12 June 2011

Backyard Movie Making: Super 8

**** (4.5 stars)

Sometimes I think it would be nice to relive old memories. The ones from childhood you often think about in times when being an adult is rough. There's my first birthday party to see "The Land Before Time", or the homemade Twister game at my Kindergarten Halloween party. The year I was Catwoman for Halloween, or when a deer walked within three feet of me at my Grandmother's house. It seems obvious that is exactly what writer/director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg were doing when they conceived of "Super 8".

Set in 1979-1980, a group of boys entertain themselves in small town Ohio by making 8mm movies about zombies. What none of them expect is that the fantasy world they've created will suddenly show up on their door step. After witnessing a horrific train crash, their sleepy town of Lillian undergoes several strange events from lost phone lines, to missing car engines, to missing people. The U.S. Air Force shows up to take control of the wreckage as well as the town. The fate of the people lie in the youthful audacity and curiosity that only children have. What they find is at times funny, moving, scary, and cheesy.

It would be unfair to say too much about this movie. The trailers, some of the best in recent years, have done a good job of building suspense and excitement for the film without giving anything away. The audience I was with jumped three times, but laughed along with the jokes twice as often. And, that's the thing. This isn't really a sci-fi film, it's a coming of age movie that everyone regardless of how they grew up can relate. In the band of geeks, there's the chubby one, the dictator, the quiet one, the crazy one, the passive one, and the hot one. These actors, many of whom have few to zero credits to their names, capture what it was like to be adolescent. The dialog rings true because they were free to ad lib where need be. Another testament to Abrams power as a director. I would love to see him dial it back a bit and make a really personal (even more so) film. Something that reminds us this is the guy who created "Felicity". It's time for his "first feature" and not another blockbuster. Of course, with the estimated earnings of this movie, that dream will probably never come to pass.

It's easy to make comparisons to Speilberg's early work, especially "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", but that really diminishes the film that is Abrams creation. Certainly he was influenced by these films, but what filmmaker working in this genre isn't? There was a lovely quote by Spielberg in this weeks "Entertainment Weekly" that talked about how all films influence us and it's impossible to make a movie that doesn't draw on those influences, whether it be a complete rip off, homage, or tone. [side note: I wish I had the article with me, it was really good, but I'm writing this away from the house so I suggest you just go out and get you a copy!] Someone should wake up M. Night Shamylan and tell him this is how you make a movie.

I'm not sure this is the summer movie to trump all summer movies, but it is enjoyable on many levels that other blockbusters are not. A perfect double feature: "X-Men: First Class" and "Super 8". We could subtitle it: "A lesson in what the summer could be".


  1. *throws up on you*

    Just kidding. I actually caught a matinee of this the other day. In the end, I was kinda torn as far as what to think about it. On one hand, I found it to be entertaining and a nice throwback to the un-P.C. kids movies of the 80's (Monster Squad, Stand by Me, etc.), but on the other hand I was annoyed by a lot of the stereotypes and had issues with the pacing. This is a movie that I would definitely show my kid(s) if I were a parent, but for me, as an adult watching it, it didn't do a whole lot for me.

  2. I definitely get the issues with the pacing of the film. It's hard to remember there was a time when the action didn't start until the 2nd ro 3rd reel, and that was the norm! Now, movies, and primarily studios, think they have to hit us over the head with explosions, CGI, and gore right of the bat or our precious little ADD addled minds won't hang.
    On the whole, it did remind me enough of the movies I grew up watching in the 80s and the focus on the kids rather than any monster, was what gave it that extra 1/2 star.
    PS- Thanks for not throwing up on me :)

  3. For all its obvious touches of Spielbergia, Super 8 feels a whole lot like The Iron Giant meets Stand By Me. In a good way. Good Review!