Friday, November 18, 2011

"I know that's your camera, sir, but technically that's my film."

Film: Super 8
Year: 2011
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 clich├ęd 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:


  1. Great review :) This has been one of my favourite films of this year (but I'm a big fan of sci-fi. I loved Abrams new Star Trek as well) and this film reminded me a lot of Spielberg's Close Encounters).

  2. I am so glad you got as much out of this as much I did!!

    A brilliant and well structured review!


  3. Such a good review, this!
    Just as you said, this film wanted me to get nostalgic about those times. It all felt so perfect. I am one of the people who didn't like the third act as much as the rest of the film, but I forgave everything because of the brilliant performances by the child actors. Also, the whole story with Elle Fanning's character and her dad did feel forced, but I guess was what made her so much more attractive to the boys. Joel Courtney won me over in effortless.

    I like homages. I think if I did get to make films, so many of mine will be Woody Allen-esque until bad reviews stop me :P

  4. This is a very fair review; Super 8 was a little over hyped and I agree the ending was too damn cheesy but it still stands head and shoulders above many other summer blockbusters (especially bloody Transformers 3).

  5. Great review. I've not seen it, but definitely plan on doing so soon after reading this.

  6. Sure the ending was cheesy, but the movie was still freakin awesome! :D

    I thought the script was exceptional, J.J. Abrams always impresses me with his directing, and the acting was fantastic! Not to mention an absolutely BEAUTIFUL musical score.

    Excellent review Stevee!

  7. Great flick because it brought me back to the golden days of when I would just sit at home and watch some of The Goonies or E.T.. My favorite film of the year for awhile until 50/50 cam out, then it got knocked down to 2. Still good review Stevee.

  8. @Matt - totally agree about the score. Michael Giacchino does great work!

  9. I thought it was a decent flick, but quite forgettable. The best thing about the film was definetly Elle Fanning.

  10. Solid summer blockbuster flick although a bit overrated when it came out. I think the movie had a bit of trouble between being a coming-of-age story and a monster flick. I also thought the action set-pieces were a bit too over the top shiny and loud. Nonetheless, satisfying cinematic experience.

  11. I remember the train crash explosion was included in the trailer I saw at the cinemas. It was at that moment that I knew I should see this on the big screen but being a poor student makes it a little hard. Therefore, I have yet to see SUPER 8.

    It's certainly on my 'list of films to see' though. Yes, I have a physical list.

  12. Ruth - I'm actually quite the fan of sci-fi. I used to hate it. I must see Close Encounters one day!

    Scott - It was really fun!
    And you're just saying that :) but thanks!

    Nikhat - I would make homages soon! I don't know what kind of homages though...probably a Tarantino homage. And all of his films are homages. Which would be a homage inside of a homage. Which would be like Inception. Making it a homage inside of a homage inside of a homage. I should stop talking.

    Pete - Transformers 3 looks like shit compared to this! Oh, just is shit anyway.

    Joel - Give it a go and see what you think!

    Matt - I'm so glad that you really liked it!

    Dan - I can't wait to see 50/50! It is definitely in my top 10 (so far).

    Sati - Elle Fanning is brilliant :)

    Castor - I didn't actually notice all the over-hype...I'd heard that it was just average so I didn't have very high expectations. It was a satisfying cinematic experience.

    Leith - I saw it at home and it was just fine. Mind you, I have a blu-ray player and a rather large TV. I need a physical list!


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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