February 3, 2012

Friday Review: Super 8

This probably shouldn’t be the case, but where you see a movie has a lot to do with how much you like it. If I had seen Super 8 in the theater, sitting in the dark, with a bunch of other people, tub of popcorn propped precariously between myself and K, I’m pretty sure I would have walked out with a big grin on my face. But since I saw it at home on DVD? Meh, not so much.

In Super 8, Lost boy J.J. Abrams transforms Weirton, West Virginia, into a bucolic Ohio town that seems ripped through a time warp from one of Steven Spielberg’s late 1970s/early 1980s movies. That’s no coincidence – Spielberg was a producer of Super 8 – and also not a knock. For about the first hour or so, things hum along in excellent fashion. It’s only when the actual plot needs to unfold do things take a turn for the worse.

The main focus of Super 8 is a bunch of middle school boys (and one older girl who somewhat inexplicably joins them) who are making a zombie movie for a local film festival. The kids are great, the movie making aspect is fun, and we get a good sense of who they are and what this town is like where they live. Then, while shooting late at night at the local train station, a train comes roaring by (“production value!” yells the director, who moves to get the train in the scene). All goes to shit, however, when a pickup truck inexplicably drives onto the tracks and drives head-on into the onrushing train, derailing it in spectacular CGI fashion (also, inexplicably, the driver of said truck is not reduced to a stain on the prairie by the impact – be gone, physics!).

It’s from there that the film starts to go wobbly. Strange things start happening. Unsuspecting townspeople get sucked up by an off-screen baddie. One of them, natch, is the older girl involved with the movie, which gives our main character a damsel to rescue. None of what transpires is really bad, it just doesn’t live up to the what came before. What was once enticing and original becomes formulaic and familiar. The monster turns out to be the fairly standard alien who just wants to go home (unlike ET, he’ll kill any motherfucker who gets in his way, tho’). Maybe I was unjustly thinking, while it was lurking off screen, that it might turn into something like the Shrike, but it didn’t happen.

In the end, all is well, the music swells, and lessons are learned. It’s all very life affirming. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just feels unearned and a little facile. Which is why I think if I had seen Super 8 in the theater I would have walked out a happy man. Two hours of generally good entertainment? Hard to argue with that. But in the cold hard light of my living room . . ..

The Details

Super 8
Released 2011
Written & directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, et. al.

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