Romy Shiller

Super 8: Or, WhatEVER!

In Film, review on August 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm

E.T. phone home. No, really.


Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Elle Fanning, Amanda Michalka and Kyle Chandler

Yeah, I saw Super 8 – weeks ago. Either you like a Spielberg aesthetic or you don’t. I’ve seen most of his films and I find most are exploitative about patriotism. If I see one more mother holding a baby or an American flag, I will scream. To be fair, there was none of that in this film; instead we get something else he does: A cheesie soundtrack tells you when to feel. I personally hate to feel manipulated and to me he is obvious. I could be popular and love him, but I find him overrated and self-indulgent as a filmmaker…sue me.

I really like J.J. Abrams. I imagine he was in awe of Spielberg who executive produced the film. I did some research on this and Abrams said, “Working with Steven Spielberg was a dream, and I was kind of nervous about it because he was like a hero of mine since I was a kid.” He continued: “I can only say that it was surreal and wonderful and a real privilege.”  Thought so. Anyhow, Abrams is very good at monsters who toss things and this monster tosses – a lot.

Plot: The year is 1979, and the place is a small town in Ohio. Our central figure is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a small-town middle school student whose mother passed away just a few months ago. Joe’s father Jackson (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights) has become emotionally distant and buried himself in work since the accident, so Joe spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths). Charles is working on creating a low-budget zombie movie for a short film festival, and Joe is in charge of the make-up and special effects. The cast and crew is almost entirely comprised of boys, though Charles somehow talked the popular Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning, Somewhere) into playing the film’s love interest.

The story was cute – déjà vu though. E.T. was fresh and new – there was nothing like it. Far from nostalgia I thought “been there, done that”. Comparisons are inevitable but, so? Critic Tom Long says, “Remember the good old days? This is the movie you went to see on a Saturday afternoon in the good old days.”  Harkening back to another age, like that’s unique… An Alien under government scrutiny – sound familiar? Strange white cubes…boo!

Boy’s Life Magazine created a list of 100 movies boys should see. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is on there. I certainly will not mess with a classic but enough is enough.

I was focused on the Spielberg influence and the story kind of receded. I was aware of the plot anyways and there were no surprises. Spielberg’s attention to Alien awareness is amazing, no doubt about that at all, but he is kind of predictable to me.

Charles Koplinski of the Illinois Times says, “Lack of Originality causes Super 8 to come undone.”

It was interesting to witness the fervor or anticipation around this film in the UK. Having seen it before most of you and being underwhelmed was kind of beside the point. When you’re told that you can’t have something, you want it even more. This film seemed to fit that model. People love film and love Spielberg…

Look, it wasn’t a bad film; it just wasn’t fabulous to me. The interactions between the kids were nice and the idea of a bad-ass monster is cool but he wasn’t really so much bad-ass as run amok. I was going to recommend it for kids but it’s probably too violent or scary. I like that the young boy is making a zombie flick. In popular culture, zombies are the new vampires. The contemporary spin is not only important, but necessary here. To show youth-as-capable is also important – but where were the girls? Aside from love interest Elle Fanning, there were none. I will just mention the following – make of it what you will…the mother is dead – females do not exist in this film. Another era for sure!

Abrams started making films when he was seven, and when he turned 15 he was part of an L.A. festival called The Best Teen Super 8mm Films of ’81. The Los Angeles Times wrote a story about the festival and interviewed some of the young filmmakers. In the piece, Abrams was quoted saying this: “I see stuff by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and I want to do it too. I’ve always wanted to be a director.” ( John Carpenter,hmmmm.

Spielberg often says that he used a Super 8 camera as a young person (Super 8 mm film [often simply called Super 8] is a motion picture film format released in 1965 by Eastman Kodak as an improvement of the older “Double” or “Regular” 8 mm home movie format. ) This entire film is an homage to his youth. There is no revelation here; “J.J. Abrams has written and is directing an homage to Spielberg and the sci-fi films he grew up with in the 70s and early 80s…” ( Self-indulgent much? It felt to me, like Abrams was kissing butt – big time: “[I]t really does feel like a Spielberg film from the Amblin-era…”

Critic Jeremy Heilman says, “Abrams panders to his audience and wrongly assuming that more explosions, more pathos, and more clichés will provide a path to more approval.”

Sorry, but I agree.

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