2 movie reviews in 2 days!?! That hasn’t happened in a LONG TIME – but since, thankfully, the 2011 Summer Movie Season is off to a GREAT start, you may just start seeing a lot more of these within the coming days, weeks, and months (time permitting, of course).
With that being said, let’s get right into my second review of the week – a film that I saw on its opening night (before eventually seeing the subject of yesterday’s review – X-Men: First Class – two days later) – J.J. Abrams’s latest pet project, Super 8 !
Basic Non-Spoiler Plot Summary: A group of friends are filming an amateur zombie film on Super 8 film when all of a sudden, one of the kids, Joe Lamb (played by Joel Courtney), sees a pickup truck drive onto the train tracks moments before it collides with an oncoming train, causing an immense derailment. In the aftermath, Joe notices that some type of creature is trying to escape from one of the train carriages, but after the creature’s actions subside, he decides to make nothing of it. However, soon after the accident, strange things start happening in the town – unexplainable things – and before they know it, they’re in the middle of something even they couldn’t have foreseen…
The Pros: As Adolfo pointed out in his respective review of Super 8, if you are a fan of the Steven Spielberg classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, and even (to a lesser extent) E.T., then this film is right up your alley. It’s evident from the overall style and presentation that director J.J. Abrams is paying tribute to the Spielberg classics, and it’s such an eclectic mix that, when viewing the finished product on-screen, it almost a beauty to behold.
In my opinion, the biggest standout feature of this film is – you guessed it – CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, a rarity these days in a film that’s being marketed as your average summer action flick. From the opening moments of the film, you get to know Joe Lamb and his family, and empathize with his situation. This allows the audience to, you know, actually give a damn about the character as he progresses through the conflicts in the film. But it’s not just Joe that gets the deep character treatment – in fact, the majority of the main characters do – including Joe’s father, Jackson Lamb (played by Kyle Chandler), Joe’s friend Alice (played by Elle Fanning), and her father Louis (played by Ron Eldard). Hell, even Joe’s other friends are given AMPLE screen time compared to other characters (my favorite scenes involving the group involve them making their zombie movie, which features acting that’ll put January Jones to shame). My point is this – each of these characters are given time to develop some sort of emotional connection with the audience, which only helps progress the plot even more strongly.
Now that’s not to say that this film is all talk and no action – on the contrary, I think this film features some of the best action sequences of the summer, if not the year. It’s in a few of these action scenes where the references to Jaws are evoked, as the creature takes on a “Jaws-like” aura when interacting with, well, anybody (when you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean). As with any action film, the best sequences are saved for near the end of the film, and Super 8 is no different. In fact, the last half-hour or so is probably the best half-hour of not only the film itself, but any MAJOR film (this prevents all you Midnight in Paris fans from getting on my case later) all year – yeah I said it. If that isn’t an endorsement, then I don’t know what is.
Acting-wise, I was very surprised to see that everyone in the film was either tolerable or above average, with the latter distinction going to FIRST TIME ACTOR Joel Courtney, who played Joe. His solo scenes with Elle Fanning are where he truly shines, where he truly shows a level of depth and maturity that most veterans of the business don’t even display. I also really enjoyed his scenes with his friends, particularly a rather emotional scene with Charles (played by Riley Griffiths, another actor making his film debut). But, as I mentioned before, my favorite scenes involved the group of friends making their zombie “movie-within-a-movie,” particularly the scene right before the train accident, as Charles films a scene with Martin and Alice. The reason why this scene sticks out so much to me is the simple fact that Alice (as Martin’s girlfriend in the zombie movie) gives such a emotional monologue, and in my head I’m thinking, “Elle Fanning is essentially playing TWO characters right now – Alice and the character that Alice is playing for the zombie movie. Amazing.” Elle Fanning managed to pull off playing TWO characters in one scene, and January Jones has trouble playing ONE character. Simply astonishing.
The Cons: The only real Con (and it’s not even much of a Con – just something that I thought about as I left the theater) I had with this movie was the mere nature of J.J. Abrams’s fascination with Steven Spielberg. Let me explain – it’s not that I disapprove of what J.J. Abrams was going for with Super 8 (essentially a Spielberg tribute film), but when every 15 minutes or so, I’m watching a scene and it all of a sudden it hits me, “Jaws.” “The Goonies.” Etc, while initially fun to point out, it starts becoming a chore, like, “Okay, ANOTHER reference? Really?” To me, it was bordering on “fanboyism.”
Again, I’m not trying to put down J.J. Abrams for trying to pay tribute to his idol. But on my way home from the theater, I started thinking, “was it TOO MUCH?” Sure, people will have their opinions about it – some think it was, some will say it doesn’t matter. Then again, what it all boils down to is, “did it affect my enjoyment of the film?” On a small scale, yes, but overall, I would have to say no – in fact, the majority of the references I really enjoyed. But by the end it just seemed like he took the plots of all of the Spielberg classics and mashed them together to create this film. But I still enjoyed the film immensely, so it’s really much ado about nothing, I guess. But I would really like to get YOUR opinion on this topic – “Do you think J.J. Abrams went overboard with the Steven Spielberg references in Super 8, or was he simply paying tribute to his idol in his own way?” Sound off in the comments section below at the end of this review!
Conclusion: Remember how I said just yesterday that I considered X-Men: First Class the first all-around “popcorn flick” of the summer? Well, you can officially mark Super 8 as the second all-around “popcorn flick” of the summer – and for good reason. Like X-Men, this film has it all – deep character development (I dare say, better than X-Men’s) , awesome actions sequences, a cool plot with familiar references, and top notch acting by FIRST TIME CHILD ACTORS. I’m telling you, the acting in this film alone (like I said before) will put other “veterans” to shame. Everything you’re looking for in a quality experience at the movies is here – what more could you ask for? Adolfo pegged it right – Super 8 is, without question, the “Movie of the Week” – and could quite possibly end up being the MOVIE OF THE SUMMER. Recommended for Adults, Teens, and Spielberg fanboys.
FINAL SCORE: **** ½ (4.5/5)
And that’ll do it. As always, any questions, comments, or feedback in general (ANSWER MY TOPIC QUESTION!), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply leave a comment in the comments section below.
As of right now, plans call for me to see Green Lantern this Friday night, so expect a review up either Saturday morning or late Saturday evening, depending on my day. Plus, if I’m free on Sunday, I may just check out one of the two films that I haven’t checked out – Thor and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I’ll let you know if I’ll be seeing anything on Sunday during my Green Lantern review.
Oh, and the BIG SURPRISE I’m working on? It’s on the way REAL SOON…
Until next time, I’m out!
Review – Super 8 
Cinephile extraordinaire, a budding filmmaker, and host of Forced Perspective. A resident of NY/NJ, he spends most of his time looking for new movies to watch and learning the craft of filmmaking. You’ve probably also seen him hanging around Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium at some point. If you see him approach your movie theater, be sure to let him in – he’s the guy in the Yankees cap!