My take on Super 8

My take on Super 8

Super 8 is a new summer movie from producer Stephen Spielberg and director/writer J.J. Abrams.

The campaign for it was not very explicit, which built up expectations as to what unimagined wonders we might see.

Unfortunately, once the movie started, it was largely predictable.

SPOILER ALERT

My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and it’s not easy to do.  This movie didn’t really make an attempt to do that.

Here, let’s play a game.  I’ll list some roles and characteristics, and you match them up:

Role Characteristic
alien brave
lead soldier mean
scientist misunderstood
lead child noble

Okay, let’s use them in a sentence:  “The brave child helped the noble scientist save the misunderstood alien from the mean soldier.”

It can be fine to use cliches…but when you do that, you have to do it really well.  I remember a description of Laurel and Hardy (it might have been from Leonard Maltin) that said it wasn’t what they did that was a surprise, but how perfectly they did it.

This isn’t perfect.

One of the things that was missing in some scenes was Spielberg’s visual humor.  There was a point when things were flying through the air…and we really missed a touch of Spielbergian whimsy.

In fact, the entire movie could have been helped by more humor.  Not irony, particularly, but it often took itself very, very seriously.

Oh, it tried for a few jokes…the Authoritarian Small Town Sheriff telling the Long-Haired Slacker that young people having personal stereos like a Walkman was a “slippery slope”.  By the way, it’s common to look for anachronisms in a period piece like this, and the Walkman was available in 1979, when the movie takes place.  However, while I don’t recall an exact date in the movie, the Distant Father with a Tragedy in his Past was talking about summer camp with the lead child…that suggests it might be before the Walkman was introduced in Japan on July 1st…and later appeared in the US as the Sound-About (I think).  Minor point, though…the key thing is that they brought it in for a joke (although it has some significance beyond that), and it just wasn’t that funny.

On the plus side, the acting is fine.  Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota) is an absolute stand-out as the Tough Dream Girl Who is Vulnerable Inside.  She’s the star, really, and has a varied and shaded performance.  Poor Joel Courtney has to spend so much time looking earnest that it’s harder to judge.

I was surprised that the theatre wasn’t even close to full when we saw it, even though it was a weekday.  I’d say the audience was more…young boomers, maybe.  I would have thought it would have been more younger people, even though it is a “period piece”.

The best part of the movie by far was the credits.  :)  We get to see the Super 8 movie the kids had been making during the movie.  It’s unpretentious and they appear to be having fun.  Now, if the whole movie had been that way, it would have been brilliant. 🙂

What did you think?  Did it engage your sense of wonder?  Will people remember the experience of seeing it a year from now?  Is it unfair to compare it to the best movies, and we should just say it’s a good movie in a year of overblown spectacle?  Oh, and why was the good alien eating somebody?  Feel free to let me know what you think by commenting on this article.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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