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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Super 8

This is a tribute to Spielberg, and one that is ultimately impossible to resist

If you have turned on your television, listened to the radio, or gone to the movies in the past month, you have probably seen the trailers and poster’s for Super 8. It seems that the hype that has built around this movie is almost impossible to resist, also given the fact that this is a Steven Spielberg production and directed by J.J. Abrams. You would think this is a collaboration that just shines with potential, thus making Super 8 a film that any film fan finds impossible to pass.

But for all the hype for it, none of the previews or propaganda seems to explain what the movie is really about. Set in the eighties, Super 8 is the story of a group of teenagers set out to film a zombie movie. The protagonist of the film is their make-up artist and special effects supervisor, Joe, who also recently lost his mother. Joe is forced to abide with his distant father, who looks down at his friends and what they are trying to accomplish. One day after having sneaked out at night to shoot a scene at a train station, the group witnesses a freak train accident which is captured on their Super 8 camera. Soon afterwards, strange things begin to happen in their small Ohio town, and it becomes evident that something was aboard that train, and that it is now wreaking havoc.

The standout performance in the film is definitely given by its lead, Joel Courtney, who plays Joe. His performance, along with the rest of the young cast in the film, is extremely natural and easy to believe. He creates a character that is genuine and plays him excellently. Courtney is able to portray the emotion of his character flawlessly and stunningly, and is able to carry the film as a lead without trouble. This is a performance that will without doubt launch his career, for it is one of the best young performances I’ve seen in years.

Elle Fanning is also splendid as Alice Dainard, Joe’s love interest and an actress in the group’s production. Fanning creates a very interesting, believable, and real character and gives her enough edge to even make her a wild card. It is a pleasure to see that while Elle’s sister Dakota is doing Twilight, she is actually taking part in something that showcases her talent and with this film proves to be a superior actress to her sister.

If there is something that director J.J. Abrams does perfectly in this film it is capturing a mood. The nostalgic, childhood aura of the early 80’s Spielberg pieces is evident here, and it is amongst the best parts of the film. Abrams makes use of the era he is portraying and hides in little details and jokes about the early 80’s that make the film even easier to appreciate.

In fact, this isn’t as much of a Spielberg movie as Abrams’ homage to Spielberg. There are obvious references to Spielberg’s early works, and the nostalgic themes can’t help but bring back memories of E.T. But what is most refreshing is that while the theme and mood of the film are extremely reminiscent of a Spielberg movie, the plot and the story remain for the most part fairly original.

What makes Super 8 memorable is its character development. For a large portion of the film, this feels less like a science fiction movie and more like a movie about how these characters react to what is happening. It is beyond captivating to observe how these characters change and come together through the course of the movie. At the end of the day, the last thing you care about is the “thing” that is causing so much chaos.

That is why when the third act of the movie comes along and the plot switches from developing the characters and more onto hunting down and discovering what the mysterious force is, the film becomes a bit predicable and not as enjoyable. Frankly, it just begins to feel like any other science fiction movie. It begins to drag and become somewhat monotonous, and worst of all, it becomes a bit cheesy; and added to the fact that there is one too many E.T. moments; the ending of the film isn’t at all its strength.

Perhaps this is an example of how two styles simply don’t mesh together; Spielberg’s nostalgia and Abram’s lens flare simply don’t mix. But that can be forgiven by how well the first two acts are directed. This is a tribute to Spielberg, and one that is ultimately impossible to resist; a riveting character study that surpasses its attempts to shine in the sci-fi genre.


Anonymous said...

Great review Nicolas. Agree with your movie views. There is also a lot of The Goonies and Close Encounters in the film as well.