MOVIE RATING: 3.5 stars (B)
(Updated February 19, 2012)
What I really love the most about writer/director J.J. Abrams’ new film Super 8 (2011) is how it made me so fondly reminisce and wax nostalgic for the great, but sometimes a bit “cheesy” (in hindsight), movies I grew up loving in the 1980s. Like The Goonies (1985), E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Explorers (1985), and even Stand By Me (1986). Abrams has woven together a good story here about five childhood friends who love hanging out and making movies…at least when they’re not quarreling and making fun of each other. It’s an homage to himself and executive director Steven Spielberg (and many more of us), who grew up much like these kids, making their own homemade movies. Set in the 1970s, the kids especially like making zombie and horror movies, recording them on their own Super 8mm film camera with a microphone taped to the end of a broomstick “boom”. These boys are all geeks and misfits, like we all really were when we were their age. Come on…admit it…you were an awkward kid too!
With legendary writer/director/producer Spielberg on board this project as both producer and “Godfather”, you kind of knew something magical, and a bit cheesy, would happen in this film. I just wish it was a bit more magical in the story and character development, and less magical in the visual effects, lens flare, and alien aspects. Don’t get me wrong, I liked all of that stuff, and I think Super 8 is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. But I also can’t help feeling that the third act of the film fell apart. I think once the “Area 51 Surprise” is introduced visually, the film gets weaker. And the fun relationships and bonds that the five boys have, along with their girl crush addition to the group (played by Elle Fanning), kind of melts. Still, there is a lot to love in this summer blockbuster. For one, it’s original material that isn’t based on a comic book or toy, and it isn’t a sequel or remake. Super 8 seems to be the Inception of this year. It’s smart, stylistic, and filled with cool visual effects and a great ensemble cast that gives excellent performances. Kudos to Abrams for a well-written script…at least for most of the movie.
The first act of the film brings with it some of the best performances by a group of kids I’ve seen in awhile. All five of the boys, led by newcomer Joel Courtney, create an energetic group dynamic that allows each to feed off the other…snapping sarcastic and sharp dialogue that definitely made me feel like a kid again. And paradoxically feel both the awkwardness and greatness of that time in my life. Kyle Chandler, as the single widowed father of Joel’s character Joe, and the police officer who gets to the bottom of the train wreck and it’s supernatural circumstances, delivers a solid performance that gels the focus on family built into Abrams script. The same can be said for the supporting role played by Ron Eldard as the single alcoholic father of Elle’s character Alice. The entire cast of Super 8 feels right and supports Abrams very strongly in bringing the script to life.
One of director J.J. Abrams strengths is bringing together an incredible crew of talented artists and technicians who create productions of the highest quality. While the rumored budget for Super 8 was only $50 million, this movie looks and feels like a $100 million plus production. The production design, cinematography, music, sound, and visual effects are all well executed and support the story perfectly. I felt completely transported back to the 1970s, or at least to my imagination of what the 70s was like. The sets, costumes, props, and everything else in the production design (led by Production Designer Martin Whist) gave the film that historic feel that I just love in the movies. There’s something about going to the movies and escaping into a different time, whether in the past or the future, that always works for me. And when its done well, I really appreciate it.
Director of Photography Larry Fong, known for his work on 300 (2006) and the TV show Lost, provides some stunning cinematography that literal had me gasping for air in awe. While I’m not a HUGE fan of Abrams’ now signature lens flare look that he started with his remake of Star Trek (2009), it works up until I started noticing it too much…same as in Star Trek. I’m hoping that Abrams’ learns that less is more sometimes, and lens flares can be great when used in the right places to support the story, but can be annoying when they BECOME the story. While I didn’t overly notice the music by composer Michael Giacchino, I also didn’t feel like any music was missing at crucial points during the movie. I would definitely like to listen to the Super 8 score again and focus on it because I think there were some good pieces of music throughout the movie. The sound design and sound editing was outstanding on Super 8. The dialogue was dead on and all of the explosions, gunfire, and other special events that I expected to feel from the sound of the movie worked well.
The bottom line is that Super 8 is the summer blockbuster to go see in my humble opinion so far this year. While I haven’t yet seen any of the many superhero or comic book movies that have filled the screens the last two months, I do know that I really enjoyed Super 8 on the big screen. It’s the kind of popcorn movie that I grew up loving and looking forward to. I love going to the theater for a clever, original film like this one. Super 8 starts as an outstanding film (4.5 stars) but ends as just a good film (3 stars). So I’ve given it an initial rating of 3.5 stars. It’s one of those movies I wanna watch again at home on blu-ray to see if it gets better the next time. It may just be a 4 star film for me eventually, but for now it’s at least locked in as one of the best movies of 2011, likely to find a place on my Top 10 at year’s end.
Check out details on this film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.