Friday, June 10, 2011

A Reel Review: SUPER 8

SUPER 8 is a film that feels like the Steven Spielberg of the 1980’s threw up, and landing in the bucket are all of the elements that made him a career; home-made movies, childhood chums, broken families and adventure packed into a coming-of-age tale. To bring it all together, Spielberg dons his producer hat and hires current sci-fi wiz director J.J. Abrams, who adds his own personal touches in the form of alien monsters, mystery, and eye-popping mass destruction.

After the death of his wife in a factory accident, small town Deputy Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and his son Joe (Joel Courtney) struggle to come to terms with life without mom. To preoccupy his mind and time over the summer months, Joe serves as the makeup department for his friend’s attempt to make a zombie movie. While out filming one night, a spectacular train crash results in the release of an alien creature, which begins a mysterious heist of people and machines throughout town. The military shows up in an attempt to cover things up, and Joe and his friends (Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths and Elle Fanning) find themselves in the middle of it all when they discover they accidentally filmed the creature’s escape.

This is a film about a suburban family and childhood chums dealing with loss, and coming together thanks to the arrival of a mysterious horror. But SUPER 8 winds up being a movie torn in two; a sci-fi movie and a coming-of-age tale. Both angles rise and fall throughout the course of the film. The kids performances are very good (Elle Fanning steals the show in the seemingly only female role), and the kids are allowed to act like kids. Scripting issues rise to the surface around the middle point, as the kids seem to have a forced chemistry and friendships that aren’t very convincing.

The sci-fi angle also rises and falls. The mystery of the alien is at first intriguing as it plays hide-and-seek through the town. The alien is only seen in glimpses for 90 percent of the film, and while that technique can and will work (think JAWS and ALIEN), here it loses its appeal as the creature’s presence doesn’t invoke much fear or dread.

Abrams direction saves the ship from sinking all the way to the bottom. From several scenes reminiscent of old horror films, to the awe-of-discovery performances that he gets out of the kids. Abrams absolutely nails the look and feel of a small town in 1979; this is an age where kids communicate with walkie-talkies instead of cell phones, and it’s a three-day wait to get your film developed. Abrams uses these ’79 elements not just as window dressing, but plot devices that really work well. The action sequences, and most especially the train crash, are beautifully realized and brought to life with some excellent sound mixing and editing. The creature, when finally revealed, is a bit disappointing in the CGI execution and the design.

SUPER 8 is a film with excellent technical qualities and loaded with nostalgia; it feels like THE GOONIES/STAND BY ME with less emotion, coupled with Abrams’ second shot at CLOVERFIELD. It doesn’t seem very original, but it’s fun and never boring.


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