Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Super 8

I’m trying to get back to regular posting (yeah, I know, you’ve heard that one before) so I’m throwing out some of the stuff I failed to post earlier. The first up is a now-dated review of Super 8, which I saw on its release weekend. Most of the pre-release hype for Super 8 was centered on the (somewhat predictable) mystery as to the cause of the problems for the small town in the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t want the mystery spoiled, I advise you to stop reading now. Although if you haven’t seen it yet, I doubt you really care that much.

In the summer of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio, a young boy named Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is making an amateur zombie movie with his friends. This is therapy of sorts for Joe, since earlier in the year his mother died in an industrial accident, and he has a difficult relationship with his distant father (Kyle Chandler). Sneaking away to shoot some night footage, two important things happen for Joe: he connects with the film’s leading lady Alice (Elle Fanning), who happens to be the daughter of the man indirectly responsible for his mother’s death, and the young Eisensteins witness a shocking train derailment. They also see something apparently escape from the wreckage.

Soon the Air Force, presented as the true villains of the movie, is swarming over the town, people are disappearing, and property is being destroyed. It seems the mystery train was carrying an alien taken from the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft, which has been tortured for years by the Air Force, and now is trying to put its ship back together to go home, all the while enjoying a steady diet of Ohioan tartare. Will the alien return home? Will Joe re-connect with his dad? Will he find first love with Alice? Will the gang finish their zombie movie? Super 8 was produced by Steven Spielberg, which should give you the answer to all those questions.

I enjoyed the movie well enough, but I didn’t love it. It is too much a cobbled together collection of themes from other movies (Spielberg’s E.T. and The Goonies, director J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield) to stand on its own, and there are too many inconsistencies in the script, with too many of the themes underdeveloped. Part of the movie’s arc is supposed to be Joe coming to grips with his mother’s death (a locket is used for symbolism), but frankly, he already seems to be handling it pretty well. Four months after the event, the 12-year-old is just a little blue. His relationship with his father is only shallowly explored. Is dad distant because of the shock of his wife’s death, or has he always been that way? Closure to this is found when dad realizes he doesn’t want his only child to be eaten by a monster, which seems like a low bar of parental responsibility.

There’s also the issue of the creature. We are supposed to root for the alien, since it just wants to go home, but it’s eating people. Not just evil Air Force personnel, who no doubt deserve it, but innocent townsfolk. Yes, it is misunderstood and has been treated badly, but is that any excuse for it to eat the nice lady next door or the guy working at the 7-11? I think the alien is from the wrong movie.

The young filmmakers are supposed to be the ensemble focal point of the movie, I think, but they are mostly unrealized. They are archetypes, the fat kid, the small kid with ADD, the kid with a weak stomach, etc. Other than the director of the movie, who is something of an ass, none of the group is developed at all, and except for Joe and Alice, they all disappear when it is time for the movie’s climax.

Abrams meant this movie to be an homage to his idol Spielberg, and it more or less succeeds. All of the typical Spielberg beats are here: A boy with issues with his father, a mawkish sentimentality, an idealized view of early teens. Unfortunately, these are mostly flaws here.

There were some good things. The train wreck is exciting, Kyle Chandler is always an engaging actor, and Elle Fanning is a revelation, showing real talent in her scenes for the movie-within-the-movie. But overall, Super 8 is a movie that falls apart if you stop to think about it.


Rabid Fox said...

Ha. Yeah, pretty hard to root for something that's eating people.

Though, I did kind of root for The Woman towards the end.

Peter Andrew Leonard said...

I really liked SUPER 8 despite heartily being able to agree with you on all your points.

One thing you didn't mention that bugged me about it was the scientist who crashed his truck into the train. I found it difficult to believe he survived that conflagration.

KentAllard said...

There are a lot of people I would like to see eaten.

I actually enjoyed super 8 well enough, in that sort of turn-off your-brain-and-watch way.