Review of Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams, starring Kyle Chandler and Elle Fanning
J.J. Abrams patches together classic Spielberg movies and comes up short
The one thing that's worse than a mediocre and overly sentimental Steven Spielberg movie is a mediocre and overly sentimental movie made by a Steven Spielberg imitator.
At least filmmaker J.J. Abrams' alien invader adventure Super 8 is not a sequel (a rare thing these days). Its tale of teenage filmmakers in 1979 Ohio who learn than something strange and mysterious is snatching people in their small hometown is not based on a superhero comic (a better thing). Unfortunately, with Abrams borrowing heavily from movies he liked as a boy, Super 8 is not the least surprising. Of all the summer blockbusters so far, Super 8 turns out to be the biggest letdown if only because the expectations surrounding the movie were so high.
Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), his best pal Charles (Riley Griffiths) and fellow teen crewmembers Cary (Ryan Lee), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Preston (Zach Mills) and the ensemble's star actress Alice (Elle Fanning), sneak away at night to the train outside Lillian, OH to film a key scene in their zombie epic.
In the movie's standout action scene, a train accident occurs while they're filming with the extreme level of explosive force today's blockbusters require. Their movie camera captures an alien monster crawling from the wreckage of the military train and before long these students filmmakers are battling the monster in order to save their town.
Steven Spielberg produces via his shingle Amblin Entertainment, which I suppose is the same as giving Abrams his blessing for borrowing so heavily from his earlier movies.
Super 8 is a cinema mashup that borrows from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, John Carpenter's The Thing, Alien, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Rob Reiner's Stand by Me.
Abrams, who was also a Super 8 student moviemaker, even borrows from Spielberg's own teen movie that he shot on Super 8, Firelight, from 1964 and about a small town experiencing mysterious alien kidnappings.
Abrams is often at his best when he looks to past favorite stories and tweaks them. His Star Trek reboot remains his best movie but in the case of Super 8 he appropriates clumsily. Perhaps he's in love with his childhood favorites like Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars too much and the result is a movie homage that never truly comes alive.
Newcomers Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths provide plenty of sweet moments as the small town boys who share a love for movies. Elle Fanning (Somewhere) captures the wonder of a teen girl discovering for the first time her love for acting.
Kyle Chandler (The Day the Earth Stood Still) and Ron Eldard fare much worse as the troubled parents in their lives.
Abrams works hard to piece together a sentimental backdrop surrounding Joe Lamb but it comes off as emotionally false and heavy-handed.
Cinematographers Larry Fong and Dan Mindel make great use of the film's small town setting (much of the movie was shot in Weirton, West Virginia) and the special-effects team and visual effects engineers are clearly having fun creating fleeting images of the unknown beast responsible for the destruction throughout their working-class town.
Yet, despite all the effects and attention to period details, there are few solid jolts throughout Super 8 and not a single scene of eye-popping wonderment.
Granted, Abrams and Paramount have done a great job at not giving away too many secrets or footage regarding Super 8.
Abrams wants moviegoers to come to Super 8 with a real sense of mystery, which is hard to do when it borrows so heavily from films from his (and ours) recent childhoods.
Sometimes, when you love something too much and try so hard to please somebody, well, you end up with a shattering disappointment like Super 8.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Gabriel Basso, Ryan W. Lee, Zachary Mills,
Screenwriter: J.J. Abrams
Cinematographers: Larry Fong, Dan Mindel
Music: Michael Giacchino
Director: J.J. Abrams
Producers: Amblin Entertainment, Bad Robot
Running Time: 111 minutes
Rating: Rated PG-13
Release Date: June 10, 2011