|super 8||1 out of 1 user found this review helpful.|
"Bad things happen, but you can still live."
Super 8 is a pretty great movie, just flat out. It strives for something much bigger, and gets really close, but falls short by inches. Thankfully, almost every aspect of the filmmaking that went behind this film is executed in a gorgeous and masterful fashion. As per usual in a JJ Abrams production, the cinematography and technicals are top notch, meticulously orchestrated and in sync with tone and pace. Complimenting such impressive and detailed filmmaking is a script that has a bit too much on its plate, but still trucks on, staying strong with an oversize load. Abrams had a truly amazing cast to work with here, with all members doing their greatest at all times. Most impressive are the lead kid-actors, who manage to not suck in the slightest, miraculously. They carry along a partially convoluted and confused tale with professionalism and full-focus at all times. The film goes for something special, which is capturing a certain time, place, and attitude of classic standards. In pushing for such levels, Super 8 has a lot of gall behind it, and it wins in many cases for trying so hard. Abrams will make a better movie, but this is not at all a movie people should look over, as it has a massive amount of merit behind it, and the effort that was given. It’s a really good end-result, but even more eye-opening for what it attempts to do, which is quite special.
It’s the 1970s, in the middle of Middle America, and Joe Lamb’s (Joel Courtney) mother just died in a tragic factory accident. He’s clearly left in grief, but not as badly as his father, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), a police officer beloved entirely by all his neighbors. Officer Lamb has turned a bit of an aggressive manner toward just about everything since his wife’s passing. He’s gone as far as to arrest, for no reason, Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), the man who his wife was filling in for, because he was too drunk to work that day- yikes. While Jackson is dishing out the law in a much more detailed and overbearing manner, and trying to set up leaving this town, Joe has moved on with life, and is helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) make a film that they plan on entering into a local film festival. It’s a drama about love and a zombie invasion, called “The Case.” A new addition to the cast is Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), daughter of the drunken Louis. Joe and Alice hit it off slowly but surely, but of course, the relationship between their fathers draws a massive line in the sand between the two.
One evening, whilst filming a scene with hopes of capturing a passing-by train for “production value”, the small group of young filmmakers becomes witness to a horrific train-crash. Everyone’s safe, minus a man in a truck who drove onto the tracks with intent to crash head-on. He turns out to be a former scientist and teacher of the kids- inches from death, the man warns the children to not say A WORD, or else they’re dead. The army approaches, and the kids book it for their lives. The next morning, the military activity increases around town, as well as mysterious occurrences, like missing and stolen items, pets (specifically dogs), and a few missing persons. Officer Lamb tries his hardest to control the town after the Sheriff goes missing, and Joel and his buddies try and continue to make the film, all while trying to figure out what the hell happened that one night, and why. Oh, and there was a monster on that train- it’s what’s causing the insanity all around town, and the constantly increased military activity. Again, WHY?! Well, questions are answered in this period-piece throwback of an adventure, and it’s quite fun to watch play out.
With Super 8, Abrams set out to make what is essentially an Amblin film. Steven Spielberg in tow for the show as producer, the two filmmakers capture the essence of an era, in terms of both film aesthetic and life. First off, their sheer love of cinema and filmmaking shine through in an embracing fashion through the main kids. I, and I'm sure many other aspiring filmmakers, will note the authenticity in excitement about the craft and artform- a fine detail that is executed expertly, much like other tones and ideas that are played with. There's a clear sense of whimsy (only highlighted by Michael Giacchino's beautifully emotional score) going throughout the movie, which may seem out of place in some moments, but is played in such sure-fire fashion that it fits in an enjoyable way. The bits of humor and gleeful ambition the characters share and work with in their own, youthful way is just as exciting and fun for the audience. It's quite shocking how well realized the 1970s is with the setting and general lifestyle of everyone in this small town. There's an air of realism to the demeanor of people just scraping by, and dealing with the strange occurrences that progress. It's there when the movie's voice feels fairly familiar when looking back to the Amblin films, and others from its time. Abrams really put care into capturing that kind os spirit to be found in such films, and succeeded with flying colors. In addition, this adolescent charm instituted helps in making the more horrific and intense moments more effecting. A sense of fear and in some cases, hopelessness runs throughout the scare-oriented scenes and portions of the film, because of an absence of safety. They are on their own in this adventure, and that implication is a good enough and clever enough throwback method for raising stakes quite high.
