Super 8 Review
In my opinion, films involve a large degree of fun. Whether I am thinking about them, discussing them, writing about them, watching them or even making them, films bring much enjoyment. J.J. Abrams must have the same opinion on film because his new film, Super 8, captures this perfectly. Super 8 not only captures the excitement in making a film, but proves to be the most fun I have had watching a film in a long time.
Super 8 follows a group of kids in a small town in Ohio as they try to film a zombie film for a festival. As they are filming, they witness a train crash. The train was carrying something dangerous in one of its compartments, which has now escaped into the town. As the kids try to finish their film, the Air Force, family feuds and the thing from the train descend upon the town.
Super 8 is directed and written by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek). You can tell that this was a passion project for J.J. Much has been made of whether this is a tribute/homage or ripoff in the disguise of an homage of Spielberg films, but this really is something from J.J.'s heart. For example, the kids at the center of the film are not just ripoffs from the numerous kid stars of other Spielberg films, they are embodiments of J.J.'s childhood and love for cinema. There is actually a lot of love for film in large display here. This is more of a love letter to the entire concept of filmmaking rather than an homage to one director's filmography. That is a very ambitious concept but J.J. pulls it off. Upon watching this film, I was reminded of my past experiences of filming movies with friends and immediately wanted to pick up a video camera again.
Before getting into more of the good I should probably point out the negative aspects of the film. In terms of J.J.'s direction (and Larry Fong's cinematography), his signature lens flare were used to an obnoxious extent. In Star Trek, the lens flare brought you into the film and actually fit the setting of space. In Super 8, they had no purpose except to throw you out of the scene out of annoyance. J.J.'s script also had many issues. There are a few really cheesy lines sprinkled throughout the film. I became really worried with the opening lines of the film (where a character actually tells you what two characters that we don't know yet what they are feeling and why just to get the plot moving). The final problem with the script is the development of the adult characters. I was fine with Noah Ememrich's character being a one note villain, but the character development for Kyle Chandler's character and Ron Eldard's character is excruciating. The two characters have a very distinct relationship and that relationship takes a complete 180 near the end of the film just because one of the characters said one word to the other. It just wasn't believable.
Luckily, Abrams pulled off the child characters perfectly. The dialogue between them is snappy and unique. I may not have been alive in the 1970's (which is when this film takes place), but the way the kids interacted and the setting they inhabit (the art directors deserve major credit for the way they put together the kids' rooms that not only reminded me of myself as a kid but were filled with cool easter eggs on the walls) seemed to be true to that era.
The true revelation of the film, though, is the child acting. The child actors actually steal the show form the adults (which has the great, but wasted in this film, Kyle Chandler among them). I was stunned to learn after the film that Joel Courtney (the film's lead) had no acting experience before his film. He acted like a veteran of his craft. Instead of hamming it up (which most child actors tend to do), Courtney led the film with a subtle intensity and a performance that was faithful to a child of that age. The true star of the film though was Elle Fanning. Fanning plays the love interest to Courtney's character and could have been just that. However, she brings a much needed toughness to the role and she actually has what might be two of the best acted scenes of the year. The first is when she is actually asked to act in the movie the kids are creating. The kids are blown away by her performance and so are we. The second is when she reveals her family's history with Courtney's character. It is your typical crying scene but Fanning beings a subtlety to it that will stun you. The two standouts of the supporting cast are Riley Griffiths (another first time actor) as the director and Ryan Lee as the kid who likes explosives. Griffiths is the one actor in the film that is required to have chemistry with everyone. That is a tough job but he pulls it off fantastically. Lee is given the best material and he plays it well with energy galore.
The thing in the train compartment will probably be the most talked about aspect of the film by the general audience. If you are seeing the film to find out that mystery, you are seeing it for the wrong reasons (This film is one to see to remind yourself of what it feels like to be a kid again). However, I will say that the reveal is nothing special. There is nothing distinctive about the creature. The visual effects for the creature (and throughout the film) are pretty good, but the sound design for it is impressive and Oscar-worthy.
Super 8 may not be the masterpiece some were expecting, but I guarantee you it is a blast to watch.
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