Wednesday, June 15, 2011

So I Saw Super 8…

If you’re reading this on your phone, you’re welcome for the new mobile-friendly template that I activated by clicking like one button.

Since much of the build-up to Super 8 was based around secrecy I decided to start off this review type thing with all the thoughts I had on the film before seeing it. Granted, I love spoilers and absorbing entertainment news in general so I had a better idea of what was going to happen than most people. Still, there were some surprises to be had.

Pre-movie thoughts

In theory, I have little interest in movies that use lots of nostalgia, or for that matter movies about childhood nostalgia, but if they are done well enough that usually doesn’t matter. For example, I love love love The Iron Giant. Also this movie is harkening back to movies like E.T. which I also love.

What I don’t love though is stuff like The Goonies. Stuff like E.T. works for me because it combines something I don’t like, child-centric movies, with something I do like, sci-fi. However, The Goonies is a child-centric movie with Indiana Jones style adventuring, another trope I don’t like. Luckily for Super 8, it’s giving off much more of an E.T. vibe.

It’s also giving off a Cloverfield vibe which is another movie that I love love love. It shouldn’t be that surprising since J.J. Abrams had a hand in both films. Speaking off Abrams, one thing that concerns me is that I personally think that Abrams has never directed a really “great” movie. Mission Impossible 3 is fine and the new Star Trek is good but massively overrated (which I fear might happen with this movie). Plus all of his secrets and mysteries are the reason I could never get into Lost (but that’s for another post).

I have mad respect for Spielberg and Amblin though. (The last week of college I was just shouting “TINTIN!” constantly after watching that trailer) So I’m pretty excited about Super 8.

That and the trailer music was awesome.

Post-movie thoughts and possible spoilers

I’m not gonna lie. This movie is pretty mint (Super 8 slang for good) and here’s why, in no particular order.

It’s a lot funnier and darker than I ever expected what with the violence and death kicked off by the amazing train crash sequence. Maybe that helped offset the fact that it really is all about the kids and their drama rather than the alien.

But the child actors are actually all very good and I sort of cared about them, Elle Fanning in particular. By the way I refuse to accept a world where both Fannings are legitimate actresses. Luckily Dakota got sucked into those Twilight movies.

Good thing I didn’t really care about the monster though because that whole plot kind of peters out. Some of my friends were convinced it was secretly the Cloverfield monster (which by the way I think is a better movie ultimately) and after seeing its nondescript design it might has well of been. Except he has those expressive “I just want to phone home eyes” and psychic link powers so kids can relate with its otherwise unsympathetic appearance.

But back to the kids, all of their cute little adventures and projects like the fat one wanting to make a movie with “production value” or the weird one blowing stuff up were really entertaining. Summer/end of school time is a good time for some childhood nostalgia.

Abrams also paints a good, nostalgic version of the late seventies with super 8 cameras, sketchy video store guys, weird hair and sideburns on deadbeat Midwestern dads and “My Sharona”. However, maybe it’s my lack of personal nostalgia for this time period that made me like this movie more than some critics. I didn’t feel like some studio was trying to exploit my memories. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t yet started critically examining the film the way other critics have been paid to do.

pic unrelated
The initial experience was enjoyable enough at face value to keep me from noticing the false or non-existent emotional climaxes, vague character motivations, dangling plot threads and how, in general the story doesn’t hold together at the end. Homages are nice but a movie can only fit so many (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Goonies) and this one has a bit much.

The slow ramp-up to that ending, instead of being boring like I feared, is actually very compelling and gets you very invested in what’s going on. Once all the dogs peace out you know it’s gotta be more than just the soviets.

Few characters have moms. Disney much?

But what really endeared me to this movie, besides the hilarious projectile vomiting children, was its great use of “small town sheriff gets into a big ego fight with the army once he gets sad after they remind him that he has no real power outside his little town no one cares about”. It’s not the biggest plot point but there’s nothing better than watching different levels of law enforcement fight each other instead of the real threat as well as just being incompetent in their own ways. I know people like the actor who played the dad because of the show "Friday Night Lights", which I would maybe watch if I watched TV or cared at all about football, and while the actor seemed fine, I didn’t like his character at all outside of the “mine’s bigger” arguments he had with dudes in fancier uniforms.

Since this is a movie kind of about movies and movie-making, I thought it was appropriate to see this with some film majors and I didn’t even have to be one of them to be bothered by all the lens flare. But I’ll repeat, I think this movie is a great, theater-going experience. In a summer full of genre franchise movies good and bad, it’s nice when little anomalies like this come around. I have this creeping suspicion that, in time, this buzz will get eaten away by cynicism and the whole thing will fall apart because of those issues I mentioned earlier but I’m gonna enjoy this high while it lasts.

it has a great poster too

Stay through the end credits too for a neat little bonus movie about a zombie outbreak caused by “Romero” chemical. That’s clever right there.

Now it’s time to lower my Green Lantern expectations as far as humanely possible.

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