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Super 8

June 14, 2011

A common phrase I have been hearing about Super 8 is that it’s “like E.T. mixed with The Goonies,” I’ve even heard frequent comparisons to director J.J. Abrams’ last film Cloverfield. Frankly the comparisons are pretty spot on, Super 8 is this generation’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial with elements of The Goonies and Cloverfield sprinkled all over it, however, just not as good as either. Now that’s not to say Super 8 is a “bad” film in any way, it’s an exceptionally well-made film that allows Abrams to hone in on his skills as an auteur and prove his competence as a writer. While the finished product is an engaging cinematic experience, Super 8 just wasn’t as great as one would expect for a film directed by Abrams and produced by the great Steven Spielberg, especially if you’ve seen the aforementioned films before.

It’s summer in the town of Lillian, Ohio and the town sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and his son Joe (Joel Courtney) are still dealing with the death of Joe’s mother four months prior. Joe and his father don’t see eye to eye on many things, one being Joe’s devotion to his socially awkward friends whom spend much of their time making amateur zombie films on Joe’s best friend Charles’ Super 8 camera. In order to up their production value, Charles adds a love interest to his film, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) and suggests the group film at a local train station. However, while filming Joe notices a truck on the tracks that causes a passing train to derail leaving behind a trail of debris, mystery, and the fallen Super 8 camera to record the aftermath.

Immediately after Lillian begins to experience strange happenings; dogs have run away, family members are missing, electronic appliances are disappearing and power outages are frequent. When government officials began to make their presence known to the town, Jackson is determined to learn the truth of the train wreck from Military Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich). Meanwhile the boys use the wreck to their advantage, filming the aftermath as a means to further the production of their film. That is until their footage from the fateful night is developed and they discover a government cover-up hidden for decades.

Abrams is undoubtedly a talented director and writer, proven by his past works which are filled with genuinely original stories told visually in ambitious, unique ways. While Super 8 masters the elements of filmmaking, it’s not as developed as its predecessors were nor on its own. The development of Joe and Alice is outstanding as every aspect of Joe’s life seems to be explored from his passive personality that makes him a pushover to his peers to his behavior in dealing with the death of his mother. Joel Courtney is truly impressive as Joe embodying every bit of Joe’s easy going, willing to please personality. Courtney is so believable that merely looking at his face when he’s sad nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard is equally remarkable as the character Alice allows Fanning to show her range and acting skills. Abrams cleverly writes Alice to be a natural born actor whom even makes the boys react in awe of her ability. Great performances are pulled out of nearly every actor and the entire cast is genuinely talented, however, their characters don’t receive the same attention that Alice and Joe obtain. Chandler as Jackson and Ron Eldard as Louis, Alice’s troubled drunken father, have the most potential for development as characters. However, not enough time is spent knowing them and getting past their surface motivation as it is for Alice and Joe; something that could have easily and effectively been done since the film has a running time of 112 minutes.

When looking at the films Super 8 has been compared to, Cloverfield was definitely more thrilling, The Goonies was more charming, and E.T. was more heartening and memorable. Abrams’ signature style of light glares at first is an intriguing effect to watch and brought a smile to my face that he had mastered his own ‘signature’, however, as the film continues so does the glare making the element too noticeable thus taking away from the genuine feel of the 1970s that he creates. Also the film uses the motif of mixing scenes that have been shot digitally with scenes shot on film. Such an effect has its place, for example in last year’s Blue Valentine where scenes of the past are on film and the present in digital For a cinephile like myself, the graininess of film is a pleasing sight to look at, but when matched with the clean look of digital in the same scene the effect becomes annoying and inconsistent.

Nevertheless, these are not reasons why Super 8 “fails” in any way, these are just elements that could have made it a much better film; Super 8 is still enjoyable with some great chuckles, tender moments and impressive camera work. It holds up as an entertaining and heartwarming film just not the memorable classic that it is lauded to be. Considering that most films in the past few years have been so supbar, I expect some to see Super 8 as a flawless victory. The realization that it isn’t will come soon or later or maybe for myself the realization that it is will hit but for now I’ll say I enjoyed it, I just have no intention of watching it again.

SEE IT. Once is enough though.

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