Thursday, November 17, 2011

MA$$ACRE: Super 8 (2011)

There was so much talk way back when about Super 8 being nothing but empty nostalgia and to some extent it uses your memories of old Amblin features, but thankfully not in the soulless way that the awful 80s-franchise reboots tend to do. Rather, it seeks to evoke memories and a period in childhood where you’re right on the cusp of adolescence, a long summer stretches ahead of you, and you have nothing to do but kick around your small town with a group of friends.

Joe (Joel Courtney) is a kid who lost his mother in a steel mill accident a few months ago and is left more or less to his own devices while his police officer father works himself to the bone as a distraction. Joe and his friends are by far the strongest aspect of Super 8 - they do a great job of acting like kids without overacting, and remaining likable despite their near constant bickering as they work (futilely it sometimes seems) to complete a short film for entry into a contest. The band of slightly roguish kids was also the main ingredient in other 80’s kids adventure movies, such as The Goonies, and Abrams is able to recreate it well.

But this is an action/adventure movie, so we need some action thrown into the mix, and here it comes in the form of an enormous train crash from which something escapes and sparks all sorts of odd things in the sleepy Ohio town. The only thing is, after this initial encounter between the kids and the creature, their stories diverge until the last act. Maybe this is a good thing, since it means we get to continue to watch Joe and his friends struggle to get their movie made amidst an increasingly threatening military presence in the town. When the creature does appear, we’re teased by jump cuts and huge roars, but never see much of it or get too much of a feel for what it’s up to.

The action does let loose in the final act, but the real reason I wanted to see this monster taken care of was so that it’d stop interrupting the far more interesting story of Joe and his friends. Although it seems like the kids might come into contact with it and uncover its secrets, they never really encounter it firsthand. There’s a little too much telling going on, where there should be some showing. About 2/3rds of the way through the film we’re told why we should empathize with the monster, but since we’ve never seen it… how can we?

Super 8 shows Abrams still trying to come into his own as a director, which, honestly, he’s had quite a while to do. Here, as in his Star Trek reboot, he’s shown that he’s able to recreate popular sci-fi stories adequately without really adding anything to them. (Exception: lens flares, which for some reason are still all over the place in Super 8, although less so than in Star Trek thank god.) Abrams talks about how much of a fan he is, and it certainly seems like he loves sci-fi from the jobs he chooses to take, but he hasn’t done much but mimic so far. I’d love to see something original from him, but for now, I’ll turn my brain off and take Super 8 for what it is - a slightly above average kids’ action flick.

6/10 = Worth seeing theatrically… for $2

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