Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super 8

Genre(s): Sci-fi, Action
Written and directed by: J.J. Abrams
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Riley Griffiths (Charles), Kyle Chandler (Jackson Lamb), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), Ryan Lee (Cary)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Release Date: June 10, 2011

This sci-fi adventure from director, J.J. Abrams (Lost) and producer, Steven Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), was one of the most anticipated and secretive summer releases. Speculated to evoke the spirit of classic “Spielbergian” films, this was an enjoyable, humorous, and sometimes touching adventure—but did it live up to all the hype?

*Warning: Spoiler alert

Super 8 is a fast paced tale of a group of kids in Ohio attempting to make a zombie movie (using a Super 8 camera) back in the summer of 1979. While filming one of their scenes on a train platform, the passing train crashes into an oncoming truck and violently derails, sending our kids scrambling from the massive explosions and flying rail cars that result. After hearing the confession of one of their school teachers at the scene and witnessing the commotion that quickly ensues, the children realize that this accident was not an accident at all and marked the start of something much larger. Strange occurrences all over town (such as the disappearance of people, electrical supplies, and the town’s entire dog population) prompt the local sheriff’s office to unsuccessfully question the military, who had moved onto the scene only seconds after the crash. The town is soon caught in the middle of a chaotic war zone and the kids are the only people who have a clue as to what’s actually going on.

The emotional story concentrates mainly on the lead character, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), and the kids’ film actress, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). Joe has lost his mother to an accident at a local factory and now lives with his father, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler); an arrangement that is not quite working. Because Alice and her father also exist in a less than ideal situation, she and Joe instantly become friends, and a link in their pasts serves to further strengthen their bond. Another important connection should have been between Joe and his father, but that relationship never seemed to develop enough for the audience to care about it one way or the other.


The casting was wonderful and all of the kids were entertaining to watch, yet two performances seem to stand out the most. One is that of Ryan Lee as Cary, the adventurous cameraman who wants to blow everything up. His quick comebacks and impeccable timing seem to flow naturally, making the smart-aleck banter between the members of the group appear authentic. The other performance is that of Elle Fanning as Alice. At only thirteen years of age, Fanning possesses a mature quality beyond her years. Although she was required to simply be cute and fresh in most scenes, when she turned on a serious face it made it hard to believe that she was the youngest actor of the group. (Fanning’s breakdown in the scene where Alice and Joe watch one of his home movies was particularly moving and clearly foreshadows a promising acting career for this young performer.)


There were many exciting events in this movie—most notably the train derailment scene. The mix of sound effects and realistic action was mesmerizing and maybe one of the best scenes of its kind on film. However, the quick pace of the movie never seemed let up, which made it feel as though we were running throughout the film, never pausing long enough to take in the emotional weight of a situation nor the intricacies of a relationship.

The attempt to blend the two narratives being presented—the emotional, human story and the science fiction aspect—met with some confusion. Because of this, scenes focusing on the culmination of the two ideas, (such as the melodramatic last scenes of the film), just did not seem to work. There was no real connection between the creature’s life and Joe’s situation, so trying to mesh these two storylines by simply adding a line that Joe recites to the creature during a final scene felt like a last shot effort to fuse everything together.

The Final Wrap:

This film was rumored to be in the vein of a classic Spielberg movie—as being a sort of homage to the great director’s work. However, although many of Spielberg’s ideas were dispersed throughout the movie, the emotional magic that is inherently felt when experiencing a Spielberg film was notably absent from Super 8, (though you could clearly spot where Abrams intentionally attempted to infuse it).

Although Super 8 is not perfection when held up to the light of a classic Spielberg film, what movie is? The film was a highly enjoyable and adventurous tale, and will probably be one of the best releases this summer. You will not walk away from the film feeling emotionally complete, but you will definitely have been entertained. (It’s worth seeing this movie for the train scene, alone- not to mention the amusing interactions between the kids.) For even though its parts did not blend seamlessly together, this movie at least made an earnest attempt at what many filmmakers fail to do with science fiction movies these days, which is to provide an actual story to accompany all of its special effects.

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