Super 8 This Photo Might Represent The Best Scene In This
Elle Fanning as Alice and Joel Courtney as Joe in J.J. Abrams new film "Super
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
June 9, 2011
J.J. Abrams directs and writes the much-touted
science-fiction adventure drama "Super 8", in theaters today a day ahead of a
nationwide rollout in both the U.S. and Canada.
Set in the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio -- its population rapidly shrinking
by the day -- "Super 8" tracks a quintet of pre-teens during a bright,
sun-soaked summer in 1979, budding filmmakers and actors looking to enter a film
in a competition among Super 8mm camera enthusiasts. They are directing a
scene of romantic drama but will capture an event and feeling far more intense
than they anticipated.
There's estrangement between two characters and their fathers -- one of whom
plays a role in the bereavement of a family. Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice
(Elle Fanning) are two of the five kids who do things that kids do during
summertime. There's a twinkle and discovery that develops between Joe and
Alice, a wonderment and curiosity that "Super 8" follows for a little while
before ceding its percolating love story to a visceral experience involving an
exiled alien life form resembling
Predator that is the target of a mysterious US Air Force experiment or
classified mission that somehow isn't fully explained in Mr. Abrams' script.
Other parts of the script, especially regarding some adult characters, aren't
developed as strongly as they could have, rendering key players near-strawmen or
cardboard ready to be knocked down.
"Super 8" is at its best when wonderfully capturing the vivid excitement of
children enthralled by their dreams, passions and the power and freedom that a
long hot summer beckons. The kids' innocence is reflected in the sloppy,
funny but sincerely-intended horror films and romances they make with crew
director Charles' (Riley Griffiths) Super 8 video camera. Their playful
cinematic orchestrations are met in more than equal measure by the adulterated
shenanigans of the government, that most imperious of figures, led by Col. Nelec
(Noah Emmerich). Mr. Abrams adroitly captures scenes of adventure in a
grand, spirited way on the big screen, with open-hearted and fully-enveloping
Several scenes sparkle in "Super 8" but for all the sparkle (and sparklers), Mr.
Abrams' latest is a hybrid of movies that salute the late 1970s and early 1980s
yet does not distinguish itself in any discernable way from its predecessors.
At times "Super 8" plays like a highlight reel of other films including "Close
Encounters", "War Games" -- the latter specifically in its kid-bullying shadowy
government machine behemoth that has appeared in many films before as a fascist
Big Brother emporium of evil. At other times "Super 8" is a reminder of
more recent films like "Jurassic Park" or the aforementioned "District 9".
"Super 8" has a strong musical quality, a sweeping scope, distinct shots and
sunny "Sound Of Music" brightness. There's a clear "E.T." feel, and with
Mr. Spielberg producing here there's no accident that the young actor Mr.
Courtney bears a notable resemblance to Henry Thomas, he of Mr. Spielberg's 1982
film. But "Super 8" itself isn't an inherently classic film, though it
celebrates film classics and imitators, and not in an unfamiliar manner.
"Super 8" is proud of its genre origins and unabashedly flaunts some of its
appeal as an occasional comedy in numerous ways, including the kinds of
character interludes and interactions with music that hark back to love of music
(like the jazz trumpet bedroom scene in Mr. Spielberg's "Minority Report".)
For suspense sake, you know that someone or something is bound to interrupt what
for any character might be a musical moment in heaven.
While music is notable both in the film's rhythms and sound, at its heart "Super
8" depicts the love of movies, more specifically the love of moviemaking and how
it is specifically the first love of the largely male film crew depicted
onscreen. Mr. Abrams manages to give the children who feature prominently
an empathy and understanding often dismissed in summer celluloid of a larger
scale where kids are concerned, and the performances of Mr. Courtney and Ms.
Fanning speak volumes augmenting their characters as alive, fertile figures.
Ms. Fanning (even more brilliant in last year's
gives an adult strength and depth to Alice, and Mr. Courtney is brave, fearless
and memorable as Joe.
An inverse poster of J.J. Abrams'
new film "Super 8". Paramount
Authority, instability, parent-child tension and
forbidden fruit enrich "Super 8" with themes that often give the film more
gravitas in isolated moments than as an overall movie experience. Parts of
Mr. Abrams' film are undeniably joyous and beautiful, but a whole lot of "Super
8" goes through the motions, telegraphing many of its punches almost from the
get-go. The emotional strengths that bind the cadre of eager-beaver film
mavericks get lost, eventually becoming an expedient (and rushed) resolution
which feels, for all of the busy, rambunctious happenings like an easy,
unfulfilling way out of a story that needed a little more punch and a lot less
formula. Many of the film's adults are prominent yet mostly on the
periphery, as if viewed from a child's point of view, and quietly internalized
After the incredibly good mystery and suspense die down in "Super 8" we begin to
discover what is at the heart of a professor's secret. There's a parallel
story suggesting racial alienation and/or discrimination faced by one man who in
an identifying manner declares in one scene that "he is in me and he is
watching". This particular man identifies with being the "other", it
seems. The man's quotation is earnest but the motivations of "Super 8" in
depicting the metaphor feels ill-fitting, even exploitative, reminiscent of the
utterly disingenuous aspects of "District 9", a film claiming to sympathize with
those who endure racism daily by making its lead white character a tragic,
transformed figure that the audience is supposed to feel sorry for because he is
"trapped" in his "new-found skin" through "no fault of his own."
Thankfully "Super 8" doesn't go deeply down this road, but it does start to mark
The otherworld figure in "Super 8" is one tied in to Joe's plight, for their
struggles as this and many other films point out, are not so different. If
everyone needs hope and a home, everyone needs love to fill and enrich both.
Movies are but part of that feeling, that hope, and that love -- and movies, of
which each are grand experiments in their own right -- can go horribly awry as
the young children here can attest. Indeed, Mr. Abrams utilizes movie
posters, saluting horror-thrillers like "Halloween" and others but in a dual
manner: to illustrate the substance of the type of film that Charles and his
budding actors attempt to make, as well as the notion that the rite of passage,
adulthood and the horrors that come with these may lurk just around the corner.
Speaking of which, one character admits his true motivations in a good,
revealing scene late on that marks the onset of adulthood and the bulldozing of
naïveté. "Super 8" makes this specific scene amusing but there's an
undercurrent in it carrying deeper weight. All in all, you can tell that
Mr. Abrams' recalls his own childhood as clearly and certainly as Mr. Spielberg
does his, and does so with confidence and the flair that a big summer film
Like last year's "Toy Story 3",
"Super 8" is alive with vision and possibility but doesn't go all the way to the
finish line. In both films an emotional chasm grows progressively deeper
and wider; more so in Mr. Abrams' film than in last summer's megahit. The
resonance of the former film's sentiments was unmistakable, whereas in "Super 8"
sentiment and feeling rings hollow by film's end.
"Super 8" entertains for just a short while. About a third of the film
reminds you of your joys and exhilarations as a youngster, when potential and
idealism was limitless and adventure beckoned from around every corner.
Mr. Abrams' film makes several key missteps in its script and editing, turning
fresh, wide-eyed exuberance into dour, grim and finally all-too familiar scenes
that Hollywood blockbuster entertainments are made of.
With: Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Richard T. Jones,
Ryan Lee, Zach Mills.
"Super 8" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.
The film's running time is one hour and 48 minutes.
COPYRIGHT 2011. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.FOLLOW