Review: Super 8
I like J.J. Abrams. He produced the silly but entertaining monster flick, Cloverfield. I think he did a great job directing Star Trek, making it exciting and relevant again. People say Lost, which he also produced, was quite good too, though I never watched it so I can’t comment. Super 8 sees him wear his writer, director, and producer hat under the watchful gaze of a certain Steven Spielberg. This HAS to be great… doesn’t it?
It’s 1979 and a bunch of high school kids are making a short movie for a film competition. Sneaking out at midnight to film a scene at an abandoned train station, they witness a truck drive onto the track and into a headlong collision with an oncoming US Air Force train. Miraculously surviving the crash without injury, they witness *something* break free from one of the carriages. Frightened, they make their escape before the approaching airforce finds them.
Super 8 is clearly in the thrall of Spielberg. If you’re going to copy someone you might as well copy the best, but at times it borders on the ridiculous. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Jaws, and E.T. are all clearly massive influences. You’ll recognise flickering lights and radios turning on and off from Encounters, near-steals of Williams’ musical cues and keeping a certain *something* off-screen for most of the running time from Jaws. And the manic family homes and bantering, arguing friends from E.T. All of it clearly Spielbergian. When it works it works brilliantly, evoking the same kind of feeling you get when watching those films. When it doesn’t, you find yourself wishing that you were watching those films
The highlight is undoubtedly the young cast. Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb, the wounded hero of the story having lost his mother to an industrial accident, and Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard, Joe’s schoolboy crush, are particularly good. Tubby director Charles (Riley Griffiths), braces-wearing, explosives-obsessed Cary (Ryan Lee), lanky Martin (Gabriel Brasso), and geeky Preston (Zach Mills) round off the slightly stereotypical gang. The adults don’t fair as well in comparison, mainly there to be dysfunctional parental figures and disbelieving of the kids.
Abrams’ usual handycam madness seems to have taken a back seat in this picture, thankfully, relying upon your more usual old-school action shots. Of course, it’s still bathed in blinding lens-flare, it wouldn’t be an Abrams pic without it. Again, though, during a certain reveal, it suffers from that Hollywood bugbear of mine – being so bloody dark that you can’t see a thing. Not that there’s anything worth seeing. I shan’t spoil it but the *something* is something of a disappointment. That aside, it’s well-paced, dragging only on the odd occasion, and very funny (more laugh-out-loud moments in this than in all the movies I’ve seen this year).
So, does it live up to the hype? No. It’s good. Very good. Definitely one of the more enjoyable times I’ve spent in the cinema in recent times, but it just falls short. In trying so hard to echo Spielberg’s greats it struggles to leave their shadow. It wishes so hard that it had the magic, the wonder, the awe of those films, but it doesn’t come close. What you’re left with is an homage. An enjoyable homage that I thoroughly recommend you see.