Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

When was the last time we saw a good movie with children as the central characters? There used to be some good ones. "Spy Kids" isn't one of them. Think "Flight of the Navigator", "ET", or "Goonies". Yeah, not much of that anymore. "Super 8" goes for something like that and nails it.

This trailer gives a decent sense of the movie without telling you too much. While it gives you the tone it completely fails to convey the humor or the superb and honest way they wrote the children. This movie is about a town being terrorized by an unknown menace, but it's also about first love, fighting over a girl, fathers dealing with guilt and grief, kids trying to make a movie, and kids being kids. Even during the somewhat violent and scary scenes you still can't help but laugh at the kids and their dialog.

There's a group of six kids working on a zombie movie for a contest. One lost his mother several months back. His dad blames the father of a girl they get to be an actor. One likes to set fires and blow things up. One wants to be a director. One likes to make models. Late one night as they're secretly shooting a scene at a railway station there's a huge train wreck and something huge, strong, and alive breaks free. And they have it on film.

Then strange things start to happen. A few people vanish, the dogs all flee town, all the engines are stolen from the cars in a used car lot, inventories of microwaves are ransacked, electrical wires are stolen off of electric poles. And the military is everywhere.

The story was written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Fringe, Lost, Alias, the Star Trek reboot, Cloverfield) but Producer Steven Spielberg gets equal credit in the advertising. I don't know how much Spielberg was actually involved, but you can see what appears to be his input in most of the scenes with the kids. Abrams influence seems to be heaviest with the creature. It seems very "Cloverfield"-like. Not in the camera work (thank god), but it's appearance and behavior feels like his work instead of Spielberg's. All together it worked out fabulously.

The movie takes place in 1979. It seemed an odd choice at first, but the more I think of it the more possible reasons I come up with.
Maybe they were trying to find an era when kids could safely run around by themselves and make a film.
Maybe in 1979 Abrams was doing just what the kids in the movie were doing and he felt he could most honestly write about those characters in this context.
But I think the best reason is that they needed a time when it would take three days at least to get their film developed. The movie could have been very different if they could just plug the camera into their laptop and start editing the film. Home CGI would have replaced the models they were making.

In any case, this film was fantastic. I will be getting it on DVD. I highly recommend seeing this movie.

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