This one is coming up a little behind schedule because I didn’t get to see it until yesterday. I had planned on seeing it opening night but got distracted and then had to put my focus entirely on my trip to A-Kon in Dallas, which I’ve chronicled here for your viewing pleasure.
I regret not seeing it sooner as I would have loved to get the word out on how good it is and hopefully rushed a few more people into the theatre because it really deserves better than the paltry 33 million dollar opening it managed last week. While it’s nowhere near a flop I would have loved to see it open big because it’s got the sort of old-school charm that is lost on a lot of modern summer tentpole releases. Watching the first 2/3 of Super 8 is like watching a love-letter to classic Spielberg films like Jaws or Close Encounters. Other films would be hesitant to focus so much on young cast and guide the narrative more closely toward the “monster” element of the film. Here instead JJ Abrams makes the film about these characters to the point where the mystery surrounding the train crash becomes the b-plot. Everything rests on the shoulders of Joe and his budding relationship with Alice, played magnificently by Elle Fanning who is better than anyone at her age deserves to be. Really, this girl does an amazing job portraying an ordinary girl who is a superb amateur actress in a way that is surprising and feels quite real. The backstory between Alice’s family and Joe’s is handled with the same steady Spielbergian hand as the rest of the film’s style.
Only in the final act does the film diverge from the dyed-in-the-wool nostalgia narrative style towards a more modern sensibility and it comes due to the presense of CGI more than anything. The attack on the army bus that starts the film running towards its climax is highly reminescent of something like the attack on the Orca in Jaws and had there been a decision to go practical with the effects rather than CGI, I’m sure the tone would be different but it is only here where the film starts to feel as if it wasn’t made in 1979. The expression of “they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore” really does apply to this film. The gradual pacing where events are built upon events with patient rising energy echoes a time when general moviegoing audiences had longer attention spans. I am honestly surprised to hear so many of my peers singing the praises of this film considering that this is sort of the opposite of what we have been conditioned to accept as the model for modern summer releases. It’s refreshing that people can see its merit, because there is a lot to like here, but it still caught me off guard.
The one complaint I do have about the film is that it does suffer from another element of Spielberg’s bag of tricks that I don’t care all that much for and that’s the somewhat sappy ending. I understand why Abrams would choose to go this way but it feels false in some small way and I think that it will take another few viewings for me to really come to terms with it. I think that the way the film ends works counter to the tone they’ve established in the previous twenty minutes and so it feels abrupt and out of place, but perhaps when viewed alongside everything else that is unbelieveable in the film it doesn’t rate so high on the list of flaws. It’s simply my assessment of the way it was executed.
Oh, and someone put a gun to JJ Abrams head and tell him to make a movie that has less than fifteen lens flares. I swear he won’t be able to. There are enough here, as there were in Star Trek, to make a pretty nifty drinking game.