June 16, 2011
Super 8, written and directed by the talented and crowd-pleasing J.J. Abrams (2009's Star Trek) and produced by Steven Spielberg, is a nostalgic homage to Spielberg's E.T., which was the highest-grossing movie ever for a decade after its 1982 release. But I never really got E.T. -- I'm not sure it would make my Top 10 Spielberg films -- and it's not clear I was all that wrong. Spielberg re-released it with a lot of hype in 2002, hoping to make a lot of money the way the Star Wars re-releases did on their 20th anniversaries, but nobody much cared. (Here's my 2002 review of the re-release.)
In an isolated industrial town in Ohio in the summer of 1979, some 13 year old boys are filming a zombie movie on Super 8 film under the direction of an ambitious fat kid who looks like J.J. Abrams (b. 1966).
The best scene in the movie is when they draft a classmate played by Elle Fanning, Dakota's little sister (and the closest thing to a movie star in Super 8), to play the detective hero's wife. They give her a speech to read and by the end the boys are all gaping, having really noticed, for the first time, talent / emotions / girls / actresses / blondes / shiksas and other things that will cause them no end of trouble for the next few decades.
Then some sci-fi stuff happens, but the kids have a hard time focusing on that because, well, they're 13. The sci-fi stuff is rather like M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 hit Signs, but that had star power in the form of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Plus, Shyamalan is such a dope that you can see him talking himself into believing his own dopey theory about the cause of crop circles, while for Abrams, the sci-fi is just meta -- it's not supposed to make sense, it's a 45-year-old's recollection of what a bunch of 13-year-olds in 1979 would have thought was cool.
It's a popcorn movie in the sense that you spend a lot of time wondering if you'd find it more galvanizing if you got up and got a box of popcorn. Then, when the popcorn is digesting, you start wondering if maybe a box of Whoppers wouldn't do the trick. It's a little dull and unengaging
But it's a nice little movie, so if you lower your expectations, and sneak in a lot of free snacks from home, you might enjoy it.
By the way, that reminds me that my review of X-Men: First Class might have been a little harsh. I called it a "hodge-podge," which it is, but it's a hodge-podge of energetic and interesting elements. Comic book movies make so much money these days that they can afford a lot of talent. Sometimes, they manage to get the right tone to blend everything together (e.g., Iron Man) and a lot of times they don't (Iron Man II and X-Men: First Class), but you still get a lot of first class script doctoring for your ticket price. Super 8, in contrast, is a personal project, but seems a little underpowered. I came home from First Class and wrote two pages of notes. I came home from Super 8 and realized 24 hours later that I hadn't thought of much of anything to say about it.