Watch & Dish: Super 8

A Geeky Chic insider’s look in to the movie awaits you: while an expanded version of the basic synopsis is used with no spoilers of main plot arc, those who wish to be completely suprised should steer away! Discussions of story, style, and breakout performance are underway!

Super 8: Directed by J.J Abrams, Produced by Steven Spielberg, Paramount Pictures

 

Super 8 opened to U.S. audiences on June 10, 2011. Leading up to the premier of the movie were all the sorts of speculation attached to the teaser trailers before they moved out in to full length exposure. What was, exactly, in those derailed train cars?   Prior to this, we were left with knowing that there was an obvious reference to 8 mm film, a memorable childhood summer group reference, and curiosity as to what would come out of the direction of J.J. Abrams for the summer of 2011. From the official movie site at http://www.super8-movie.com/

 “In the summer of 1979, a group of friends in a small Ohio town witness a catastrophic train crash while making a super 8 movie and soon suspect that it was not an accident. Shortly after, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin to take place in town, and the local Deputy tries to uncover the truth – something more terrifying than any of them could have imagined”. —  Official Site

Story: Joe (Joel Courtney) is helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish his zombie movie for a state film festival called “The Case.”  They have in tow someone who sees to their pyrotechnics with a pryo’s zeal for fire named Carey (Ryan Lee) and friends playing the lead of a  hard working detective hot on the trail of the reasons zombies are murdering the locals and the extra, named Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Preston (Zach Mills). After having gathered a girl named Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the detective’s wife and coordinating a meeting over CB radios and recruiting Alice as the underage driver du jour, they head for an abandoned train station to film a scene for the movie. On that same night, a truck goes on to the tracks and causes a massive accident not only derailing the train, but pulling Joe and his friends in to the heart of a situation they had not anticipated during their lazy Ohio summer. After all, the summer should be for riding bikes, finishing the film, and for Joe to nurse his rising crush on the golden headed Alice.

Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is a hard working man who’s ability to parent is compromised by the distance between him and his son.  When the accident occurs, he does not believe what is told to him.  He digs deeper at the same time his son’s group of friends are picking a part the situation they witnessed. Having been given a warning not to, it seems they desire to do it more. Suddenly the Ohio summer is changed as a small town landscape is riddled with wreckage, the U.S. Airforce, and whatever cargo escaped from their train cars.  Dr. Woodard (Glynn Turman), a school biology teacher, is confronted with his life before school yards took presidence  and airman Sgt Walters (Tony Guma) is determined to get that piece of past back in order to continue with the future.  Lois, (Ron Eldard) Alice’s father, is a lost jerk of a soul who witnesses what no one will believe.

All of them are tangled up because of one night, one accident, and one objective to in the end save something from obliteration.

J.J. Abrams is responsible for both the direction and the script. With it, he brings with him the hefty resume of writing, directing, and producing for shows and movies like Lost, Fringe, Alias, Cloverfield, and Mission Impossible III.  Top that off with an executive producer like Spielberg who himself is a Hollywood legend, and you have all the ingredients you need for a movie that had a slow build campaign to guarantee people in seats. Let’s be honest: Until they intended for us to know, who knew what Super 8 really was?  Who had one iota of a clue as to the whole plot?   In this time of franchise reboots and prior work as source material, Super 8 could have been a gamble. It’s story comes from no prior franchise, graphic novel, book, or comic strip.  The core cast is relatively unknown.

The industry was in serious need of source material for a film that had no prior source. Part human interest piece and part science fiction horror story, Super 8 pulls hard at your sense of nostalgia. Before all hell breaks loose, times are so much simpler. Walkmans are just coming in to popularity. Kids ride their bikes without helmets, eat at the neighbors house, and don’t come home until dark.  There is a beauty in the simplicity of the storytelling that compliments this heartland style life.  The kids are quirky, funny, and tender as they discover what it means to interpret the world around them even as it starts to dissolve. The adult counterparts are filled with doubt, suspicion, distance, and sometimes vice. You remember the bridge between your childhood and coming of age.  Admittedly, sometimes it borders on a little too sacchrine.  The film is bound to gain comparisons to Stand by Me. Despite this, it accomplishes its purpose in the realm of character development, human interest piece. Where it didn’t shine quite as much was in science fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, the alien, the story behind it, and its crash in town are great stuff. The hard was I didn’t get enough of it. What I wanted Super 8 to do was come at me the way Cloverfield had as a monster film. There wasn’t enough fear, rampaging, or digging down to the bottom of your seat to have made that epic train crash worth it in a sense.  At times it feels more E.T., and great as that is, E.T. already happened. What Super 8 had the chance to do it didn’t do as complete as it could. With the point of view focused so much on that of fourteen year old Joe and corresponding company, I felt that a child’s wonder would have also followed suit with a deep fear. A boogeyman come out of the closet to the real world.  There was enough fantastic CGI to suggest the alien was around, mind you, CGI and special effects as far as the eye could see.  There was only a taste though of the alien himself, his story, and purpose when what you wanted was a hearty dish placed on the buffet.

Style: The film style was beautiful, simply beautiful. All of the aesthetics of small town life were balanced by the natural surroundings. To me, the style of a film is in its cinematography as much as the script.  I will even say the fact it reminded me of E.T. or Close Encounters of The Third Kind was not in the least a bad thing.  You feel as if you are watching something from your own childhood similar to a memory.

The special effects in this movie were the icing on the style cake, given they were done with great attention to angles, shot size, and timing for impact. This is one of the things that makes Abram’s style as desirable as his scripting.  When directing, it is those little side details such as activity in the background that is poignant or the appropriate focus of the lens.  Spielberg influence is alive and well throughout this film, and you get the sense he must have been paying homage to a favorite.

Breakout Performances:   I have a spot in my heart for the unknown actor or those actors with amazing skills and a limited body of work.  Enter in Joel Courtney who is all but fifteen years of age given Super 8 as his first film. It is so rare these days to see a kid in a film that actually plays a kid. Joe Lamb was so believable that he could have been someone you sat next to in your homeroom. His acting equation was equal parts gentle and wide eyed wonder.  He didn’t disappoint the people that wanted him in any sense of the word. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this young man.  His reservations are easy to imagine given this is his first major film, but his potential seems limitless to me.

Final Thoughts: As a human interest film? A .  As a total science fiction horror?  B.  Combined together, though, The Geeky Chic awards Super 8 an solid all together A in the knowledge that this is the most original film of its genre this year.  There will be no way for this movie to escape being a classic for family’s and a favorite of many in the years to come.

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