Friday, June 10, 2011

Super 8 Review

In the June 17, 2011 Entertainment Weekly, (pg. 67) Producer Steven Spielberg says of Super 8, "I don't see homage when I see this film." Sorry, Steven. Or should I say Mr. Spielberg, Super 8 is one gigantic homage to you.

Super 8 starts with the funeral reception of pre-teen Joe Lamb's (Joel Courtney) mother. The year is 1979. We find out that Joe's father, Jackson Lamb, is a deputy in the town of Lillian, Ohio. Jackson blames Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) for his wife's death since she had to take over a factory shift for Louis. Louis is also the father of Alice (Elle Fanning), a middle school classmate of Joe.

Months after the funeral, life goes on, as Joe gets back to middle school. His school friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is a young filmmaker. He's trying to make a zombie movie with Charles and his other classmates. While filming with his friends at a train station, an Air Force train is hit by a truck causing it to derail. A creature escapes and terrorizes the town.

Writer-director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) pulls out all of his fancy camera tricks. Whip pans. Check. Hand-held camera shots circling the main characters as they engage in conversation. Check. Lens flares. Check. This visual overkill maybe good to the ADHD crowd but it's not needed for this film. That's because Abrams has crafted a rich coming of age story that doesn't need such camera calisthenics. In fact, the story of the kids makes a good movie by itself without the science fiction part tacked on. Further, the lighting is too dark. Abrams almost violates the first rule of monster movies. Show the monster. In the movie, Abrams does but lights it so badly that the audience will have to talk to each other to figure out what they saw. And as I've stated before, this movie is an absolute homage to Speilberg. From the over the top dramatic close ups of the actors' faces, to the themes of pre-teen angst, to the young filmmakers using a Super 8 camera like a young Spielberg, this film could have been made by Steven Speilberg.

UPDATE; 6-11-11: A fellow Trekker, Jonbec, at told me that it's possible that I saw "Super 8" in a theater where they did not change the 3D lens to 2D. If that's the case then the picture would be much darker and lack resolution. I saw the film again at a different theater. The picture was crisp and I could see the "monster." Here's film critic Ty Burr's article on theaters misusing 3D lenses or attachments on 2D movies. If you're wondering why an employee just doesn't change the lens according to Burr, it's very technical and costs money. Anyway the article tells you how to avoid the 3D lens when watching a movie in 2D. I plan to blog about this at a later date.

But it's the performances by the young cast that buoys the film. Joel Courtney demonstrates the pain of losing his mother and his own growth into a young adult. Ellle Fanning displays the loneliness of having a barely there father and a mother who left the family. Their characters, Joe and Alice were made for each other. Abrams script and direction beautifully exhibits the young love that is universal to all.

Super 8 is a cross between E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jaws. It's a rich film about growing up in America in the seventies. There are nice touches of warmth, and humor to go along with the thrills. Stay for the credits as Charles' zombie picture plays. Nice homage to George Romero, the creator of the zombie genre, as the chemical company that creates the zombies is called Romero Chemical. The grade is B+.

Here's the first teaser trailer. Note, you will see different footage in this trailer than the one in the movie. So consider this a deleted take.

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