Every person on this cast is strong; literally everyone. Abrams approaches this world looking at the individual beings, as well as the intertwinings within relationships is of complicated proportions, and these players involved submit their selves entirely to the setting, tone, story, and entire adventure of it all. Kyle Chandler as Joe's father takes on a heavy role, and pulls it off so damn well, like a master of his craft in his prime. There's a lot of things for him to take in terms of character relationships and the importance of his character to his community, and Chandler portrays this sense of stress overshadowing legitimate love with anger that is heartbreaking and enrapturing. His other adult costars, including a broken and drunken Ron Eldard, a murderous looking Noah Emmerich, and the always welcome Bruce Greenwood, among other smile-inducing bit-parts from various character actors, who do good in their respective moments and corners of the story. They merely help make interesting this small town and universe that we observe, and is heavily characters by the lead kid actors.
I don't know how he did it, but JJ Abrams either found the best child actors in the world, or just managed to direct so well that these kids actually don't suck. We all know it- child actors are awful, with the rare exception. This movie contains more than 5 exceptions, and damn impressively so, considering that these kids are truly the main characters. They hold a heft of the emotion, push forward the plot and deliver dialogue that would be complicated for any professional actor to pull off. Abrams has a distinct attitude and voice for these kids to embody, and together, they nailed down this attitude with one swift strike. The enthusiastic chumminess and occasional asshole antics of truly best friends and colleagues feels genuine, even though bits of bandy are a bit fast and Sorkin-esque than normal. The kids not only deliver these lines excellently, pulling legitimate reaction, but are also just great at being true kids. They're scared, excited, nervous, imaginative- it's genuine in a way that I don't think cinema has seen in quite some time. Other than Abrams' heavy-handed hard work in almost every aspect of filmmaking, the performances of these kids, specifically a dedicated yet real Joel Courtney, adorable and appropriately emotional Elle Fanning, and Riley Griffiths, who has a future in acting especially in comedy, are superb and enjoyable to witness. I don't know where it came from, but absolutely no one should be complaining, or at least lacking in acknowledgment of their impressive turn-ins.
I love that Abrams is so head-on with the structure of a story and is characters. His script is ambitious and full of love and excitement for what it tries to work with. He takes proper growth into account and doesn't let any aspect go weak, or he tries to, at least. Setting up of the world and its players is subtle and absolutely brilliant, letting visuals take the heavy lifting in a beautifully cinematic manner. Foreshadowing and establishing of setting are also among the worked upon, and in the long run, it all goes to show the fascinating level of attention to detail the filmmakers put into this story, even with a big handful of elements to take into account. Looking even deeper, the film tries to take a look at certain amount of the themes and ideas, especially concerning relationships. Alice and Joe share a visceral connection, and really bare it all when expressing their selves. Then there's the film, their parents, and many other factors getting in the way of their friendship, which itself harms the connections outside of it. And then there's the monster. A lot of such just exist and come to resolution by the end, without full exploration and development. It's impressive, the connection and levels of depth the script tries to look at and play with, but they only manage to make full, satisfactory use of some of it, not all. Same goes for the monster storyline, which just makes things even more convoluted, despite intriguing and exciting. How that pans out and ends up can feel rushed and possibly pointless to some, but how Abrams handles it is with purpose and confidence. He even goes as far as to correlate emotion and themes amongst the two tales, which is highly admirable, despite the feeling that it was sped-through in places. If the film was a little longer, maybe coherency would've came out on top, but that's just me. Yet the fact that these storylines and ideas are checked out in the first place is impressive enough, and makes for an even better and more interesting adventure experience.
