Friday, 19 August 2011

Super 8 Review

Super 8
After a barrage of summer blockbusters that have ranged from average to rubbish, Super 8 was a film I was actually looking forward to. However scepticism soon arose due to the long delay for a release. Originally opening in 10th June in the US, even Vietnam managed to experience J.J. Abrams’ film before the UK. This significant ‘hold up’, and a lack-lustre marketing campaign resulted in a disappointing open weekend (£2,207,063) for a ‘Summer Block-Buster’. However that’s not to suggest that the director doesn’t know how to created big-budget,entertaining flicks. Abrams’ directing filmography has been relatively recent with solid action films such as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible III. Yet, it’s his work, as writer and producer, on the 2008 monster film Cloverfield that has attracted ‘comparison’ between the two films. Initially intrigued by Cloverfield’s premise, the reality was an average film with a disappointing ending, uninteresting characters and an overzealous need to show the monster. Thus it was reassuring to see that Super 8 was a standalone film. 
Set in the Summer of 1979, Super 8‘s plot follows a group of friends trying to shoot a film for a film festival. After filming a tearful scene by the railway station, a catastrophic train crash results in a series of unusual events. People, dogs, engines and other inexplicable events occur across the town. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends aim to investigate the involvement of the Air Force and their biology teacher. But as more troops are introduced and full-scale investigations are instigated, it soon becomes clear that the disturbance is something more extra-terrestrial than the “Russians”. 
Story-wise, its a generic structure that we’ve seen a hundred times. In a sense, its Abram’s ‘tribute’ to the ‘giant monster’ genre, to the 1970s and children adventure films. Abrams has successful created an interesting story that defines itself from the wave of films in the genre, such as Godzilla and King Kong. Like the Goonies or ET: The Extra Terrestrial , the children are the main focus of the story, and Abrams does well to keep the attention on them rather than getting bogged down in scientific explanation and military nonsense. However, his creation of a simple yet effective sense of drama surrounding Joe’s tragic past and his dwindling relationship with his father, adds a mature essence to our characters. The film also constructs a genuine atmosphere of fear as they are thrust into a war zone and lairs. However, it’s the third act where the film begins to falter. There is a definite unwelcome ‘stench’ of Spielberg’s influence that hinders the creation of a solid conclusion. The final scene’s similarity to E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial ‘s departure, and a contrived and daft ‘look in your heart’ negotiation, both leave a sour note to an otherwise entertaining and well-structured film. Another problem is the monster design, which was a similar problem with Cloverfield. The film’s creature somewhat seems uninspired and generic. Meanwhile, the final reveal of the monster is.......weak, and too extensive, which fails to match the structure and style of the last 100 minutes. 
Acting-wise, Super 8 is full of fantastic debut performances from a relatively young cast. Riley Griffith, playing the aspiring film-maker Charles, puts in an amazingly strong performance that definitely overshadows a lot of the adult and experienced cast members. Another debutante, Joel Courtney, plays the lead naturally and superbly, creating a believable and compelling character. Elle Fanning on the other hand, never really impresses with her stale delivery. Ironically, it’s when she’s acting in Charles’ film that she brings a solid performance. Simultaneously however, the likes of Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard offer spirited, and well-acted support for the youthful cast. But with any ‘monster movie’ and especially with a 1970s setting, cliché characters are inevitable. Noah Emmerich plays the stereotypical, hard-arse colonel, whilst the long-haired David Gallagher plays the film’s stoner. These don’t affect the brilliant story-line, but seem to be unnecessarily over-the-top and forced. 
Overall Super 8 is another great addition to J.J. Abram’s directing career, but suffers from a slightly disappointing third act and a few niggles. However the plot remains refined, well-written and engrossing. The fantastic youthful cast, that embarrasses the Harry Potter 'mannequins' , is helped by a solid adult presence and a realistic, natural script. Incredible special effects and sound design also help to produce an exhilarating cinematic experience that definitely blows away the ‘superhero’ competition. 

1 comment:

  1. Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. And I cared for all of these characters, even that drunk dad that gets arrested in the beginning. Nice Review!