Sunday, June 19, 2011

Super 8

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I’ve been an off-and-on J.J. Abrams fan since Felicity. I say embarrassed because if there ever was a chick-flick television show, Felicity was it. But I watched it because it was smart, I cared about the characters, and it made me nostalgic for my recent college years. Plus, Keri Russell is totally hot! It’s true that I only saw a couple of episodes of Alias, which is basically Felicity with Guns, and I only just watched the highly acclaimed Lost (I know, finally…), so I’m not the most devoted fan or anything. When Abrams made his first big-screen film (MI3), I was curious but a bit skeptical, and I was even more skeptical about Star Trek. But both turned out to be strong and entertaining blockbusters, which aren’t usually my cup of tea, but if they are well made and have a good story, I’m right there. In fact, Abrams’s newest film comments on this idea. A group of 14-year-old boys are making a zombie movie for the Cleveland Super-8 Film-Festival, and their director explains to his crew that their film will be forgotten if nobody cares about the characters and the story. This is a lesson that Abrams (mostly) takes to heart and something that makes Super 8 stand apart from most of the summer-blockbuster drivel.
Watching Super 8, I couldn’t help but count the references to the films of Abrams’s idol Steven Spielberg, who also produced. The film is partly an homage to War of the Worlds, E.T., Close Encounters, Jaws (well, sort of), and Goonies. The gang of boys also reminded me of Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me. I can’t say Super 8 is a great film, but it is good and there are touches of greatness in it. Some might say it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of a Spielberg film, but I would say that’s a mark in its favor since most or maybe all Spielberg films suffer from high doses of sentimentality. The two lead characters played by Dakota Fanning’s sister Elle and newcomer Joel Courtney are excellent. I was struck by one small scene where Joel’s character Joey explains to Elle’s character Alice how a zombie acts and, click, Elle suddenly becomes one of the most convincing zombies I’ve ever seen (and I’m not embarrassed to say I’ve seen many of them). The best scene, though, comes during a rehearsal on Alice’s first shoot. It’s an amazing scene that you have to see.
But the rest of the gang are just OK; I’m not sure if it was overacting or poor scriptwriting—or both. Every time I hear the word “mint,” I’m going to wince. And there are some ridiculous details, the worst being that a man hits an oncoming train head-on with his truck--and survives! And what’s the deal with movies where the kids figure everything out way before the adults? Probably my biggest complaint, though, is one that not many others care about. I wish that Super 8 had more of the ambitious big ideas that were present in Lost. Super 8 is partly about loss of innocence and partly about recreating a not-so-distant past (1979, to be exact), and it does say some interesting things about the feared and alienated Other, but nothing is very deep. Nonetheless, a fun, entertaining film that’s great for light summer viewing.

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