Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Super 8

I know this seems like movie week but what can I tell ya? I’ve seen a lot of movies recently.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t see any Spielberg movie before seeing this one.

SUPER 8 is not so much a film as an exercise. This is J.J. Abrams (cough) homage to Steven Spielberg movies before he was obsessed with winning Oscars. As such, Abrams does a smashing job. The action sequences are well-filmed, the production values are all top notch, and he’s managed to include every single Spielberg touch. Young teenage heroes, bicycles, the suburbs, aliens, mysterious military personnel – the girl (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s more talented sister) even looks like the young Drew Barrymore.

But what’s missing is any originality. There are no new ideas, just variations of plots and themes. Of course the characters work through their emotional issues and all grow as a result of monsters wrecking their homes and scaring their pets. They gain a greater understanding of each other and humanity. No spoiler alert necessary here – you KNOW you’re going to see that from the second the Amblin logo appears on the screen. The only question is – how treacly? (In this case, a little more than necessary, although I'm sure in studio screenings the executives all had olives in their throats by the ninth big hug.)

All that said, I know the movie a big commercial hit, a major summer “tentpole” blockbuster so any review is meaningless, even one by a niche blogger. And I’m sure I’m not in this film’s target audience, so again, who cares what I say? But I think J.J. Abrams is an extraordinary talent and has the potential to create spectacular motion pictures. My guess is, once he finds his own voice and makes movies that personally resonate with him, not just franchises (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, STAR TREK) or examples of films that influenced him growing up, he’s going to look back at SUPER 8 and see it as just a stepping-stone to much better fully-realized work.  

I look forward to seeing those movies. I await the day I can be in awe of the imagination, craft, scope, and emotional depth that J.J. will provide. I’ll also curse the bastard for having so much more talent than me. But even that will be enjoyable.

One final note: My daughter Annie points out that probably 95% of the desired demographic for this movie will have no idea what Super 8 means. There once was a thing called Super 8 mm film. Just like there once was an E.T. before ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT.


Schindler's Lift said...

But did it have Spielberg's trademark attempt at comedy with something embarrassing happening to someone while they're sitting on the lavatory?

Curt Alliaume said...

Slight correction -- "Entertainment Tonight" first began its run in September 1981. The movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" opened in 1982.

John D'Oh said...

I'm a few paces from "Super 8"'s demographic, too, but I really enjoyed the film. My cynicism disappeared into my over-priced popcorn.

Kevin Arbouet said...



I was actually pretty conflicted when I was watching the film. For me, this was the movie I was anticipating the most (summer wise). I personally loved Star Trek and re-watched Mission Impossible 3 and was taken aback by how inventive it was.

Super 8 is half of a really good film. Think about how much better it would be if Super 8 was ONLY about these kids who are making a Super 8 film throughout the summer. No alien. No military. Just these great characters (damn the kids were amazing) and all of the issues that 13 year olds go through. Now that's the film I want to see. Just about everyone I talk to says that their favorite part is the end credits where we actually get to see the Super 8 movie they were making. And no one has anything bad to say about those kids. But everything else like:


*That alien nonsense
*The over the top train crash
*The teacher from A Different World--how the fuck did he survive??!!
*Why was the teacher even living in that town?
*The kids did nothing to effect the alien's journey
*The alien's journey was literally killing and eating mainly innocent victims (what was this movie rated?)
*The alien design sucked
*Kyle Chandler sucked
*The kid actually dealt with his mother's death just fine, it was Kyle Chandler that had all the problems.
*The teacher survived that FUCKING train crash!!


Anything gonna be good this summer?

Zack Bennett said...

I thought Super 8 was a budget motel chain.

Lizbeth said...

Kevin, I had all the same reactions you had to this movie.

Abrams never fulfilled the promise of his premise which is: what would happen if a group of unsuspecting kids shooting a Super 8 movie filmed something they shouldn't have seen?

Ultimately, the footage is worthless and doesn't serve any real purpose. The fact that the kids just happened to see the train crash means absolutely nothing.

Because it's not like the crash is some sort of secret. How could it be? And how the heck didn't it wake up the whole freaking town??

The train crash is so over-the-top and absolutely ridiculous. The flaming inferno goes out in mere seconds. None of the kids have a scratch on them. Nonsense.

The driver survives the crash? Okay, I see where this film is going. There are no real stakes and no threat if we are to swallow this type of nonsense.

But ultimately for all the crocodile tears I was NOT MOVED by anyone's plight. I never felt emotionally involved.

I actually felt like I was on a Universal 3-D ride, knowing nothing was real and nobody was gonna get hurt.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a strong protagonist with real goals...and that's pretty weak screenwriting... especially unforgivable from someone like Abrams.

