Jun 20, 2011

[Movies] Super 8 (2011)

Super 8 (2011)Movies are stories. Beyond the flash and flair of special effects, big name movie stars (and all the controversy inevitably attached to them), they're just stories. And when the story doesn't work, the movie won't work either. It's a very simple fact and yet many movie makers forget about this and we end up with special effects bonanzas that are barely held together by a semblance of a plot.

But then every now and then a movie comes along and reminds us that Hollywood isn't totally without a soul and hope remains for the future of movies as an artistic medium. And while these movies don't always have the same amount of flashiness about them, they do step up the plate with a whole lot of heart and ultimately a good story. And what would we be as a species without our ability to tell new stories, right?

This definitely felt like a slight different path for J.J. Abrams to take, with respect to his other projects. Instead of your typical science fiction or thriller type concept, he went with one that was a lot more oriented towards younger audiences. But just because kids are at the forefront doesn't mean there isn't a great story at the heart of this piece In fact it becomes a reminder how the simper stories tend to be the better ones since they don't get distracted by their own cleverness (or attempts to appear so).

Super 8 is a science fiction film written and directed by J.J. Abrams. Steven Spielberg was also on-board as a producer for the movie.

We start with 13 year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) in the fictional town of Lilian, Ohio. After the death of his mother in an industrial accident, his life changes completely now that it's just him and his father, Jackson (Kyle Chandler). A few months after the accident, it's now summer break and Joe has committed to helping out his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) with his film project. It's a low-budget zombie piece that they've been working on together with Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Carey (Ryan Lee).

Somehow Charles has convinced Alice (Elle Fanning) to star in the movie. In addition, Alice offers to drive them (albeit illegally given her age) to the local train depot for them to shoot a few scenes. Thus after dark, the group set off for the train depot and go about their movie filming. But in the middle of all this, a passing train derails when a pickup truck swings onto the tracks, deliberately ramming itself into the train. The kids barely survive the catastrophe and run away shortly thereafter with their camera in tow - the camera that had accidentally filmed the entire accident.

In classic Abrams style, the movie does its best to shy away from directly revealing what was on the train until the latter half of the movie. As anyone who has seen the trailer knows, the train contains something inhuman and possibly of alien origin. But even that fore-knowledge is not enough to help you figure out exactly what's going on and Abrams really does a stellar job keeping that sense of tension constant throughout the movie.

The lead stars in this movie aren't the local police or the US Air Force group detached to the area to recover the contents of the train. No, our protagonists are the kids themselves and how they continue to puzzle over the train accident while trying to remain unnoticed. Oh, and they also keep trying to finish their movie despite everything else going on in the small town as the military swoops in.

Choosing to center the story around the lives of the children during increasingly strange events for the town gives us a unique perspective on the whole story. Beyond the rich time-setting established with the sets, cars and technology, the young actors perform more than admirably as an ensemble, making us all think about our own childhood experiences. They become our lens through which we view both the time period and the events surrounding the train crash in a manner that is poignant and yet still realistic.

Cover of "E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (W...Cover via AmazonThe movie can be compared to many other similar films that have a group of kids performing what we'd think to be rather extraordinary things in the face of unnatural events. My partner tagged is as the Goonies of this generation. One can also compare it to a mish-mash of different movies like E.T. The Extraterrestrial meets Stand By Me, or something like that. And thus the movie maintains that fresh perspective that young minds bring to any story while still keeping things accessible to older audiences.

Now on a potentially spolier-ish point, I need to rant about our secret star of the show - the occupant of the train.

Yes, I'm totally on board with the way Abrams built up the tension of the movie in keeping the creature as secret as possible while making his effects larger than life - the scenes of mass destruction balanced against the almost delicate theft of the car engines and other electrical devices. But once we finally get to see the alien, one can't help but feel...surprised? Confused? A tad disappointed? What is it with Abrams and this monster design? We first saw it in Cloverfield. Then we saw it slightly revamped during the 2009 Star Trek reboot. And now here it is again - smaller, but still almost the same top-heavy design.

We still love you J.J. Abrams! Just consider getting a different special effects designer or something.

On the whole, the movie is still one of the best pieces of film making that I've seen for the year. Abrams started with a good, solid story and he told it in a manner that touches on classic science fiction (and even Spielberg) movies from before. He gave us fresh faces to tell this story from their point of view and they did it well - really well in fact! And in the end, it worked because it felt so real - this is how people would react to these kinds of circumstances.

I'm still working on counting the Easter eggs list for the movie - this is an Abrams film after all. No Slusho as far as I can tell, but we did have that jewelry store named after Locke from Lost. They also claim that Leonard Nimoy was in the film, but I've yet to catch him. Where was he?

And you better stay for the credits. Trust Me.

Super 8 is a good movie. Not necessarily the greatest one ever nor the best for the year, but it's definitely a rock solid piece of entertainment. It gets 4 "production value" moments out of a possible 5.

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  1. I admire your ability to make a movie synopsis, analysis, evaluation. You're good at it!

  2. Thanks for the appreciation Elmer! Glad you like how I approach these reviews. =)