Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Super 8

I knew so little about Super 8 (virtually nothing) that I didn’t even know it involved kids, let alone that it was a film about kids. I'm not particularly drawn to films about kids, but the drama involving the kids is what makes Super 8 work, at least to some extent.

Super 8 is written and directed by J.J. Abrams, whom I have previously described as the Steven Spielberg of the 21st century. Here Abrams makes that comparison very obvious, as Super 8 feels a lot like Close Encounters and ET. It is even set in the time those films were made (1979). Indeed the whole film feels like Spielberg with a darker edge. And the first hour, during which we follow a group of kids as they try to make a horror film, is as good as many a Spielberg film (and that’s saying something; no director has more films in my top 150 than Spielberg). To say a little more about the plot, let me add that the filming is interrupted by a colossal train wreck which, within seconds, draws the attention of the air force. And that’s all I will say about that.

I should probably just stop my review there and let you experience Super 8 without further comment. But knowing how valuable low expectations are, let me lower your expectations. I throughly enjoyed, and was very impressed by, the first two-thirds of the film, a drama focusing on two kids and their fathers. The performance of the two kids (Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) is truly remarkable and overshadows the work of any of the adults. Unfortunately, the overarching plot goes elsewhere (though Abrams wisely considers the drama to be the heart of the film). Super 8 is generally referred to as “a monster movie.” Since even I knew that going in, I will assume most readers do as well. The ‘monster movie’ did not work for me at all. It was derivative and boring and altogether anticlimactic. In other words, as a sci-fi film, Super 8 was a major disappointment to me.

I confess to watching and enjoying Abrams’ recent TV shows (LOST, Alias, Fringe) but there is something about Abrams that worries me. Like Spielberg, Abrams has the pulse of the masses. He can do no wrong. But I have been disappointed with both of Abrams’s last two films (Star Trek and Super 8). In both films, the best parts were those that didn’t involve the overarching plot. Those plots, which I found uninteresting, were just too important a factor for me to allow the rest of the film to sufficiently impress me. But then, I am one of those strange people who think Spielberg’s A.I. is a much better film than ET.

So, in spite of the great first half, Super 8 gets only *** from me. My mug is up, but I was hoping for something more exotic inside.

I just read Ebert’s review and was gratified to see that he also thought the first half of the film was much better than the last half. But he was more forgiving of this than I was.

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