Tony said...

It was good, but Super 1 through Super 7 were better.

Mark S said...

I half liked the movie. As mentioned above (and in many other forums), the kids shooting the movie was much better than the monster.

The movie felt like JJ Abrams sucking up to Spielberg, but missed the forest for the trees.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hollywoodaholic said...

Leonard Stern, the inventor of Mad Libs died last week, and I think this film is also an homage to him because it's like a Spielberg Mad Libs movie. Just fill in the odd nouns and verbs from all his movies.

danrydell said...

I would have liked it if there was more mystery involving the footage, the kids trying to figure out what they see on the film, etc.

But it was great fun to see the '70s, non-annoying kids (what is with the kids on The Middle? Are we supposed to hate them so much?), and Coach Taylor.

Donavan S. Moye said...

Yep. I saw it yesterday, and Ken (and Kevin & Lizbeth) nailed it. Kids were wonderful, the art direction captured the 70's perfectly (I'm old enough to know!)--but the credibility meter was all over the place for me.

I wasn't bored at any point, but I kept thinking about what one critic said: "This was a good movie--but it was better when it was "Close Encounters", "E.T.", and "Goonies"...

Scott Mumford said...

Yep. I saw it yesterday, and Ken (and Kevin & Lizbeth) nailed it. Kids were wonderful, the art direction captured the 70's perfectly (I'm old enough to know!)--but the credibility meter was all over the place for me.

I wasn't bored at any point, but I kept thinking about what one critic said: "This was a good movie--but it was better when it was "Close Encounters", "E.T.", and "Goonies"...

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I can't wait to see it. I'm definitely in the target audience, seeing I pretty much grew up on the1980's.

Spielberg's film work defined my childhood, be it Close Encounters, E.T., Jaws, Goonies, Indiana Jones films, or 1993's Jurassic Park. Even George Lucas films such as Willow and Labyrinth have that feel (Star Wars notwithstanding).

Super 8's trailer seems to hit the right notes, so I'm pretty hyped up for the film.

jbryant said...

Haven't seen Elle Fanning in much yet, but if she's truly more talented than her sister Dakota that's saying something.

D. McEwan said...

Yup, no kids today know what Super 8 is, nor what it's like to spend about ten dollars (in 1970 dollars) to buy and later process a roll of Super 8 film to get back 5 minutes of silent footage, when they can digitally record 2 hours of video for next-to-free.

I shot a couple epics in Super 8 when I was in college. Fortunately, I trandsferred them to video some years back, as I haven't seen a Super 8 projector in decades. And I started in regular 8mm, and shot a series of epics starting at age 12 (in 1962, the youngest age at which I could finally talk my mother into letting me use the precious, expensive 8mm camera), most of which were transerferred to video 20 years ago also. I have a few untransferred reels of footage still in a container in my closet, but no projector to run them anymore.

Ah 8 mm, you were a lovely medium, except for everything about you. Without 8mm, I wouldn't have the grainy, faded, color-shifted, silent footage of my grandparents, all four of whom were dead by 1970, walking around national parks, waving meaninglessly at the camera, in the year 1940, or my mother waddling around Griffith Park, heavily pregnant with me in 1950, nor the shots of me at age 1, learning to walk, and falling on my face (it's been getting a laugh for 60 years), nor any of the other shots of my family and friends now dead that live on in 8mm, super and regular.

Since it was my maternal grandparents who bought the 8mm camera first, while my paternal grandparents never did, I have lots of footage of my mother's parents moving around. But I have only exactly 25 seconds of footage of my paternal grandparents. They're in the backyard of the now-gone house I grew up in. Grandpa swats my Uncle's hand away from his tie, and walks over and hugs Grandma. The swatting away of Uncle Glenn's hand is so characteristic of him, it always makes me grin, and when he walks over to grandma, who is only in 10 seconds of footage, and hugs her, I always cry. 8mm was lousy, but it was a VAST improvement over having no movies at all.

Mac said...

JJ Abrams has way more than his fair share of talent, but yes - it's a bit like watching a very good tribute band (and enjoying them) but you know they have the ability to do something great themselves.

I remember the excitement of waiting for developed super8 reels to arrive in the post, which must seem prehistoric to the generation who can shoot stuff on their phones and watch it back immediately. But like you say, it's a bigger summer roller-coaster ride so I don't suppose that matters.

Tim W. said...

I actually really enjoyed the movie and I guess I'm not in the demographic, although my oldest daughter might be. She's a few years younger than I was when I saw E.T. with my father. And it certainly brought back some memories.

