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agentorange [Celluloid 06.11.11] movie review scifi drama

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Year: 2011
Directors: J.J. Abrams
Writers: J.J. Abrams
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Before I even stepped foot in the theater to see Super 8, I promised myself I wouldn't talk about nostalgia when I reviewed the film. I'm about to break that promise, so just bear with me for like two paragraphs.

Nostalgia is a hot commodity these days. In a world that increasingly worships the new and up-to-date, it is perhaps not so surprising that there is also a thirst to look back and fetishize "stuff" that reminds us of a more "innocent" time. VHS reminds us of a world before 50" displays and an obsession with HD perfection, while vinyl records remind us of a time when the simple act of listening to music was something more tangible and deliberate than just stockpiling hundreds of gigs of downloaded mp3s onto an external hard drive. Some call it a thirst for authenticity. I certainly fall into the trap, particularly when it comes to lauding the films of my childhood.

But here's the thing about Super 8. J.J. Abrams understands something about nostalgia that most writer/directors these days don't - or at least can't seem to capture when bringing properties like Transformers back. Something that goes a little deeper. See, it's not the "stuff" from our past that shaped us. It's not the He-Man action figures, the bad movies we thought were genius, waiting for the next issue of Famous Monsters or even the bubblegum jingles we remember from old commercials. Rather it's that feeling when you're a kid that that "stuff" is all there is to life.

I think us children of the 80s are at the point when we've realized we're officially out of the most exclusive club in the world - that world that only kids know and adults can't hope to penetrate. We've been kicked out of the club and we want back in. That's the real reason why 35-year-olds are still living with their parents. We all grew in a golden age where kids weren't just king, but childhood became a sacred time, nurtured by filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Richard Donner et all at Amblin Entertainment. The Goonies wasn't just a good movie me and my friends liked and watched again and again. We WERE The Goonies! The movie was about us, except when we rode our bikes around town all day we never found treasure maps. A minor detail.


Clearly this is the starting point for J.J. Abrams and his tone poem to that era in movie history called Super 8 (itself a nod to when movies were actually made on film). Yes there are fairly overt references to Close Encounters, E.T. and Jaws, but his focus is clearly on assembling a group of kids and just enjoying watching them be, well, kids. And whenever the film starts to focus on either adults or the world of the supernatural, you can feel Abrams get restless. He wants to get back to those kids and find out whether they'll be able to finish their movie and whether Joe will end up with Alice.



Some reviewers have noted that the film feels like two ideas that never seem to gel, but nobody has really put their finger on why the film feels that way. Thank god I'm here to tell you. It's obvious and I'm surprised Spielberg didn't pick up this right away. The reason the film's parts don't gel is because the kids don't interact with the supernatural element in the film until the final reel and for this kind of movie this is a HUGE storytelling flaw.

The whole point of movies like this is that kids live in their own secret world and have a language that adults don't get. That's why Elliot hides E.T.. It's why The Monster Squad have to take on the monsters on their own and it's why child-at-heart Roy Neary leaves everything behind including his family to follow his dream and greet the aliens in Close Encounters. Adults can't see what they see with innocent eyes.

But in Super 8 the kids don't know any more than the adults. They should have SEEN the monster the night of the train crash. Spielberg would have had them warn their parents about a monster on the loose and when their parents and the authorities ignored them, it would have been up to the kids to save the town. Instead, Abrams makes the road blocks about a crush, making a movie and dealing with the death of a parent. All good character beats, but by ignoring the elephant in the room, Abrams fails to make the parts truly gel. But in a lot of ways that's Ok, because the kids are so fun to be with you don't really mind.

The most important thing about Super 8 for me is that it is the kind of summer movie we don't get anymore. You can tell that it wasn't tailored to a market demographic, because it doesn't need to be. It's a good old fashioned story with classic characters and enough adventure to please a lot of people. And it's got heart. And more important than my own personal nostalgia while watching it is how 10-year-olds will respond to it. Will it shape them like the films it is emulating shaped me? Or is it too old-fashioned?

One more thing I should mention is that Super 8 misses the mark on the score. I so desperately wanted it to have a John Williams score. Don't get me wrong, I love Michael Giacchino's work and his score for Super 8 is elegant and sweeping. But, Williams would have given the film that extra sparkle and wonder that all those old Amblin films had and put the homage over the top.

Bottom line: A lovingly made throwback to the films of MY youth. But will it resonate with today's?

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JeffC (3 years ago) Reply

Yea, it really wasn't that super but fun nontheless. I thought it was pretty anticlimactic too. You hit the nail on the head also, the kids should have seen the monster from the get go!

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Random Commenter (3 years ago) Reply

Sorry, but... it sure isn't any kind of a failure of Abrams' to avoid the same exact set of clichs and let's-connect-all-the-dots-for-you storytelling that Spielberg overdoes every time so even the most simple of american audiences can get 'the point' or the plot or the story, whichever. Let's have the obligatory narrator explain the whole thing once more in the end, that sure worked in Taken and Minority report etc.?

Sadly, most people are like that. Wishing to see the same thing over and over, never steering away from the safest and simplest "choices". Pre-chewed and all, always easy to digest.

Even the comment regarding the music just reinforces this - movies in a certain category must be done according the same tired old narrowminded set of rules or something is "wrong" or "bad" about them. This almost requires a sarcastic comment about this film needing also some brief nudity and big explosions, but since the applied ruleset is spielbergian...

