Friday, November 18, 2011
"I know that's your camera, sir, but technically that's my film."
Film: Super 8
Writer/Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Noah Emmerich, Glynn Turman, AJ Michalka.
Running time: 112 min.
I often hear a lot of people getting all nostalgic about the movies they watched in their childhood, like E.T, or The Goonies, or Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, I missed the 70s/80s, when easy, breezy family entertainment was fun and fresh. Instead, I was born in 1995, which I suppose wasn't a great time for family entertainment compared to then. I didn't watch any movies either, because whenever a family movie came on at 12pm every Sunday, I would turn it off. If there was one thing I hated more than American sitcoms with canned laughter as a kid, it was corny 90s family movies. So when it came to see Super 8, a movie which I heard was extremely nostalgic and sort of a homage to sci-fi family movies from the 80s, I was a little worried that I wasn't educated enough to get it. Instead, J.J. Abrams' movie, with Steven Spielberg producing, is one that not only pays tribute to the movies that most of us/our parents grew up on, but also pays tribute to our childhood. The carefree days when we had imaginations that couldn't be reined in by cynicism or the harsh reality. The days when school didn't matter all that much. The days when everything seemed so much easier.
Super 8 begins with Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), who has just lost his mother. Now, I thought this was seemingly generic material, as most pre-teen characters usually have angst piled on them - and this is the most generic way of doing it. Despite my problems with this at first, later it provides a nice emotional depth to the film, which is just what many blockbusters are lacking. Fast forward a couple of months, and Joe is now making a movie with his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) - a zombie movie, to be exact. They enlist the help of several friends, including Alice (Elle Fanning), whom they both have crushes on, to be their lead actress and driver. All goes well for their film, and they take filming to a railway station. It's here that they see a train derail and cause a large explosion. And this is the first of some extremely strange goings on in their small town.
Let me tell you that Super 8 isn't your average summer blockbuster. It's the kind that has it's head in the blockbuster game, but it's heart in being a sweet coming-of-age story. It has kids being kids, and surprisingly doesn't put them in that weak light that most movies do, having them run around helpless while the adults say "let's take it from here". The kids are on their own, standing up for themselves, finding their way around this mess that is going on in their town. All the while, they still have the odd problems of relationships with their parents and having a crush. The latter is done particularly well, as Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning have a strange sort of chemistry that shouldn't come so easily at their age. The former, however, failed for me. The relationship between Joe and his father (played by Kyle Chandler) felt a little bit forced, as did the death of his mother, particularly in the first and final parts of the movie. Otherwise, as I said, it provided a little emotional depth to the movie. What was particularly disappointing, though, was the relationship between Alice and her father. It actually reminded me of Jenny and her father in Forrest Gump, minus all of the abuse (I hope).
That is one of the reasons why the ending is a little slight. While it's obviously technically impressive, it was just a little too cheesy. That aside, I'm not one of the people who thought that the third act was disappointing. Sure, it did seem to take an extremely abrupt turn into being an all-out sci-fi trying to cram everything that could possibly fit, but I thought it was technical brilliance. In saying that, it was nothing on that train crash. Now, I'm not a fan of explosions, especially after the physical and emotional scarring from Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but that particular explosion/crash was pure and utter brilliance. If that doesn't get your attention, then I don't know what will. After that, the movie raises a lot of questions, some of which never get answered. But it works as an interesting sci-fi, maybe less so than a coming-of-age flick set to grab the older crowd with twangs of nostalgia. In a summer filled with comic book adaptations, sequels and reboots, Super 8 is a movie which stands on it's own two feet, and provides an example for what other blockbuster film-makers should be spending their money on. Sure, it owes a whole lot to the movies of the past. But there aren't that many people who like to see what they've already seen before. People like to see what reminds them of what they've seen in the past. Super 8 is not original, but it's the kind of nostalgia hit that everybody likes to see once in a while.
J.J. Abrams, the man behind the new Star Trek and Lost, does a nice job of writing and directing. He does the action sequences well, the CGI isn't too bad and the explosions aren't too Michael Bay. There may be too many convenient devices in his script, but I really liked all of the younger characters that he created, which were matched by some brilliant performances. In particular, Joe was an extremely nice character who was pretty realistic and I could easily relate to him, and Joel Courtney did a wonderful job playing him. Next to Devin Brochu and Hesher, I'd say he does one of the best young/newcomer performances of the year. But when it comes down to it, Super 8 owes a lot of it's success to Steven Spielberg (if you dear diss him around me, I'll beat you up...just remember Schindler's List, people). This film is so obviously an ode to his works, and he just so happens to be producing it. I could be clichéd like everyone else and say that this is "the best Spielberg film that Spielberg never made", but instead I'll just say that I love you, Steven. For bringing us a summer blockbuster like this. Unfortunately, this movie was released in winter here, and I only just saw it on a grey Tuesday night. But this is exactly the type of movie that I would have loved to have seen on a hot summer's afternoon, with a big box of popcorn in my lap and an ice cold coke in my right hand. I couldn't possibly think of anything more perfect.
What I got: