Monday, June 27, 2011

Review - Super 8

In the summer of 1979 a group of kids witness a train crash while filming a movie for a contest. Following the crash, the kids and their small town find themselves experiencing an onslaught of unexplained occurrences as well as being held at the mercy of the United States Air Force.

"Super 8" would have been better served as a television series. Director J.J. Abrams best work has been on television series. In the platform where he has the time to develop and work out every possible angle in the stories he wants to tell. Establishing each character slowly and thoughtfully. Here we have the same setup, a whole bunch of engaging ideas and characters but not enough time to explain each of them all in a singular film. The result is something that feels rushed, unfocused and lacking the proper development to make it really hammer home the fun adventure it wants to be.

Truth be told, I'm not so sure "Super 8" knows exactly what kind of film it aims to be. On the surface, it claims to be a monster movie, but its not. The monster is only a conflicting catalyst to the script. A catalyst that ends up coming across as a dodgy means to justify a tidy finish. The film wants to be a coming of age friendship story a kin to "Stand by Me," "The Goonies," "Monster Squad" or "The Explorers," but once again it is not. J.J. Abrams introduces the audience to a group of friends who are making a movie together over the course of their summer break, but never gives a real chance to connect with the majority of them. We are left wondering why these kids tolerate each other outside of making the movie. The bond never came together with the whole group, instead only finding slim connections between one or two of them. Lastly, at its core and completely stripped down, the film genuinely tried to be a father and son story, but stumbled. Stumbled is actually the wrong description, distracted is better. Super 8 was too distracted with what it wanted to be versus focusing on the strengths it already possessed.

Focusing on the strengths for a moment, newcomer Joel Courtney is electric as our main character Joe Lamb. Courtney displayed the innocence and bewilderment of youth to the letter. Like other undiscovered child actors before him, Joel Courtney brought a raw synergy to the adventure that is undeniable. This kid really gave "Super 8" a bunch of heart. Helping the cause was Elle Fanning playing Alice Dainard. Early on in the film Joe learns that Alice is going to be in the movie he and his friends are making and he instantly lights up. One scene with Fanning as Alice and the audience will see why Joe was so excited. Fanning's character Alice, represents the embodiment of first love. Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard are instantly drawn together and the audience is equally sucked into their budding relationship. This is an aspect of the film I really wanted more of but alas Super 8 was too distracted with everything else going on in it's stuffed bag of ideas.

There is something to be said about the spectacle created in "Super 8." It succeeds in setting the stakes yet fails at maneuvering the course set for it. The setting is dead on. A small middle American town, set in the late 70's. Allowing things to run a slower course than in today's world of up to the minute technology. J.J. Abrams aimed for nostalgia that audiences could remember back to with this period and in that instance it works. Then you have the incident. A massive and well orchestrated thrilling train crash. Seriously, the sound design, mixing and animation here are all unmarred. This sequence is a sight to behold. After the crash however, is where the spectacle wears off and the catalyst I spoke about earlier begins. The crash sets the film on a clear and distinct path. That path unfortunately forces the film to abandon the best aspects of the script for a plot device that derailed the better stories Super 8 contained.

Visually and technically I do not have complaints to make about "Super 8." Sure there are a lot of lens flairs but outside of that mute complaint, J.J. Abrams knows how to make a film look spectacular. Every penny of the budget is on screen. Larry Fong's cinematography is stellar even when he is shackled with the peek-a-boo mold J.J. Abrams wanted to hide his monster behind. Michael Giacchino's score is memorable. Everything from the set and sound design to production value as well as the visual and special effects were executed at the high levels. It is the story's inability to execute all of the inciting concepts it sets up that I take issue with. Perhaps not so much take issue with, but pulled me from the experience, which resulted in me really wanting more (or rather) less from the film. We've often heard less is more and within the confides of a singular film I think Super 8 would have benefited from some constraint. It has a whole lot of tantalizing ideas that all sound fantastic, however when complied together they just needed more time to develop.