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Thread: Super 8

  1. #1
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    Super 8

    Super 8 – directed by J. J. Abrams


    Take “Close Encounters of the third kind,” sprinkle in some “ET – the extraterrestrial,” and add a dash of “Alien,” and you have the plot to “Super 8.” This film, while directed by the man who brought us a great remake of “Star Trek” (2009) has Steven Spielberg’s signature written all over it. From the close up shots of kids, meaning young boys slightly out of step with the world, to the silly arguments in the middle of a crisis, it’s as if Spielberg went back to his roots and remade “ET” the it should have been made the first time, without the crescendo music of John Williams blaring over certain scenes of the picture, but with the exact same ending. Don’t worry. I’ve given nothing away that you don’t see coming long before the end.

    This film crammed every Spielberg trick into it, every emotional tug, every chaotic family scene, every alienation between child and parent along with their reconciliation at the end. I completely expected the final shot to have, “Directed by Steven Spielberg,” superimposed to start the end credits (there are no credits at the beginning of the film).

    A group of kids, the nerdy kind, love to make movies. It’s the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. Since they discuss “disco” it must the 70’s. Walter Cronkite is still giving the evening news. Sideburns are in fashion. The guy behind the counter at the “film store” smokes pot and has long hair… the only one in this very small Midwestern (?) town. The main character is a young boy, isolated and estranged from his grieving father after an industrial accident kills his mother. Four months later, school is out for the summer. The boys return to their zombie movie. They decide to film at the local train station, which is located out in the country for some reason. During their first shot, a man intentionally drives his pickup truck onto train tracks and causes a spectacular wreck. Something that was trapped inside one of the boxcars escapes. After that, all the weird stuff starts happening in the town – dogs run away, people disappear, along with many car engines. The young boy, whose father is a one of the towns more respected police officers, seems more perceptive than his classmates in concluding that “something” escaped the wreck.

    “I’m telling you… you’ve got to believe me… there’s this… thing out there!” (Steven McQueen – “The Blob”)

    In this case, it isn’t the boy who isn’t believed, it’s his father. The more he investigates each strange incident that happens, the more he feels the military, who is combing the countryside, is lying to them. When he confronts an Air Force officer, he disappears, too, but at least we know who nabbed him, the government.

    As the film progresses, we see more and more of the alien until the final scene, where Abrams reveals the creature in all of its glory, or rather ugliness. What follows is the “ET” ending.

    Abrams delivers on emotion and comic relief sprinkled with several “surprise” moments to make you jump and lose your popcorn. This would be a perfect “date” film, if I was 16. But because of my age and having seen every single science fiction movie ever made… at least five times, I was supremely disappointed in the copout end. What should be the film’s climax, and emotional pay off, is instead a letdown.

    “Starman,” alien space craft ascends into the sky with alien aboard.
    “ET” alien space craft ascends into the sky at the end with alien aboard.
    “CE3K” alien space craft ascends into the sky at the end with alien aboard.
    I should also add “misunderstood by the government” because it’s usually the military that is made to enforce some terrible order.
    “Star Trek, first contact,” alien space craft descends out of the sky, aliens emerge.

    I’m really sorry to poo-poo this film. I’d like to say it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It has tremendous production values, great acting, wonderful edits (the cuts are spot on), beautiful photography, and good direction. The sets are great. The special effects are great. The problems lies in rehashed old plots… and that is why I can only recommend this film to someone who is young enough NOT to remember any of those other movies. Otherwise, it’s the same old Hollywood, throwing loud sound and lots of “wow, look at those special effects” thrown at you, and in the end, giving nothing but noise and empty sentiment.
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  2. #2
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    You have scooped me on this. I meant to see it but keep getting derailed from doing so. Box office is great, and reviews are favorable. But not all of them. Armond White's review of Super 8 like you p0p-poos it (no surprise for him to poo-poo something). He says it's like a betrayal and cheapening of all the great Spielberg themes and tropes -- or a very poor homage -- and he concludes by nothing that (while he's said Spielberg himself is a great artist) most of the movies he has been producer for "stink." White's review title is "Super Hate." He argues this movie will appeal to haters of Speilberg. They can say, "see, that's what he's like, and it's crap." (My words.) I have not read other reviews, was just doing my periodic check on what Armond White has been up to.

    White:
    Retooling Spielberg’s legacy for today’s TV-and-blockbuster era, Super 8 takes the Spielberg template (suburbia, kids, special effects, aliens, souped-up benevolence) and trivializes it into the noisy sentimentality that Spielberg’s detractors have always accused him of making. Super 8. . . .

