Starring Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Elle Fanning, Bruce Greenwood, Riley Griffiths, Michael Hitchcock, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Colin Mathews, Amanda Michalka, Zach Mills, Remy Thorne, Glynn Turman, Dan Castellaneta
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Expectations: Fairly high. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the first 3/4 of this one, and I LOVE old Spielberg.
Ready for a rant? I hope so, because I sure am! If I needed another reason to continue avoiding summer blockbusters, I’ve just seen it. Where do I begin? Super 8 is a ridiculously over-the-top, unfocused, hole-filled mess that managed to rub me the wrong way at virtually every turn. This is exactly why I try not to review recent big-budget movies, because they’d all be pissed-off rants and that’s no fun for anyone. If you’re interesting in seeing J.J. Abrams mash a trainload of various elements from the early Spielberg sci-fi films into one movie, then look no further than Super 8.
Joe, a teen distraught at his mother’s tragic death, rebounds by helping his friend Charles make a Super 8 zombie flick. They enlist the aid of their friends: Dude with the Braces, Dude with the Glasses & Dude with the Curly Hair. That’s the amount of character depth given to those characters, so it’s not worth my time to bother looking up their names. This could have been The Goonies for the modern age, and most likely it will be for those young boys watching it over the next few years, but for me the friendships felt forced and everyone except the two main boys were mere caricatures of what they could have been. If the film had actually focused itself on the kids and their adventure, perhaps we would have gotten to know them a little better, but J.J. Abrams just couldn’t decide which movie he wanted to make.
“Should I make the alien invasion film or the coming-of-age one? Maybe the crash-landed alien film would be good, or perhaps that nostalgic ode to the wonderful days of making movies with your friends. Oh, what the hell! Let’s make them all in one!”
If only he’d gotten someone else to do a polishing pass over the script they could have corrected some of these problems, but as it stands Super 8 is a jumbled mess of various Spielberg ideas. It’s like what Tarantino does, but without the personal signature and style that makes his films unique and interesting. Well, Abrams has lens flare but I wouldn’t call that much of a style.
Consider this clever piece of writing. Early on in the film, Charles tells Joe that he’s talked this girl Alice into being the love interest in their movie. When Joe questions the decision, Charles responds that it’s not a real movie until it has a female character. Adding the scenes with her adds heart and makes the viewer care about the events. It’s non-essential to the actual story, but she will exist as an audience manipulation technique. And then without missing a beat, Abrams utilizes Alice’s character in exactly the same way in the real movie. Really? It’s like a grand subversive joke on the audience’s intelligence, proving once again that most people don’t give a shit about role equality in film. Not only that, but two of the three black people in the film were nearly-mute, unquestioning servants to the main heavy. Aren’t we past this kind of bullshit characterization?
When the words “old Spielberg sci-fi” come up, I get a wave of nostalgia. I watched a lot of his stuff growing up. Indiana Jones & E.T. were my bread and butter. Later in my teens I finally saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it blew me away. It was thrilling, mentally engaging, and thoughtful science fiction all rolled into one. Like a dream come true, everything I could want for in a film was playing out before my eyes. So when people throw around that Super 8 is recapturing some of that magic, I cannot rightfully stay away from the theater for very long. Unfortunately, it’s like J.J. Abrams just doesn’t get it. Evidently he watched those same Spielberg films but only picked up on the broad visual clues, missing the point of those movies he’s aping completely. They were not about reckless action and over-the-top special FX, they were human stories about people getting caught up in things much bigger than themselves. There was a sense of wonder, of true childhood joy permeating Close Encounters and E.T., but sadly there’s not much on display in Super 8.
Hey, if you enjoy this one, enjoy the hell out of it and don’t let me stop you. The acting from the kids is especially good, but personally I would have liked some memorable characters, a better plot and a healthy dose of old school Spielberg wonder in my “nostalgic homage to Spielberg.” I guess I’m just a purist. It’s ironic that in J.J. Abrams’ first non-series original picture he just took everything he loved about Spielberg’s old films and reused them. No thanks.