Monday, June 4, 2012

Super 8

Directed by J. J. Abrams.
2011. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Joel Courtney
Elle Fanning
Riley Griffiths
Kyle Chandler
Ron Eldard
Zach Mills
Gabriel Basso
Amanda Michalka
Joel McKinnon Miller
Jessica Tuck

A group of middle-school friends are making their own zombie movie using a Super-8 camera. By the way, we’re in 1979 so they can’t use a digital camera or upload it to YouTube. They all sneak out of their houses late at night to film a pivotal scene at the local train station. While they’re shooting, a passing train is spectacularly derailed by a pickup truck purposely driven on the tracks directly at said train. It soon becomes clear that something very scary, very dangerous and very different has escaped from the wreckage and terrorizes the small town.

Super 8 is one of those movies where it’s biggest strength may also be its greatest weakness. Writer and director J. J. Abrams gets loads of mileage out of the friendships between the boys and in particular out of Joe’s (Courtney) budding romance with the group’s only girl, Alice, played by Dakota Fanning’s younger sister Elle. She is excellent. I’m not sure if it’s because of or in spite of the fact she is the only female in the crew, but her performance really stands out. Abrams also uses a certain old school trick to perfection. He doesn’t fully reveal his monster until late in the proceedings. It’s fitting that Steven Spielberg is this film’s producer. He used this sleight of hand better than anyone in the original Jaws. As it does there, in Super 8 it adds a layer of mystery and makes the creature scarier than he would otherwise be.

On the flipside, those things that make Super 8 work, hold it back a bit. The whole thing feels extremely derivative. It’s very reminiscent of lots of movies that were made within a few years of when this one is set: The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Stand by Me, The Sandlot, etc. Of course, even that list would not be complete without including E. T. Nearly every element of S8 seems to come from one of those movies, including the totally rushed and botched ending. That portion of our feature is a truncated version of one of those others that doesn’t quite feel right. Just so you don’t go thinking it’s all about the oldies, there is a healthy dose of Cloverfield thrown in, too.

What rescues S8 is that Abrams does a masterful job telling his tale. We feel for the kids involved and identify with them even as they decide to do some incredibly foolish things in hopes of saving the day. Visually, it works magic in the opposite way of most movies. We’re far more tantalized by what we don’t see. It’s lack of originality likely won’t be apparent to young’uns or anyone else who hasn’t seen those other movies I’ve mentioned. To them, it will be a breath of fresh air. To me, it’s the answer to the question “what if Spielberg had directed Cloverfield back in the 80s?” It’s pretty much what it sounds like: E. T. without the Reese’s Pieces, glowing index finger or sunny disposition.

MY SCORE: 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment