8 August 2011
SUPER 8- Review
In the small everytown of Lillian, Joe Lamb is a 13-year-old boy who's recently lost his mother in an industrial accident. Living with his grieving father, he expresses himself by helping out his best mate, Charles. Charles is making a short zombie movie for a regional film festival, shooting on Super 8 film. The production is shockingly afflicted by the kids' middle-school teacher driving his truck into a passing US Air Force train. The train derails and its cargo escapes, leading to a series of mysterious disappearances in Lillian.
Abrams counts only Mission: Impossible 3 and Star Trek amongst his prior directorial efforts, and though both are great films, we haven't seen him direct his own original project until now. And in this instance, it feels almost like he's been deputised to direct by the producer, so close is the tone of the film to those 80s Spielberg movies. That's entirely intentional, but it doesn't allow for the film to be quite as good as I was hoping.
Purely in terms of vision and talent, Abrams may well become the Spielberg of his generation, but the joins where his style clashes with Spielberg's in Super 8 really bring the film down. In the tradition of Lost, which Abrams created, a lot of the film is spent in anticipation. That hearkens back to Jaws too, but when we spend so long not seeing the train's cargo, we pass a point where the pay-off has to be huge to be fully satisfying. And certainly, some will argue that such a pay-off never comes.
But there's also a lot to praise in Super 8, starting with the marketing. One of the best things this film takes from Spielberg's filmmaking is that the trailers haven't shown you an awful lot of the movie's plot. Add to the fact that it has no stars to speak of, and only the names of those behind the scenes to sell it in a competitive field, and that's not only brilliant, but also very brave. The final product may be more predictable than you'd think, but it benefits hugely from the fact that we haven't already seen it in a million different bits of marketing.
And in the film itself, the lack of stars is no drawback- the cast are fantastic. Especially worthy of praise are Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning as Joe and Alice. Their adolescent attraction is genuinely touching, and far more romantic than most grown-up relationships in modern film. Fanning is a class act as the most emotionally mature of the otherwise male film crew, who approximate something close to the Goonies or the kids from Stand By Me. Although the parental trope for Spielberg often revolved around the absent father, Super 8's smallest of subversions comes with the absence of Joe's late mother.
Refreshingly, the kids in the film feel like real kids, who can bicker and have conflicting personalities and still be the best of friends. Their ringleader, Charles is an Orson Welles in the making, played very well by Riley Griffiths, who insists upon seizing opportunities for good production value wherever they can get it. Contrary to Son of Rambow, a film with similarly ambitious young characters, their production values are already pretty good, as far as their equipment, make-up and costumes are concerned. I'm now a grown-ass man and I've made short films less technically adept than theirs. Damn these children!
As it's very clearly a nostalgic bit of wish fulfilment for JJ Abrams, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that he knew some kids like this when he was younger. He himself admits that he made films with a Super 8 camera in his youth, and I'm personally hoping to see some of those show up on the Blu-ray special features. The kids represented here are hugely endearing- even Cary, the zombie movie's mulleted pyrotechnics expert, who I'm 99% certain is based on Michael Bay.
Super 8 is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Super 8, why not share your comments below? Anyone noticed how much of Noah Emmerich's career seems to be based in roles where he has to cover something up?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.