Combining thriller and horror tropes, the film essentially takes on two different movies at once. With the monster, we're subjected to a much more slow-burn, high intensity... Monster movie mood. Abrams creates tension with utmost inventiveness, utilizing his visuals and absolutely beautiful sound design to keep your pulse rate high, and the scare factor even higher. The timing on cues and passing back and forth between emotion and action are tight with bold staccato that only helps more in maintaining audience investment. The visuals and editing are utilized for stylistic flourishes at entirely appropriate times, combined with Giacchino's stunning music to make an overly effective and memorable viewing experience. There’s a really staggering amount of work put into the little things, in terms of audio and even small camera ticks that set off big reactions and follow the after-burn. Abrams definitely knows how to tackle both these kinds of films, but in terms of melding them together, the two types definitely intend on coexisting, but don’t ever reach a certain level of peace. Scenes where our protagonist is in the middle of a very emotional confrontation or development are sliced in half with the monster and his story coming into play. There is a way to blend these two here in a natural way, but it felt like Abrams had to stop himself in the middle of telling each story to start the other, without flowing into each segment smoothly. It’s unfortunate that Super 8’s stories aren’t clear as crystal, but it has a lot to show and work with, and that it tries its damndest to juggle it all is quite a feat in its own right, let alone succession.
If there's something that can guarantee about every single project that JJ Abrams will helm and create in the future, it's that it will look absolutely gorgeous. The man has such a fantastic, cinematic eye that pays attention to detail meticulously, and for merit. He is a filmmaker that doesn't let any frame be nothing less than a unique piece of art amongst other eye-candy installations. The cinematography by Larry Fong is tight-knit and strict, confidently so, in capturing simple moments, as well as crazy, intensive action-oriented moments. The capturing of scare-moments is effective, equally as much as the comedic beats, which are of impeccable and satisfactory timing. He does his job with Fong with this sense of purpose that makes you feel like everything you're seeing has a meaning, not just in a philosophical sense, but it tells story without telling it directly to you. Not only does the film look beautiful, but it uses its visuals to help develop and really deliver moments, heavy and light, of the story and it's trappings. And the special effects aren’t bad either. I mean, it’s the more subtle details that are really the most well done, but things like the monster itself, and the insane train crash in the film’s beginning are often quite gorgeous in a horrifying way. The monster seems a bit in line with recent aliens and monsters in films, especially in comparing it to the Cloverfield monster, but even by that respect, it looks good- really good, just like the entire friggin’ movie.
Abrams never really succeeds in turning over a full-on masterpiece, but he has the tropes for such, tries his hardest, and he gets an A for effort, and for still managing to make a fairly clever, compelling, and cool movie with all he has on his plate. I hope that with his next venture, he tries to pace himself, or at least learns how to juggle all he puts on himself, but whatever the result may be, we can take pride in knowing that the man will have something great up his sleeve. It's technical prowess is beyond this world, Classic and unique in its own way, Super 8 is an accomplishment of gargantuan proportions. Though I can't say it's perfect, it's ambitious in a way that won't let you look away. It's a movie that has a lot to love and marvel at, and that makes it a worth while adventure.
Realistically, Super 8 deserves a 4.5/5, but I don't like to do half stars, and I think that despite its minor slip-ups due to an overflowing plate most of the time, the sheer will-power and heart put in this film in such a determined and caring manner makes it deserving of a 5/5. If you love movies and making them, you absolutely cannot miss this.
Super 8 Theatrical Trailer
We hate to be those guys who get super duper giddy over a movie trailer, but as children of the Spielberg era, we've little choice in the matter. This just looks awesome.
Super 8 Trailer
J.J. Abrams' new monster movie trailer teases us something fierce without showing any leg.
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