Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8

 I am not the biggest fan of Steven Spielberg's early science fiction movies, but I connected with Super 8 more than I expected. It takes place in 1979, but despite that offers a very universal story about the difficulties of being a young teenager that collides with a mysterious and exciting sci-fi/horror plot. It's not perfect, but it's one of my favorite movies of its type in a long time.

Although it's kind of hard to define what that type is - it's not really a family movie, and it's not really all action either. It blends both elements really well, giving both plenty of time without shortchanging the other. It's not exactly a unique formula, it just seems like modern movies don't try to do it, or just don't do it well. A big key to the film's success is the actors they found to play all the kids. It wouldn't have worked at all if they were typical child actors, but the casting people did a great job of finding kids who fit their characters, and pull off their specific personalities believably. J.J. Abrams' script does a lot of good work too. I would imagine he has a much better memory of what his adolescence was than most writers in Hollywood. The younger Fanning sister is the only one that I've heard of before, and though I haven't seen Dakota act in a while, I'd say Elle is definitely a better actor than she was at the same age. There aren't a lot of significant adult characters, but the ones that are there fit their roles in the story well. As any good Spielberg-esque genre movie with kids, daddy issues are a significant obstacle, and while some of that could have been handled more subtly, it never stopped the movie dead.

The other side of the movie was great, too. Very loud, very well paced, very fun to watch. Much like Cloverfield, the movie Abrams produced a few years ago, there's a lot of time spent wondering just what the hell is actually going on in the story. It's not really about what specific thing is wreaking havoc on this small town though, it's about why it's doing what it's doing. The hints and teases come early and frequently, and the kids worrying about both what is causing damage and why the military wants to cover it up make for an engrossing plot. The visual effects are not overwhelming but they're very effective at enhancing the action without masking the story. Besides the somewhat obvious family stuff, another thing that bothered me a bit about the writing was some of the over-the-top ways the setting was established - I thought the movie did a good job of creating a sense of place without obvious references to songs and technology from the period. But overall the setting worked really well, and I loved the way the plot unfolded and set up some really exciting scenes. Abrams is basically the king of genre entertainment right now, and he really seems to be growing as a filmmaker. I'm definitely looking forward to the next Star Trek, and whatever he does after that.


Anonymous said...

Did you see my uncle? My unle's in the movie!He plays Louis Dainard. The wife and I will be seeing it tonight.

Adrenaline said...

Cool! I feel like I've seen him somewhere else, but it might just be that he looks like Jon Gries.