Also, there is an alien.
As you are most likely aware, Super 8 is J.J. Abrams ‘homage’ to the hit blockbusters of his childhood. The first trailer made this almost look like a re-do of the Abrams produced Cloverfield, but it quickly became clear that this was going to be a ‘real’ movie (as opposed to a ‘found footage’ movie). What Abrams does instead, is teams up with his lifelong idol and ‘America’s Favorite Director’, Steven Spielberg, to deliver a film using Spielberg’s tools, resources, and trademark filmmaking style, but with a fresh, new, youthful spirit of storytelling.
Early Blockbusters, most notably JAWS, ‘redefined’ the term to not only include financial success (Blockbuster Hit!) or failure (Blockbuster Bomb!), but also a style of filmmaking. Something that could be bottled and reproduced. Like a Spielberg Soda of sorts. But looking at early Blockbusters like JAWS, E.T., and Star Wars… its important to note that these were movies with a story, visual style, and most importantly, heart.
Now, with movies like Tranformers, Armageddon, and The Day after Tomorrow, its easy for ‘mindless’ and ‘action’ to precede the term Blockbuster. These are big dumb movies that appeal to the widest range possible. The budgets are big and so in order to make their money back they have to water everything down and try to include something everyone will like. The result is just bland Special Effects extravaganzas with a bunch of famous people who get half of their fame from magazines about what kind of clothes they wear to get their favorite brand of coffee.
Super 8 is not this. Its not an ‘action movie’. It just has some action in it. Its not a ‘mindless movie’. Its a well crafted piece with heart. Now I know ‘the heart’ and ‘the mind’ are two different things, but Abrams shows he put thought into the movie by stylistically creating something to tug at our heartstrings. The close ups, the dialogue, the always purposefully moving camera, the realistic set pieces, and the carefully constructed characters; these are all used to tell a story that is about something other than the big alien running around town.
Spielberg also used these tools to make his movies so effective and reach so many people. Its fun to watch a movie that probably ends is Nostalgic Essence with our generation, but current young film goers can also love as well. You don’t have to ‘get’ the references or have seen The Goonies or Stand By Me to like Super 8. You just have to like having fun.
As for the story itself, the first two thirds are rather alien-less. Instead we just get glimpses and pieces that build in intensity until the two stories meet. One of the weaknesses of the movie is that it purposefully does not show you the alien until the end, but it does so frustratingly by simply blocking your view of it. A ‘well placed’ tree or gas station sign obstructs our view, but the characters on screen see and react to the big beast. He’s not very subtle in his destruction and kidnappings, but we are forced to wait to see him.
While this kind of ‘tool’ bugs me a lot, its not the alien that’s the main focus. Its the kids. They all turn in fantastic performances and play well off each other. The back story between Alice and Joe is great and how the two treat each other with more respect than their fathers do. The kids sometimes act more grown up and deal with their problems more head on than the adults in the film, who squabble and fight like babies.
‘Coming of age’ is a popular story arch that’s so rarely used for the film’s actual good. in Super 8, Joe not only learns valuable life lessons, but actually uses them to change other characters. The best scene in the movie comes when his Dad lays down the law and tells him why he can’t see Alice anymore. Instead of just being sad and mopey and still doing it behind his back, he actually confronts his dad and makes him try to explain himself.
The only other problem I have with Super 8 is that its PG 13, but it has so much swearing. Most of it comes from the kids. I mean, in the more intense scenes I think its great that these little kids can say ‘Holy Shit!’ because that’s exactly what I was thinking. But when just sitting around a diner table eating, some of the swears seem forced and out of place. Just because you use ‘adult’ words doesn’t mean you are an adult. I think the film was better than that. But making fun of each other and having a certain shorthand definitely helped enhance the friendships of these kids and make them more realistic.
This movie may seem like to some 2 movies in 1. But I love genre crossing. And the alien aspect of the movie to me is definitely riding back seat to the kids, who are driving this movie. And in the end both come together rather poetically and not just because we had an alien for some part in the middle so we have to make them clash.
In Conclusion, There’s no denying the feel good aspects of Super 8. By the end, you may or may not need a tissue, but you’ll feel something other than excitement from the action moments. Sometimes, lately, going to see all the Summer Blockbuster movies can be a chore. With Super 8, its a delight.
Final Grade: A-