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At Home: Super 8

Posted on the 07 March 2012 by Desertofreel @Kob_Monney

At Home: Super 8

Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us.

I enjoyed Super 8 when I saw it back in August but I had a few problems with it: notably that monster. It felt estranged from the plot of the film and never felt fully integrate. Re-watching it hasn’t resolved that issue but it less bothersome than it was before. Super 8 isn’t a great movie. It’s a little too self-referential and seems to be a little confused in tying all its emotional strands together but it’s a genial kind of film and in JJ Abrams it has a director with visual flair (and lens flare). It may not always work, but it does work more often than it doesn’t.

Borrowing wholesale from Spielberg’s early 80s output, Super 8 tells a story about Joel Courtney’s Joe, son of the deputy sheriff (Kyle Chandler) and on the receiving end of a tragedy when his mother dies in a horrible accident at the nearby metal plant. The film picks the story up a few months later and Joe’s shooting a super 8 movie with his friends. One night they witness a train crash and find out that it wasn’t an accident. People start to disappear and strange occurrences plague the town as they try to uncover the truth as to what’s really going on.

Like a lot of Spielberg’s work it’s about grief, absent/estranged fathers, a distrust of authority with a touch of the fantastical but I’m not sure the film knows how to put all these elements together to synthesise an emotional ending. Without spoiling it, there’s a specific emotional beat (concerning a locket) at the end that I’m not sure has anything to do ‘alien’ subplot in the film and yet the two are intertwined. The moment certainly apes the more saccharine moments from ET but I’m not sure there’s much meaning behind it.

However, like a lot of Abram’s films, there’s a snappiness to the editing, some funny dialog (“I know that you don’t like me and I’m sorry about that”) and there’s a great sense of chemistry amongst the cast. (The kids are terrific, Elle Fanning is the standout.) His mystery box method of telling a story sucks when it comes to revelations but everything leading up to that moment is engaging. The characters are earnest and endearing and going back to Spielberg, Abram’s realises that what sells a film’s milieu is a sense of community and Super 8 creates a convincing one.

It’s when the monster appears and the mystery is revealed that things start to drift a little. What Super 8 was good at in the first-half (its relationships), it ditches for most of the climax which is not unexpected but it is a little disappointing. The visual effects for the monster look, for a lack of a better word, jammy and the father/son, father/daughter drama that drove the early parts of the film is not resolved in an adequate manner; just sort of assumed to be resolved.

So Super 8 straddles the line of being not-quite-Spielberg but is good in its own right. It could have been a belter had it managed to figure why it was doing things instead of just doing them but it’s a solid film.



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