Was it a perfect film? No, but I got lost in it, and that's really all that matters to me.

l.a.guy said...

"Anything gonna be good this summer?"

Hopefully Moneyball. I read, and loved, the Steve Zallian script. I don't think it needed rewriting, so it will be interesting to see what Sorkin did with it.

jackscribe said...

The first half of the movie - and the homage to Spielberg - I enjoyed. However, the over-the-top CGI of the remainder was a yawn. So unnecessary. Terrific young actors.

Jonah D said...

I'm sorry, but I felt this film was akin to a big mouthful of vanilla ice cream. Tastes good on the tongue.. but the brain freeze afterwards is killer. There are fabulous special effects, space aliens, mean adults, car chases and puppy love. All the ingredients for a blockbuster film, right? Just don't think too deeply about it afterwards cause the brain freeze is debilitating. There are many gaping flaws and unanswered questions (many of which have been discussed already), such as: (1) Since the alien had the power to make the military's weapons misfire, why on earth did the soldiers continue to reload? I mean I saw tanks firing indiscriminately MULTIPLE times. Huh? Here's a tip: If you can't control the gun on your tank... DON'T PUT ANY MORE SHELLS IN IT! (2) I know chevy pickups are tough, but how could it cause a train to derail?? Wouldn't it have been easier just to have the school teacher blow up the tracks? It would derail the train and explain how he could survive.

I really expected so much more from two giants of the industry.

Kevin Arbouet said...


After the train sequence and the teacher was still alive, my wife leaned over to me and said, "Maybe this is Unbreakable 2..."

Here's the other thing that drove me nuts.

In the beginning of the film, Kyle Chandler basically beats the shit out of Elle Fanning's dad (Ron Eldard) and I naturally thought that Eldard's character probably got drunk at work, made a mistake and got his wife killed. But no.
Kyle Chandler was angry that Eldard got drunk and missed work so Chandler's wife went to work instead. What?! Really? How the hell can he blame Eldard for that? To me, that was that most bizarre screenwriting choice in the movie. Sure there are bigger, more idiotic ones but that choice is just...bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Ken - this is exactly what I thought when I saw the movie!!

I really enjoyed it but thought it was funny that critics and the media were using it as a litmus for "if an original film can do well in the summer nowadays" when the movie was anything BUT original.

The kids were amazing (especially as Joel Courtney had never acted before) and it was beautifully filmed but original it was NOT.

Steven said...


Did you see this at the WGA theatre on Sunday 8?

I was sitting either two rows in front of you or two rows in front of a guy who looked like you!

Sorry if I moved too much in my seat!

By Ken Levine said...

I did see SUPER 8 at the 8 PM showing at the WGA. So that might have been my head you saw.

Howard Hoffman said...

Saw it over the weekend. It's a technical marvel, and judging by how Bonnie kept clutching my arm in the scary scenes, it's a GREAT GREAT GREAT date movie.

I also got lost in it and enjoyed it, even if it's a third or fourth revisit to the premise.

Unlike ET, however, you ain't gonna see the alien in a Happy Meal.

Pat Reeder said...

I've never been a big Spielberg fan (fell asleep at "Close Encounters," thought "Jaws" would have been much better if Hitchcock had made it, and he's batting .250 at Indiana Jones movies). So I have no intention of seeing this. I figure everyone will be scared of the alien until they discover he just wants to go home. And only the children will figure this out because only their hearts are filled with childlike wonder. And the adults will ignore them, but finally see the light. And somewhere in there, there will be flashlight beams shining through fog with an unrealistically blue hue. Any of this correct?

BTW, to Doug McEwan: I, too, love my old 8mm movies. I have regular 8 (Super 8 was too rich for my blood). My dad was a photographer, so I inherited tons of family photos and old home movies. And as a kid, I became fascinated with silent comedy and collected Blackhawk films on 8 mm. I still have them, although some are starting to deteriorate a bit. I remember the impossible dream when I was 13 was to save up $225 to buy a sound 8mm projector so I could buy talkies. The other day, I picked up a four-disc set of Fatty Arbuckle films at Half Price Books for $14. How come the technology has gotten so much cheaper and better, but the movies have gotten more expensive and worse?

Ajaba said...

It's the only movie I've seen where a human feels sympathy for a monster who's about to eat her.

Jeffrey J. Marks said...

Super 8 isn't about aliens or the Soviet threat. The alien is a metaphor for something much more basic. Spoilers included in analysis.

France said...

It was better than I thought it would be. Whoever did the previews should be fired. The studio that marketed the movie did a poor job but the kids were great, the adults in the movie not so much.