Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8 - Theatrical Review


Release Date: June 10, 2011

J.J. Abrams has been on the rise ever since his feature film debut back in 2006 with Mission Impossible 3. While he didn't direct Cloverfield, his influence was felt all over that film and his reboot of the Star Trek franchise was nothing short of impressive. But with Super 8 it felt like we were finally getting something from him that was personal. Something that had been at the back of his mind all this time just waiting for the right moment to manifest itself. All I can say is that the wait was well worth it.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards Irvine 21 IMAX
Time: 4:15 pm June 9, 2011
Projector Type: IMAX 2D

Loves: J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg (70's & 80's)
Likes: The entire cast, Michael Giacchino
Neutral: Lens flares
Hates: Nothing
Inspired: By the classic Steven Spielberg movies of my youth

There was something magical to those Steven Spielberg films during the late 70's early 80's. The director had a way of capturing the discovery and wonder of an event that transcended our ordinary lives. The stories themselves were never anything particularly groundbreaking, it was always about how the story was presented and the characters he populated his films with that drew us in. That was an era in filmmaking where we got some truly amazing films from the legendary director that not even he has been able to recapture in his later years. Then comes along J.J. Abrams, a man that is clearly talented when it comes to sitting in that directors chair but also a man that has a deep yearning for those Spielberg classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, The Goonies, Gremlins and of course E.T. With Super 8 he set out to not so much replicate those films, but harness the same sort excitement and awe they instilled into movie goers all those years ago and remind us why we go to the movies.

It is 1979 and we find ourselves in the small steel town of Lillian Ohio. It is a place where nothing out of the ordinary or exciting ever happens there and a small close nit group of young pre-teen kids use their spare time to sneak out of their houses late at night to go film a horror movie for a local film competition coming up. However, one night out at the train station while filming there is a train speeding towards them and before they know it the train is derailed in spectacular fashion as the kids run for their lives. This wasn't a normal train though, it was carrying something on board, something that is now free and loose in their small town. Soon people, pets and even machinery start to go missing all over town as the military shows up with mysterious intentions and begins locking everything down. Only the small group of friends that witnessed the train crash know what is going on and it is up to them to save their town and families from this unknown threat.

Joe and Alice look on as their home town is under siege.

If I were to tell you the basic storyline of Super 8 I doubt it would peak your interest very much. It's not that the story isn't good or relevant, it's that the story is in the background of all the character moments strewn throughout it. Yes that's right, Super 8 is a character driven film and just like those other films I had mentioned at the beginning it is that aspect that will help draw you in and win you over. You won't find any in depth character studies here but what you will find are people, both children and adults, whom we grow a connection with as we follow them on this extraordinary journey they are forced to undertake.

The main characters we follow are a group of kids that resemble any other kids you might know. There isn't anything terribly remarkable about first. There is the ambitious Charles (Riley Griffiths) who will stop at nothing to get his student film made, his good friend Joe (Joel Courtney) who does the make up for the actors and has an irresistible crush on their leading lady Alice (Elle Fanning). Cary (Ryan Lee) is the pyrotechnician, his stock comprises mainly of home made cherry bombs, Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the leading man for the film and finally there is Preston (Zach Mills) as boy grip? The two kids we follow most of the time though are Joe and Alice as we see their friendship slowly turn into something more, much to the disdain of both their fathers.

This group of friends are about to have the adventure of a lifetime.

Joe's father, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is the local Sheriff's deputy who is still dealing with a recent personal tragedy that he blames Alice's father, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) for. The two men couldn't be more at odds with each other if they tried and with their children fast becoming more than just friends it doesn't take long before tempers flare and some deep seeded emotions run rampant. The core emotional grip this film had on me from the beginning was this simple and rather quaint family drama at play during all the larger than life moments going on around them. I felt Joe's sadness whenever he would hold on to that watch just as much as I felt his joy whenever he would be in the company of Alice. Not very many filmmakers have the ability to create such a connection between their characters and the audience but I fell victim almost immediately to this charismatic cast and their little quirks.

The film takes it's time getting to what some may consider to be the good stuff as well. While I would most certainly make the argument that EVERYTHING here is the good stuff, that time is used to let us get attached to these kids and to great effect I might add. Perhaps it is my nostalgia for those films from my youth (The Goonies, Monster Squad, Explorers) but I just find the idea of a group of close friends getting caught up in a life or death adventure that they couldn't possibly comprehend to be thrilling as all hell. I can't help but think that thanks to what J.J. Abrams has made here that a whole new generation may now indulge in that sweet nectar I tasted back in the 80's and someday look back upon this film in the same reverence that I do those. He just got so much right here it is insane and the execution is nothing short of pitch perfect as well.

