Super 8 2011 USA
Directed by J. J. Abrams (produced by Steven Spielberg)
Screening at UK cinemas
Surprised myself by having no spoilers in this review. Consider yourself unwarned!
Okay... I just got back from watching Super 8 at my local movie house (flea pit) and I know I’m probably going to have trouble assembling my thoughts into some kind of order for this review so, just so I don’t get my messages mixed here, I’m going to say this right up front... Super 8 is by no means a terrible movie. In fact, it’s not even close to being a bad movie... it is in fact, a brilliantly crafted amalgamation of parlour tricks strung together intelligently and is to be highly recommended to most people who love the art of film.
That being said, and having got that out of the way, I think I have to recognise here that, although I am probably the intended target audience for this movie as much as the young audience the producers will be relying on to repeat view and keep the box office up... somehow this movie isn’t quite for me. I grew up with movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial but I deliberately chose not to go see movies like The Goonies and Explorers and I’ve never really looked back on that decision (or ever seen them).
Super 8 is produced by Spielberg and directed by J. J. Abrams but it’s very much a homage to the kinds of films Spielberg was churning out in the late 70s and early 80s... big, family friendly blockbusters of tales broadly drawn and giving a big feel good factor to the mass audiences in the hopes that this general feeling will last long enough to be converted into hard cash again when the merchandise options arrive. Perhaps that’s a little cynical of me but there are worse things to spend your money on and I’m delighted to say that Super 8 feels as much like it’s spawned from the mind of someone like Joe Dante as it does from the more obvious influences. Kinda like the 50s Invaders From Mars but filtered through an 80s sensibility.
The child protagonists are all nicely cynical and not the innocent, starry eyed kids of a gazillion Disney movies and the film acknowledges the little truths that we all know such as... kids like watching horror movies the censors don’t want them to see! And yes, there are classic Aurora Monster Model kits in this movie... you just knew there would be, didn’t you?
The movie has some fine performances from all its actors (especially the young leads) and Abrams is an absolute master at catching those odd little Spielbergian moments that make those kinds of movies just a little bit more savvy than their contemporaries were at the time. And if you don’t particularly like those kinds of movies then, tough luck, because Super 8 is very much a film that wears its influences on its sleeve, leaves them raw and untouched in terms of retro-nostalgia and is quite blatant in its refusal to let you forget its lineage. And yes, it does get cloying and sentimental in some places but I’m willing to let that go because even in the way those scenes are filmed, it refuses to let a veneer of self-consciousness permeate the proceedings. And also because the movie is pretty much technically brilliant.
The real negative in all of this though is, because you are familiar with these influences to a certain extent, there’s no real surprises in store for you in this movie. You’re going to know everything which happens way before it happens, including the ending to the movie... but it really doesn’t matter that much because it’s so expertly done that it almost comes as a relief when everything falls into place the way you expected it to.
The music, of course, supports the picture beautifully. Michael Giacchino is a great composer in his own right but I’ve always said that he’s also a good composer to call if you want someone to do a parody of someone else’s scoring style (check out his "Barry does Bond" parodying in The Incredibles). So what you get here, of course, is a less than subtle but pitch perfect caricature of a Johnny Williams score and, since their are so many little riffs on those early 80s movies, these musical moments too, become a little predictable. There’s a couple of shots right after a train wreck, for example, involving running and flashlights, that are going to remind viewers of a similar sequence in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial... Giacchino kicks in with a direct parody of the music from this sequence, which I’m sure is something a lot of people are going to pick up on. There’s a good Johhny Williams score living in this movie... it was just composed by somebody else is all.
At the end of the day, my verdict on this movie is that, while I won’t be picking it up on DVD and can quite happily live my life without ever seeing it again, I think it’s well worth watching once because the art and craft of film-making on this one is really beautiful and people, especially those with more love of the influences than I, are really going to get a lot out of this movie. It does, in some ways, feel like an unnecessary super numerary appendage to those earlier works but I think it’s going to make an incredible amount of money for the studio and, like I said earlier on in the article... there are worse things to spend your money on. Give it a go but don’t expect it to do anything other than what’s on the side of the tin.
NUTS4R2’s Astonishing Trivia Treats: I thought this movie was set in contemporary America until about half an hour into the movie when one of the characters mentioned his “brand new” Sony walkman... so I figured the period of the movie must date to the early 80s since the Walkman wasn’t around until then... but then I found out the movie is actually set in 1979. So the Walkman is an anachronism... and also a silly mistake I suspect.