Super 8: Inspiration in a Camera

By   |  June 17, 2011

Inspiration.  Lack of creativity.  Originality.  Dearth of uniqueness.  These oxymoron-like terms are the constant back-and-forth struggle that lies within any artform, especially true in today’s Hollywood industry, and an issue that I have constantly encountered as a viewer and a critic.  A former film professor of mine once commented how originality does not exist; instead, it is only a re-thinking of what existed before.  However, where does that line start and end?  Super 8, from Spielberg and Abrams, will most likely evoke those same feelings of both nostalgia and a question of how much this film retreads themes already well explored.  In the end however, I believe the duo has succeeded in creating a successful marriage of both nostalgic throwbacks and a visceral experience that is currently one of the summer (if not currently the year’s) best films yet.

Super 8 follows Joe (Joel Courtney), the town deputy’s son living in a small Ohio town.  With only his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) to take care of him, he goes off often with his small ragtag group of friends, from the pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) to the aspiring young filmmaker Charles (Riley Griffiths), they set out to make a monster film to win the local film festival.  After inviting Alice (Ellen Fanning) to play a wife character, the kids go out to the train yard to film a scene but unbeknownst to them, a US air force train is passing by and crashes.  Soon, the group is entangled in a top-secret incident that will involve all of them including an unknown force that entangles everyone.

Some audience members will comment that Super 8 lacks a solid villainous force and is heavily reliant on both Spielberg and Abrams’ past films.  The main villain, other than the strange being that is terrorizing the town, is the military.  Their motivations are explained briefly, but they are shown as more of a means to an end.  Even the main leader of the force, Nelec, is simply a stereotypical evil man with little explaining his motivation in his pursuit.  This lack of characterization spills over a bit to the terrorizing creature itself which is not given much time to come into its own and makes the climax a bit harder to swallow.  This point links with how much Super 8 relies on the past of its creative forces and the question is whether or not it attempts to try to recreate these nostalgic experiences too much.  Some scenes, as the one near the end with the creature or the final scene involving Joe and Jackson, veer a bit too hard on trying to evoke past memories than relying on the strength of their own merits, and for those in the know, this tends to happen sporadically throughout.

Yet on the other hand, Super 8′s core is well-made in nearly all its aspects and creates a wonderful film to enjoy.  The core plot, for instance, is well thought-out, even coming from the combination of two disparate original stories.  The monster plot is well-paced and although follows that classic Jaws formula along with the small town setting, the visual bravado and the oddities that come with the creature create a suspenseful setting throughout.  On the other side is the emotional core of the father-son and friendship plots.  The Goonies is an obvious throwback but even though the group dynamic is similar, the filming background actually ties the disparate plot threads together well all the way until the very end of the film.  Backed up by some terrific acting from both the main and supporting cast, a bevy of emotions from drama to mystery to comedy are all included with a plot to care about, an important feature usually missing in many summer blockbusters.  In addition, the aesthetic trappings on all grounds are well-done.

The special effect work is top-notch with the initial scene to start the action at the train yard being a scene stealer.  The cinematography is gorgeous with some beautiful sweeps and pull-backs that both signify the beauty of the era and the scale of a situation of any scene, from the terrifying to the mundane, which is all given a nice visual filter with a colder color palette evoking the time period.  Finally, the soundtrack, surprisingly not from John Williams, comes from the other great and underrated composer Michael Giacchio which is definitely bombastic but not annoyingly placed and well-themed.

Super 8 is a very solid film all around that does not sacrifice its plot for intensity.  Does the film necessarily succeed in all of its goals?  Perhaps not, but the end product has enough heart and flair that ends up creating a unique film from all the parts it takes inspiration from.  It is a film that misses some of the old tricks and elements from movies long past and entangles them with newer ideas.  And much as Joe and the gang can attest, Super 8 is an inspirational text for future and current filmmakers with great dreams and ideas.

Director: JJ Abrams
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 112 minutes

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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