    Because Spielberg commands a popular idiom, his influence on mainstream filmmaking becomes indistinguishable from regular shoddy product made in the same idiom.. . . .
    White doesn't denigrate the technical prowess of the movie you acknowledge but also finds fault with the content, plot, and characterization:
    [you say it has] tremendous production values, great acting, wonderful edits (the cuts are spot on), beautiful photography, and good direction. The sets are great. The special effects are great. The problems lies in rehashed old plots…
    I hope to give my take eventually.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-13-2011 at 02:18 PM.

  3. #3
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    My classical training escapes me at the moment... something about noise and fury with nothing to show for it... damn it. Shakespeare I believe. I can't remember that quote. Guess I'll have to google it.
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    "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Macbeth Quote (Act V, Scene V).
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  5. #5
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    this is weird... I got your email Chris, but your post has lagged. Anyway, I'm all ears. Can't wait to hear what the rest of you guys think.
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    I deleted my post because i wan't sure what you were getting at with the Shakespeare. I saw Super 8 this afternoon, but I've got two more new movies to watch tomorrow and Wednesday so it may take me a while to write a full comment. I'm not too much at odds with you really anyway, on this.

  7. #7
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    Abrams was on Charlie Rose last night. I really like the man. I respect the man. I see how sincere he is and how he put his heart and soul into this film. However, as a great fan of science fiction over the past half century, I found it impossible not to find so many elements in this story that were repetitive to the point of distraction. Had it not been an alien trying to build a spaceship and wanting to go home (ET); had it not been the military evacuating the town under false pretenses (CE3K); had it not been a weirdly shaped gray alien that hid from view and ate people but was sentient (Alien); I might have enjoyed this film of young kids making a movie. However, Abrams borrowed too many story elements for me to find the over picture enjoyable... and that is my main objection. As a director, he's brilliant. As a script writer and creator of this story, it lacked originality. Sorry, J J. But then, why should you care what a nobody from North Carolina thinks anyway. You go out and make your millions. But this film, five or ten years from now, will not be regarded in Sci Fi circles as one of the Best of Science Fiction. And that you can take to the bank!
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  8. #8
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    I heard Abrams interviewed too, by Terry Gross on NPR, and I agree he is sincere, and he began with his own true experience. But then he got distracted from that. It was such a shame to see the charming little story turn into a noisy blockbuster.

    J.J. Abrams: SUPER 8 (2011)
    Review by Chris Knipp


    GABRIEL BASSO AND JOEL COURTNEY IN SUPER 8

    Running off the rails

    J.J. Abrams and some of his friends used to make Super 8 horror movies back in 1979 when he was 14. Then he grew up and became a movie director and things became more complicated. He was co-creator of the TV series Lost and made a Star Trek sequel. Things also become (rapidly) more complicated in Abrams' movie, Super 8. A group of boys in 1979 are making a Super 8 horror movie. They're shooting a scene at a railway station, when they witness a very bizarre train accident. Then everything gets very, very much out of hand, for the kids and for viewers. The movie about kids making a makeshift horror movie turns into a movie about aliens, the Air Force, Area 51, hidden government secrets. A film that at first seems like a charming little nostalgia piece -- except that it's such an obvious ripoff of the style and subject matter of Steven Spielberg, who produced, with borrowings from various other filmmakers -- turns into a merely moderately entertaining, not particularly original blockbuster. The director's original intention, to make a movie about kids making movies on an archaic video format in the late Seventies, got Lost.

    It seems things all went wrong at the railway station with that big train wreck. It's hard not to see that bumpy, drawn-out crash as derailing the story. The idea of a real event intruding into teenagers' crude fiction is a good one. "Production values!" shouts the boys' director, Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths), when the train approaches. Their values up to then consist of makeup and fake blood. It seems an unexpected godsend to shoot in a train station with a real train going by. Then they get much more than they bargained for when a vehicle heads onto the tracks.

