Saturday, June 18, 2011

Super 8 - Not So Gr8

Within the last few years, J.J. Abrams has become a more prominent name in Hollywood, involved with projects like Star Trek and Cloverfield. His most recent directorial work, Super 8, is also a collaboration with major Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg. The ad campaign for this movie was similar to that of Cloverfield in that hardly anything was said, but I watched it anyway out of curiosity. For the most part, it wasn't a terrible movie, but it's pretty easy to see the influence of Spielberg throughout.

The plot seems to meld threads from Spielberg's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield, in that the events largely revolve around a group of children, only this time they are working to create an amateur zombie movie for a contest using a Super 8 camera. While filming, the group is in the middle of an explosion-filled train crash, caused by a truck driving onto the tracks that ends up releasing an unknown entity and dozens of white cubes. Terrified, the children agree with the driver of the truck, their biology teacher Mr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), to never speak of the incident again. What follows is a series of mysterious events within the town of Lillian, Ohio as the kids try to finish the movie.

While the story was able to maintain its suspense until the very end, it had Spielberg written all over it. The fact that a group of children have an adventure of sorts, if not intentional, is not unlike The Goonies, down to romantic tension between the more prominent male lead and the lone female character. In this case, that role is filled by the characters Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), although the romance has a new wrinkle in that both of their fathers don't want them involved with each other. More of the E.T. influence can be seen from the fact that an alien is involved and the military gets mixed up in it, not to mention that they are still depicted as more heartless and evil compared to the children, who are depicted as more innocent. Abrams' Cloverfield also gets to contribute something by influencing the alien itself. Throughout the movie, it is mostly unseen and is shown to be virtually indestructible no matter what is thrown at it. This seemed a little annoying and just made it appear as if Abrams can't write a monster/alien very well.

Despite this, the movie was actually pretty humorous at times, mostly through the children's dialogue. The child actors were pretty impressive for unknowns and I have a feeling any one of them could have a future here. The relationships were depicted quite realistically, especially the amateur director Charles' (Riley Griffith) obsession with getting the movie done every time he comes up with an idea to make the movie more "mint". Even the group's acting for the zombie flick comes off as authentically bad to the point where I kept laughing at the performance.

The special effects in the movie were also good in motion, like during the train crash at the beginning of the movie or with the constant motion of one of the white cubes that Joe has from that same scene. Besides the explosions, a lot of the effects were used to bring the alien to life.

While it felt good to finally know what the alien looked like, I was a little disappointed with the final design. Still, I just went with it and ended up accepting it in the last leg of the film. As for the music, the action is coupled with a competent, but largely forgettable soundtrack. The other sounds in the movie though were perfect and made me feel as though it were happening right in front of me.

Overall, Super 8 wasn't too great of a film despite the hype. It is generally acceptable, as long as you can overlook the various plot holes in the story and the clich├ęs of Spielberg movies. For those who want to see what the hype is about, I would recommend seeing this movie at least once. Otherwise, you're better off looking elsewhere for a good time.

Also, I apologize for the pun in the title. I felt that the "8" in the movie's name made it unavoidable.

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