TAKE TWO: Super 8

14 Jun

Super 8

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka

Director: J.J. Abrams

Chris’ Take: Super 8 seemed to market itself as a film that was Cloverfield meets E.T., and while there were plenty of those two elements in there, it fell short from capturing a complete melding of the scares of the former and the emotional impact and childlike wonder of the latter.

After a tragic accident that took the life of his mother, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his father (Kyle Chandler) deal with it in different ways. Joe distracts himself with making films with his friends, while his Dad engulfs himself in his work as a deputy sheriff. Their lives are interrupted again when Joe is a witness to a horrific train crash that rips through their small Ohio town. Soon after, the Air Force shows up and mysterious things begin to happen. While the Air Force is telling Joe and his father that nothing is wrong, Joe is convinced that there is a monster on the loose and that it is up to him and his friends to unravel the mystery and save the town.

J.J. Abrams certainly knows how to direct. He has a knack for creating intriguing plot devices, but at the same time, this film seemed to lack subtlety and felt calculated. Every piece of dialogue seemed to be some sort of example that would be used in a screenwriting textbook, and Abrams seemed to know it, as if making sure that every sentence was structured accordingly. So, while it was good in the sense that the script did what he needed it to do, it did not seem effortless, but forced and unconvincing. The script was original, and I give him props for that, since there are very few blockbuster films now that are not remakes or sequels, but at the same time it didn’t feel original because it seemed like Abrams and Spielberg got together, stroked each others’ egos, and then set to work on combining their previous ideas to make this one.

What makes the script work out to at least a decent level, is the child actors, who did have those hints of child characters from The Sandlot or The Goonies and brought that believability with them. While their dynamics weren’t quite up to the par of those two films, they came the closest that I have seen in a while.

There is one actor that I thought could’ve used more screen time, Kyle Chandler. He did not play as significant a role as I thought he would from the previews. Instead, he just kind of ambles through the town in uniform and questions an Air Force Colonel’s integrity, beats some people up and then just kind of shows up at the end and says, “What did I miss?”

The short film at the end stole the show. While the film didn’t have any emotional resonance with me, it did restore my nostalgia for making films when I was younger. The kids who were in there reminded me of the aspirations I had of putting my creativity into use, even if it was for something simple and childish, at least it was fun and reminded me of the fascination of making movies just for the sheer enjoyment of it.

After all is said and done, the movie works well in a technical sense, but to me those technical aspects needed to be masked a little bit better. I think if the film’s script was a little more polished, the emotions that Abrams was trying to convey would’ve shown through a little bit more and made the film complete, and possibly one of the best of the year.

OVERALL: B

Pac’s Take:  There are few things to consider when watching Super 8 for the first time.  First and foremost this is a kid’s movie.  The movie is starring kids, and its target audience is kids (whether they be actual children or just the kid inside us all).  The next most important thing to consider is that this is a dedicated homage to the 80’s child and/or adventure movies people like J.J. Abrams and myself (who is significantly younger than Abrams) grew up with.  If you like movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies, E.T., The Sandlot, The Monster Squad, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (I choose that film specifically because of Short Round), and Gremlins then you will enjoy this film. 

Like any of the aforementioned movies, thematic subtlety, complex dialogue, and intricate plot devices are often lacking (remember this is a kid’s movie), but it’s these things that give Super 8 that endearing quality that makes it special.  The film opens with the main character Joe (Joel Courtney) sitting outside in the snow alone after his mother’s funeral while the neighbors inside speculate how he’ll cope now that the only person who understood him, truly, has passed away.  It’s the very first scene of the movie and already we’ve thrown subtlety out the window, so prepare yourself for what’s to come. 

There’s no shame in J.J. Abrams game when it comes to his love for the era either, the references to the late 70’s/early 80’s are littered within the script.  From discussions between teenagers and adults about the slippery slope of Walkmans, to the kids singing “My Sharona’, comments about how drugs are bad for you (Nancy Reagan would be proud), and discussions about getting back into disco; there’s almost no scene in the movie where they don’t slap you with a period reference.  Even the more subtle ones aren’t very subtle; like the Halloween poster on the wall and my personal favorite…

His name is Cary and he likes to set things on fire.... with his mind perhaps?

 The cast of the movie was spectacular, despite their age and lack of experience.  Sometimes it showed, especially with Joel Courtney; but considering the undertaking he was assigned as the lead, he surpassed my expectations.  The chemistry between the children was really strong, something J.J. Abrams obviously focused on when casting these six.  Even Kyle Chandler’s brief amount of screen time showcased his talents in the role of Joe’s father Jack, especially his Indiana Jones like escape from military prison.

Here Mr. Lamb, here's your copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark back

 Technically the film looked great as well, I especially took notice of the establishing shots J.J. Abrams chose to use.  I can’t recall another film where I was so noticeably impressed by the establishing shots as I was Super 8.  It’s very difficult to translate their impact to text and I wasn’t able to find a good screen shot  to capture this (though they sort of used one on the poster), so instead I’ll leave you with the one technical aspect that did bother me.

That's right, the lens flares.

 J.J. Abrams caught a lot of flack for this in Star Trek, and while I didn’t notice them as much in that film, probably because it was set in the future and in space and seemed like it could have had some technical purpose, here they were just annoying.  Too often when one of the actors was giving a monologue a lens flare from a street light or a film projector cut their face in half, taking me emotionally out of the scene.  There was even, at one point, a shot of the wall of a completely dark cave but a blue lens flare cut the entire screen in half.  A friend of mine theorized that this is probably just J.J. Abrams way of giving the middle finger to everyone who criticized it in Star Trek.  I like to support this theory simply because it’s the only rational explanation I’ve heard thus far.

Super 8 is a great movie, and I consider it to be a great movie because of its flaws, not despite them.  Keep in mind the intention of the film and the audience it hopes to attract and you’ll be in for a treat.  I implore everyone who has kids to take them to see Super 8 and to enjoy it with them.  While there are some “monster” elements to the movie, it’s not a scary film and the horror aspect of it all takes up a very small portion screen time.  I bought in to what Abrams and Spielberg were selling completely; so for me Super 8 is the best film of the year thus far.

OVERALL: A/A+

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One Response to “TAKE TWO: Super 8”

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  1. Super 8 – Summer Movie with Familiar Theme | Tasithoughts's Weblog - June 14, 2011

    […] TAKE TWO: Super 8 (cptakehollywood.com) […]

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