    It's the intrusion of "reality." Only it's really not that. It's more like the intrusion into the sweet, nostalgic fiction of a shlockier, noisier, more emotionally incoherent blockuster CGI 21st-century fiction that it's harder to follow or to care about. After a while Super 8 almost loses track of its appealing little motley crew of boys, one of whom, Charles' co-director Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), is the son of the town's deputy sheriff (Kyle Chandler) and is also in love with Alice (Elle Fanning), their movie's female cast member, a winsome waif from the wrong side of the tracks. There's also Martin (Gabriel Basso), the kid movie's more grown-up looking male lead, and the sparky Carey, (Ryan Lee), who likes to set fire to things and blow them up. Another little actor-boy is Zach Mills, as Preston. This motley crew of typically variously sized and shaped boys are defined within their various families. Notably Joe has recently lost his mother, a trauma neither he nor his cop father Jackson Lamb has yet come to terms with. And the sweet Alice has a drunken, hostile dad (Ron Eldard) who is seriously at odds with Joe's dad. These plot details don't get lost. They get tidily resolved. But the casualty of the movie's trajectory is the nostalgia of kids making a movie on a now-archaic film format, of having an activity that draws out far more of their passion than anything at school; of cinephilia, of the joy of creativity and make-believe. That's a good subject, and Abrams knew it was when he started out. Unfortunately, Hollywood loves to jazz things up. And the main way it does that is with explosions and monsters and CGI.

    In an interview Abrams has said that when it comes to aliens, "everything has been done." I don't think that comes close to being true, but that mindset explains, I guess, for him, why Super 8's monsters look so much like the monsters in District 9, or a dozen other movies. So, his big close-up monster moment reveals the giant creature to have a sensitive face, and Joe, the movie's emoter, can communicate with it. But so what? If these critters are so sad and sweet inside, how come they have to destroy an entire town in order to leave it? This "human alien" aspect is lost in the triteness and repetitiousness of the material by this point, which is derivative from so many different sources it's hardly worth mentioning them. These include bits from Jaws and Close Encounters and War of the Worlds, while the personal drama's cute adolescent stuff has echoes of E.T., Poltergeist and The Goonies. Armond White, who lists these borrowings, <a href="http://www.nypress.com/article-22524-super-hate.html">argues</a> that while Spielberg himself is a humanistic film master, the movies he's produced for the most part "simply stink," and Abrams' Super 8 is a cheapening of the Spielberg style that's enough to make Spielberg's haters say "I told you so." After the loving nostalgia of the way the adolescent filmmaking and the wonderfully dated paraphernalia of the Seventies are recreated in Super 8's opening sequences, it's hard to see this movie as anything but a missed opportunity, the abandonment of a dream in the interests of big box office.

  9. #9
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    Great stuff, Chris. You nailed it.
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  10. #10
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    Thanks. You see we agree pretty totally.

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    ET All Grown Up

    The biggest problem with this movie is that ET may have grown up too much and the target audience of this movie is well...confusing. There are kids in this movie and in some ways ET forms a basis for it and there are the Goonies (1985) resemblances as well as the Stand By Me (1986) suggestions, yet there are also more juvenile and adult themes going on as well, including suggestive horror mutilations more commonly found in older teen films. There is a great special effects sequence reminiscent of The Fugitive (1993) and the close up shot making especially in the beginning sequences that confirm that a picture is worth a thousand words as the, brief non-verbal headshots used by J.J. Abrams, the director really captures the quality physical acting of the son, girl, and father in this movie. The storyline is so simple, yet the construction and development of the plot is presented in such a way as to geometrically expand the simplicity of the story in an amazing and compelling way. The relational conflicts in this movie are solid, disturbing, and yet well suited in the final product. The best comparison to Super 8 is that it is a bigger budget, more mainstream version of the hard to find Wavelength (1983) which is itself an overlooked sci fi classic. Super 8 is one of the best movies of the year and takes a lot from Jaws (1975) in its direction and style of presenting drama and thrills to the audience.

  12. #12
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    I finally watched it. At a theatrical screening for UM students (one of those programs college students get for paying an activity fee). I had a great time. Surprised at the negative reviews from bon and CK. Amazed that y'all don't mention the most compelling narrative thread of the film and one the film seems to regard as central. Of course, I'm referring to the love triangle. The relationships involving the two boys and the girl, magnificently played by Elle Fanning, are developed gradually over the course of the film with great finesse. The expressive burden is placed on the young actors because they often choose to withhold their feelings or can't find the words to express them. You can trace the arc of the romance in the face of Joel Courtney. You can witness the rift between the boys in a number of excellent reaction shots. There's a magnificent rehearsal scene in which Fanning amazes the boys with her sensitivity and depth. I moved to Ohio in 1981. I lived in Columbus but became familiar with the small towns many of my friends at OSU called home. The small-town-Ohio-circa-1980 setting rang true to me.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 10-05-2011 at 08:32 AM.

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