Friday, June 17, 2011

Super 8 - Movie Review

Super 8
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
Moral Rating:

I have very interesting thoughts about Super 8. I intended to write this review last week when it first came out, but alas and alack life called and I found myself able to let J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg's homage to old-school sci-fi films marinate a while longer in my mind. And that is not a good thing. :-) The problem with Super 8 is not that it is not a good movie, by all means it IS incredibly well made, but that it draws from a pool of superior films in its inspiration. Instead of exiting the theater and thinking about the wonderful story, cinematography and acting I found myself instantly comparing it to other past Spielberg productions such as E.T., The Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

J.J. Abrams attempts and succeeds in Super 8 to craft a film more about the characters and the relationships between them than the aliens, explosions and climaxes (take note Michael Bay). The story revolves around a young boy named Joe (a stellar debut performance by Joel Courtney) and his father - a small town deputy named Jackson Lamb ( portrayed by the surprisingly refreshing Kyle Chandler). Joe and his father are at odds for the majority of the film because Joe develops an attachment to the lovely young Alice (Elle Fanning) while helping his friends film a zombie movie on a super 8 camera (the title reference). This normally wouldn't be an issue, except Joe's father blames Alice's father for the death of his wife in a tragic machine shop accident (not shown, thank God). Trust me, it is very easy to follow on screen! All this background is just to give you an idea of the kind of drama and angst in Super 8. Instead of squeezing your armrest in suspense at the havoc caused by the escaped creature (yes there is a creature, and yes there is a train wreck) you will most likely be tearing up as you feel Joe's pain. This is what keeps Super 8 afloat. As a monster movie, Super 8 would very much so suck - but as a movie about a young boy trying to repair the relationship with his bitter and grieving father, Super 8 excels.

Now to the monster. The only thing I need to say is that I was a bit let down by this aspect of the story. I felt as if Abrams was borrowing too much from Cloverfield for his monster design and as a result, thought it was a stretch to characterize it. E.T had a somewhat "cute" quality, this monster - not so much. Abrams does know how to build suspense though, and the most enjoyable suspense scenes where ALL those in which you didn't know where the creature was, what it was doing, and what it looked like. As in Indiana Jones 4, Signs and a handful of other sci-fi films this has been the problem. The film builds up to a rather disappointing alien "reveal". If instead modern directors would follow in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock, their films would be far more effective. Hitchcock created suspense and tension by NOT revealing because he understood that the imagination could create far more terrifying and horrific scenarios then anything he could portray. This is why Rear Window, Psycho and The Birds have endured the test of time. I'd like to say that Super 8 could as well, but.... if it does it won't be based on any of the suspense or creature sequences. (shakes head). Thank goodness the characters are so good.

One final note.... there is a surprisingly good amount of language in Super 8. Many uses of G**d*** and S*** almost ALL being spoken by child actors. While the amount of offensive language is not very frequent, it does bother me how Hollywood seems to be writing more and more edgy scripts for young actors. I recall the outrage at Kick-A** for allowing one of the young actors to use the C-word in the script. While Super 8 doesn't have that, it still makes me wonder about the future of language in cinema.... as odd as that sounds. Other than that language and a solitary F bomb, the only other problem I could see someone having was the intensity of some of the sequences. The train wreck sequence is loud, scary and intense although impressively created on screen. Teens and adults should have no problem with this or the suspense, but for a movie that is marketed as an old-school family film it is certainly anything but! 

Conclusion: I was happy to see an original story on the screen as good as this Spielberg/Abrams collaboration. Sure, Super 8 has its flaws, its INCREDIBLY big shoes to fill and a creature that detracts from the overall value of the movie; but at its heart Super 8 is a story about living life, about relationships, about coping with grief, about taking chances, about sticking by one's principles, and trust. In the midst of a summer full of magic, explosions, superheroes, and all other manner of distractions it is encouraging to leave a theater feeling like you've grown as a human. It is sad that in the 21st century cinema this is such a rare thing!

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