Spielberg should have trademarked this look of bewilderment.

Now, I know that I have been comparing this film to A LOT of other films from yesteryear but I have to clarify where I am coming from on this. This isn't so much a rip off or even a remake of any of those films, far from it as a matter of fact. Even calling it an homage is stretching that definition a bit much. I believe Super 8 simply came from J.J. Abrams inspiration, the love and adoration he held for those films I have already mentioned countless times are what INSPIRED him to create this film.  And that is the real genius and beauty behind what he has done here. He has made a film that captures the pure essence of those other films while also feeling like an original piece of work.

Sure, anybody can go in there take scenes and find some way to compare them to those classics. The soldiers that take over the town can be easily linked to the suit wearing government agents of E.T., the idea of a town falling victim to a mischievous force of some sort is easily traced back to Gremlins and the era it takes place in will remind just about any Spielberg buff about Close Encounters with the aesthetics. But if you are doing that in order to pick the film apart then you are doing yourself and the film a great disservice. In a summer...scratch that, in a year of sequels, remakes, reboots and adaptations this is the breath of fresh air the cinemas and Hollywood in general needed to wake up audiences everywhere and remind them once again why going to the movies is so much fun. There were moments during Super 8 where I would just start to smile and get excited at the anticipation of what was still to come. The wonderment and sense of discovery present in Super 8 is something to be regaled, not questioned.

Joe and Alice try to make sense of what they just saw.

Another piece to what I should call the Spielbergian puzzle is getting the casting right. If you look at his filmography and focus on any film that had child actors in them as main or supporting characters it shouldn't take you long to notice how much of a genius that man was when it came to casting children. In a recent interview with J.J. Abrams from Ain't it cool news he stated that Spielberg had a big influence on the casting choices for Super 8 and the finished product is proof positive that he still knows what he is doing. The two main kids, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning were both remarkable in their respective roles and had to deal with some pretty hefty emotional moments. Their chemistry as well was spot on to the point where I found myself getting caught up in the drama of their lives just as much as when they find themselves in mortal danger.

The other kids were pretty damn spectacular as well with the kid that played Charles standing out the most from the bunch. He seemed pretty one note at first but just like all the other kids, he gets some great moments later in the film that helped flesh him out more. Most of the comedy came from Cary and his eagerness to blow stuff up and while I at first wasn't too sure how I felt about him, as the movie progressed I ended up really liking him and the reactions he had to things he would be forced to do later were priceless. The other kids were fine as well, they weren't in the foreground as much as the others but I enjoyed their presence whenever they were on screen. The adult actors were more like supporting roles but even then Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard added a lot of weight to their characters when needed (Chandler especially). And ALL the actors get a round of applause for nailing that stupefied look of wonderment that happens so often during the film. Whenever they would look off camera at something awe inspiring I teared up just a little due to the memories that came flooding back to me from years past.

The military is not very nice in this movie.

Lastly I would like to mention the soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. This man has quickly become one of my favorite composers out there and the score he supplies for Super 8 is only equaled by the imagery it accompanies. Like any good soundtrack it complements the actions on screen to a degree that enhances whichever scene is occurring without drawing too much attention to itself. That being said, I can't wait until the soundtrack is released in a couple weeks, it will have a permanent place on my mp3 player for sure. Between this and all the other films/television shows they have worked on together, I have got a sneaking suspicion that the names Abrams & Giacchino will soon be as indecipherable as Spielberg & Williams.

I know that I didn't spend much time on the particulars of the film itself but I did that consciously. The less you know about the story and especially everything dealing with the "problem" that is rampaging through town the better. It is all about the discovery that fuels Super 8 and I guarantee that when the crescendo occurs for the finale that you might just find yourself tearing up just a bit. Not because of something sad that happens but more so due to the emotional release of all the tension that had built up over the course of the movie and realizing the screen magic you were just witness to. A magic that was long forgotten and that will now hopefully find a resurgence with a new generation of movie goers. Go see this movie...multiple times. Blog about it, tweet and facebook it, take your friends and family, because who knows when we will get something this special again. Without a doubt this is the best film of the year and everyone needs to...




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