Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Noah Emmerich and Glynn Turman.
A group of young filmmakers witness a spectacular event that changes their lives forever.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS…
Before we started, let’s get one thing straight. There is no ‘new’ or ‘next’ Steven Spielberg in Hollywood today. Spielberg is a unique talent and a unique filmmaker. Along with Lucas, Coppola, Zemeckis, he created the summer blockbuster as we know it now – films which open in the summer months and are much hyped and are expected to take millions of dollars in the first weekend. But his films were good. Very, very good.
In Super 8 we have a film which is unashamedly a homage to Spielberg’s late 70s and early 80s work as both director and producer. You cannot watch this new film without drawing comparisons with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, The Goonies, and maybe even Poltergeist. But director JJ Abrams makes no attempt to hide his intentions. And, to me, this is both the film’s strength and its weakness.
I applaud Super 8 for it’s first half of it’s 112 minutes. We are treated to nostalgic film making of typical Spielbergian shots, themes, and characters. Set in 1979, five friends, all around the age of 12, are making a zombie movie on Super 8 Kodak film (hence the film’s title). The film is the most important thing in their lives at the time, and they put their heart, soul, and time into making it as authentic as they can. If you’re not aware of Spielberg’s history, this is how the great man himself first found his love of the moving picture, so again the film wreaks of nostalgia for him.
The lead character, Joe, (reminiscent here of Elliot in E.T.) has lost his mother, and his father has become desolate and depressed. He find solace with his friends, and his friendship grows with a girl who acts in the film they’re making. Again, textbook Spielberg, but that’s not a bad thing. Better than textbook Michael Bay.
The friends film a scene late at night near a railway station, and this is where the fun begins. A train crashes and the cargo on board escapes – of course, this later on turns out to be an alien. The friends all witness the crash and film some of the events on their camera. The crash sequence is a perfect example of special effects, stunts, sound effects, and sound editing. Worth the price of admission alone.
So far, so great. But it’s in the aftermath of the crash and the remaining second half of the film where Super 8 lost my attention and found its way into the standard alien invasion, scares, loud noises, and military hardware going ‘bang’ that we’ve seen countless times before. Admittedly, the inclusion of those elements were all handle very well by Abrams, but he replaces the wonderment of E.T. for the loud flashiness of Cloverfield. In other words, we lose Spielberg and get full-on Abrams.
This film shouldn’t be called Super 8 for its second half as, sadly, the film they guys are making is totally forgotten about as all attention is bestowed on the creature and what havoc it will cause next in the small town. At one point, when the creature is seen in full, I genuinely thought this was a tie-in or origins story for Cloverfield as the creature looks very similar, and that is not a compliment. Thankfully the film makers weren’t as self-referential as I feared. And with the film-making element of the story lost and the tanks and explosions ringing in your ears, Super 8 becomes just another sci-fi film, albeit a good one.
At the start of this review I said there is no ‘new’ Spielberg, and Super 8 proves my point exactly. For all the publicity stunts, chatshow interviews, name dropping, and posters unifying their names as if they were one and the same, JJ Abrams is far from Steven Spielberg. No one else can even come close to doing what he does, and Super 8 should either have been directed by Spielberg with perhaps Abrams producing, or Spielberg shouldn’t be anywhere near it. That’s not because it’s a bad film, but because you should never try to copy the best; Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek were suberbly directed and were thrilling from start to finish. Why? Because Abrams was being himself, making the films his way with his own style.
The likes of Close Encounters, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Star Wars and Back to the Future were made by men who revolutionised the Hollywood system and paved the way for talents such as Abrams to make the films and shows he has made with the enormous budgets he has been given. But in doing so, we have seen too many copies, reboots, and sequels of great works. I expected more from Super 8, and if I want to see a Spielberg film, I’ll watch the real thing.
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