Reviews like these make me actually want to see the film I already had decided to avoid since it felt like not being for me, so thank you for that. There's always something done right when the spielbergians voice their disappointments regarding a film :)

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agentorange (3 years ago) Reply

@Random Commenter

Ah yes, I see where you're coming from. But I only criticism these missed aspects of the film, because Abrams is trying SO hard to get the formula right.

I'm not ASKING for cliches. I'm merely surprised such big one's were missed. For instance. I don't always like John Williams. But if Abrams wanted vintage Amblin, I'm just surprised he didn't go with that choice.

I think it's because, like the kids in the film, Abrams wants to make movies with his friends :)

And for the record, I clearly liked the film.

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Anonymous (3 years ago) Reply

just give it a 7 or 8. Jeez. "7.8". is that the extent of your creativity

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Anonymous (3 years ago) Reply

I know, right? What's with the 7.8, anyway? It's like that "8 1/2" movie. Dude, just make it an 8 or a 9.

And yes, that's sarcasm. And yes, I'm spelling it out because your comment seems to indicate that you might be a tad thick. And yes, that is the extent of MY creativity. Jeez.

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hot Fuzz (3 years ago) Reply

Did the above two commenters just review a review? Get a life.

What did you think of the film? Oh right, you cheaped out and are waiting to download it. Idiots.

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weaverwerx (3 years ago) Reply

Enjoyed the movie for the most part. I'm tired of JJ's creatures (Neville Page design) all looking the same though. My favorite part was getting to see the kids Super8 zombie film in the end credits. Great touch. I'd give it a 7.

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Anonymous (3 years ago) Reply

Hey hot Fuzz - I think the second commenter (the "8 1/2" one) was commenting on the comment before his/hers. Might want to read a little more closely before you get all high and mighty. And douchey.

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joe schmoe (3 years ago) Reply

the best part of all is I didnt see any trace of St. JJ the Hack's usual "bromances" between young male model types or absurd dialog about totally meaningless events....it was Spielberg all the way...a most enjoyable film...well worth the wait...

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hot Fuzz (3 years ago) Reply

Whoops... I see what you mean. Sorry, but I'm just sick of people commenting on everything but the. I mean isn't that why we're here?

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hot Fuzz (3 years ago) Reply

Sorry, I mean to say "movie... isn't that why we're here."

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Cletus (3 years ago) Reply

I found the movie to be unoriginal and uninspired. The acting was sad, especially by the adults, the plot predictable, and the ending absurd. Oh, and it was a shame to see a major talent like Elle Fanning wasted on this movie. Other than that, it was great.

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ToeCutter (3 years ago) Reply

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** (But you'd probably figure them out anyway).

I just back from actually paying for deluxe seats to see this yawner and I think we can finally conclude that "JJ Abrams" has become formally synonymous with movie-making cliche.

AO's review is spot on. There are two arcs here, which were sloppily mashed together in the final moments of the film. Unlike the great movies of my youth (I'm an Eighties kid), I wasn't in awe of the film's climax in the way those great Eighties films. Those films left us wondering about them for hours, evens days after seeing them.

Instead, I was insulted by the audacity of concluding the film without providing anything for the audience to ponder after nearly two hours of watching the film. A fellow viewer a few rows back perfectly articulated aloud what each of us were probably thinking as the last scene faded to black: "Seriously? That's it?"

Now, having watched Abrams latest, I'm convinced he's simply run out of clever ideas. His "monster" looked like every other Abrams monster you've already seen (Cloverfield, Star Trek Ice Monster), except he makes you wait through the entire film before finally revealing it, and even then only in the dark, no less.

And can anyone explain Abrams obsession with lens flare? It's almost as if he has some obscure neurological disorder that leaves him craving flares from any light source on screen. In one night scene at a gas station, the lens flare from the street lights was so strong my wife leaned over to ask me "What was that in the sky?!" as if these huge blue lens flares (that added nothing to the atmosphere of the scene) were actual objects hovering in the night sky. Again, so cliched.

It's not often that I venture out to see a movie at the cinema, considering my front-projected home theater easily outshines any cinema I've visited, but this one suckered me in. The promise of Abrams collaborating with Spielberg might provide equal helpings of story-telling and suspense, but it was not to be. Spielberg is past his prime and Abrams is simply Hollywood's Flavor of the Week, and we're eating it up.

Lastly, don't bother going to see Super 8 if you can wait for it to hit Blu-ray or Netflix. Perhaps it will feel less disappointing knowing you waited to watch it at home instead of a cinema.

P.S. I think we all need to recalibrate our 10 point rating system for movies, as it seems that even mediocre films manage to score mid-sevens, which doesn't seem fair at all to really good films?

FOTR (easily one of the best films ever made) only manages an 8.8 on IMDB. Star Wars IV (the first REAL SW film) also scores an 8.8. To suggest that Super 8 is only moderately "less" entertaining than either of these films is simply ridiculous. Super 8 isn't even close. If there's any "relativity" to scores we use to rate these films, Super 8 should score far below my two titanic examples of movie-making. Super 8 would be lucky to snag a 6, a score usually reserved for some pretty shoddy films, like Dr. Detroit, which deserves about no more than a 3.

My point is that great films seem to receive lower than deserved scores, while mediocre films are snagging far more than they deserve.


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