Super 8 (2011) – It ain’t E.T.
Let’s just be honest, when it comes to the monster portion of this creature feature, the less you know about what is causing all the disturbances in this small town before you see the film, the better. But, let’s say for the sake of argument you’re not going to want to watch the movie if you think you will get punked as you did during Cloverfield, and to a more confusing extent, Lost. I can tell you with full confidence you’ll probably enjoy the end result found here in Super 8. While I’m not going to be a Spoily McSpoilerson and exactly tell you what it is, I will say it’s pretty terrifying and J.J. Abrams successfully scared the crap out of me on more than one occasion while the film unspooled.
Well, technically I saw it in a digital screening. Which probably only increased the lens flare. Goddamnit J.J. what is up with your obsession with lens flare anyway? It was abusively distracting during your re-invisioning of Star Trek. Sure, one could make the argument that in space no one should be without blinding glimmers of light. But used here — although admittedly less so — damn near wrecked several very good scenes.
Thankfully, Super 8 is filled with very good scenes. From the first shots of young Joel Lamb (played by neophyte Joel Courtney) sitting despondently on a swing set morning the recent death of his mother, to the very last frames where everything turns out alright in the end (totally not a spoiler) I stopped counting how many times I wanted to remember what was happening so I could gush about it to you and others. The gleefully juvenile chatter over plates full of diner food, the pure adrenaline rush of a perilous attack on a bus, even small moments when the boys are being talked up by the local photo-developer clerk who desires nothing more than to get with their sisters. Even when things go haywire in the final section of the movie, everything is grounded by just how amazing this young cast is.
Yes, Super 8 is firmly in the camp of Science Fiction. And it’s extremely geeky. How could a rag-tag gang of kids making their own zombie film be described as otherwise. But while most people are so preoccupied with the supernatural inevitability of the result of an extremely powerful train crash, the dispatching of secret military operations, and the eventual reveal of previously stated monster, my attention was more rapt by the nugget tightly held closer to the director’s chest of what this film contained. This work is obviously personal, and it comes across that way with a genuine sense of discovery, awe, and passion. I can appreciate that.
It’s a very well acted, plotted, scripted, and, lens flare be damned, shot coming of age story set in 1979 featuring kid-character types that not only do I remember from my own youth. But fragments of who I was and am myself today. Somehow, in the middle of the crash-bang Summer Blockbuster Extravaganza™ there is a movie here that has some real heart. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful, even at the expense at ignoring just how hard Sci-Fi it ends up having to go.
Hmm. I swore I gave this film an A+ but apparently the lens flare took the plus sign away. Guess we’ll just have to settle with just an A.
This had to have been my first midnight showing in 2 years. For one, nobody in Maine keeps anything open past 10PM even on the weekends (they fear wolves, I think), but mostly there just isn’t a crowd. We drove 40 miles to the incredible Magic Lantern Theater and shared an intimate screening with 4 other folks, including 2 theater employees. Everyone else completely missed out – there was energy in the room from the tiny crowd that matched the feeling when I first saw the trailer. ”Here it is,” I thought, “finally a movie that is done like a classic sci-fi thriller. If anybody can do this, J. J. Abrams and his attention to detail will pull it off.”
Super 8 opens strong with an event that sets up our hero, Joe Lamb’s, chain of events. There are a lot of things that the trailers have been misleading on and intentional about keeping quiet, so I won’t spoil those moments. The first shot is one of those – defining moment with a lot of ambiguity that clears as the movie progresses. After we introduce the stellar cast of kids, it doesn’t take long for the massive train wreck (literally, not in the story sense like most films) that sets the weird rolling.
I started sweating a little bit during that scene – not because it was so tense, but so over the top that Michael Bay would have blushed. I swear that train crashed for 10 minutes. Train cars and debris flew everywhere mostly because the Air Force conveniently peppered their precious cargo train with gasoline tanker cars. Despite that, Abrams quickly redeemed himself with a riveting adventure story told through the simple eyes of children.
Casting couldn’t have been more perfect. Joel Courtney, with his single impressive IMDB credit, plays a perfect hero just trying to have a childhood and save the girl. His energy and intensity was easily matched by the impressive Elle Fanning. In a sea of raunchy films and slapped-together productions, it was a huge breath of fresh air to simply enjoy good acting and a well-structured story. Was it the most innovated film? Not by a long shot, but what it attempted, it did very very well.
A grand-scale adventure capped off with realistic-looking action and a great cast of appropriately aged kids (*cough*I Am Number Four*cough*) made for an incredibly enjoyable film. Stop showing the monster, and take a queue from the old-school movies, Hollywood.
The Fat Man gives this: