Super 8

25 Jun

Title: Super 8
J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams
Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Bruce Greenwood, David Gallagher, Rily Griffiths, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use
112 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


Finally got to see Super 8, the new J.J. Abrams flick that was shrouded in secrecy and that was meant to serve as some sort of homage to the old, great films of Steven Spielberg, which Abrams grew up with. And look, the level of expectation I had for this film going into it were supreme, I honestly felt like this could be the second A+ film of the year after Terrence Malick’s masterpiece The Tree of Life. And, for a while there, Super 8 was indeed that perfect film, it was the perfect mix of nostalgia and real raw emotion fueled by a very human story and some touching performances, but then it lost me. I mean it didn’t really lose me, because I’ll still rank it as one of the five best films of the year so far, but it lost that aura of perfection to me, even though it remained an overall terrific film experience.

First of all, let me just say one thing, I have heard a lot of people saying that J.J. Abrams in this film is just copying what Steve Spielberg created, and not really doing something that comes from a genuine place in his heart, and I have two things to say to those who are saying that. Number one, Abrams has been very explicit about the fact that the film is a tribute to Spielberg, the guy has cited the importance of his influence in pretty much every single interview he has given to promote this film, not to mention that fact that the legendary director served as a producer on this film, so of course there is going to be some pretty obvious stuff drawn from those films, and it’s not like he’s not admitting it. And number two, this isn’t a copy of what Spielberg made, this was something I thought really came from a special place in Abrams’ heart, and the Spielberg homage is due to the fact that when Abrams was a kid making his own Super 8 films the movies he watched and inspired him were those early Amblin ones made by Spielberg, so of course there will be a lot of that in there when the man is making a film inspired partly by his own childhood memories.

Now, that’s exactly the part that made me think this was a perfect film: the scenes with the kids just telling a very real and human story, the ones that came from Abrams’ own childhood memories. That stuff was just amazing to me, as we got a seriously talented group of young actors telling a very personal story in the midst of a monster movie, and it felt amazing to me. The film, for those who don’t know, is about this group of kids (sort of like in The Goonies) who are making a Super 8 monster film in the small town in which they live in where all of a sudden supernatural stuff starts to happen (sort of like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), then we get the sense that there’s a monster that we don’t really see for a big portion of the film (sort of like in Jaws) and even the military has to come into the picture (sort of like in E.T.).

So yeah, it’s all very Spielbergian, but this film really is more than just the sum of Spielberg’s influences on it. Because the big thing that Spielberg does best is achieve this sort of sublime balance between the big scale narrative events and the more intimate human story developing behind it all, and I really think Abrams did that, too. The kids part was done to perfection, like a work of Spielberg at his very best, it felt like Abrams was taking a lot from his own childhood story and even though the monster part didn’t feel as personal, and felt like it could have been borrowed from any other monster film, though a very solid one in this case, it was still remarkably well done, so even if that part meant I won’t give this film a perfect grade, it’s still certainly an A-range film, and J.J. Abrams should feel tremendously proud about his finished product.

But let me talk just a bit more about the stuff that kept me from giving this one a perfect grade before commenting on the stuff that made me come close to doing so. First of all, the monster itself. Much like in Cloverfield, a film Abrams produced, we don’t get to see the monster itself for a lot of the movie, the advertising campaign shrouded in secrecy didn’t even let us know what it looked like or what it was, and the film kept refusing to show us the monster, building some sort of huge expectation for its big reveal. Now, that move obviously takes its cues from Jaws, Spielberg’s first huge hit in which we didn’t get to see the shark the movie was all about until the very end, and when we finally go to it was this hugely memorable cinematic moment. The thing is, however, that the fact that we didn’t see the shark in Jaws was this very organic thing, we didn’t see it because it was underwater and our characters weren’t, whilst in Super 8 I felt it got to the point in which it felt as though Abrams was just going out of his way not to show us the monster even though all our characters could, placing the camera at angles behind something that obstructed the view, and it really wasn’t great that whole delay, especially because once we actually saw the monster the payoff wasn’t really worth the hype. Another thing that I had some issue with, though I’m just nitpicking here, was the music, the score was very epic and reminiscent of Spielberg’s work, and even thought at times that was fantastic there were times in which it felt overdone, in which a scene in and of itself was emotionally powerful and we didn’t need the music to tug our heartstrings.

But that’s enough about what I didn’t love, let’s now talk just a bit about the great stuff in Super 8, which obviously means talking about the more human story of it, which obviously means talking about the kids (even though the amazing Kyle Chandler was his usual awesome self here), which obviously means talking about an amazing young actress named Elle Fanning. She’s no longer the girl people will know as Dakota’s kid sister, as she’s grown to be this insanely mature actress who’s just phenomenal in everything she does, and absolutely steals the show here (just go see Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, which I ranked as the 6th best film of 2010, for further proof). There are a handful of scenes with these kids that are so emotional, and that really get your eyes misty, and there are some that are just examples of seriously fantastic acting by this young group, just take a look again at that scene of Fanning doing her audition take for the film they were making, it’s just truly fantastic.

Super 8 started as this incredibly perfect film, full of really human stories, told by a filmmaker that was clearly emotionally invested in what he was telling, and by a group of kid actors who were pitch-perfect for their roles, commanded by an Elle Fanning who’s quickly becoming one actress to really watch out for, this was just a terrific summer film-going experience. And yes, the monster stuff might not have been handled to perfection and ended up subtracting from the overall effect for me, but Abrams wanted to make this a big film with a personal story, and considering the personal story was so perfect, then that automatically makes the big film that stands on its shoulders totally fine for you. Go see Super 8 for the nostalgia behind it all, and to be impressed by how wonderful an homage to a childhood hero and your childhood memories can turn out to be.

Grade: A-


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