Super 8

A group of kids set out to make a zombie movie for a local film festival and in the process, witness a catastrophic train crash. The youngsters that make up the central clique, almost behave like a recasted sequel to The Goonies. Mikey, Chunk, Mouth and Data are all here, just portrayed by different actors. Instead of endeavoring to find the buried treasure of a 17th-century pirate, they’re exploring the reasons for a mysterious accident. The picture certainly could have been titled The Goonies 2: The Day the Train Derailed, and still would have made perfect sense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the characters feel eerily familiar. Luckily it’s the mystery of it all that sells the picture. The story unfolds gradually, piece by piece. The joy of discovery is what keeps the audience engaged. The downside is, the more we learn, the less impressive things become.

A strong sense of déjà vu hangs over the proceedings. Prolific producer J.J. Abrams has had a hand in creating the successful TV shows Felicity, Alias, Lost and the current Fringe. He’s clearly talented. Abrams’ slowly building suspense style is evident. However, producer Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints are apparent in every scene. From the suburban setting to the dynamic between righteous teens and inept adults, all of his hallmarks are here. If a film can be called Spielbergian, this is it. The cinephile in me couldn’t help but play “spot the movie reference” as the picture progressed. Close Encounters, E.T., Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds are implied, as well as many others. While it plays out, it’s enjoyable to be sure, but in retrospect, the script feels cobbled from the reminisces of other, more original films. I greeted all of this appropriation with a mix of nostalgia and disappointment. Indeed the line between homage and rip off can be a fine one.

The period setting of 1979 in the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio is a brilliant choice that adds to the drama and appeal. The title refers to the video camera and corresponding film format released in 1965 by Eastman Kodak, which was a vast improvement over the older regular 8mm home movie format of the past. A cheap, mass-produced home video solution, Super 8 cameras were a fixture of the American household until 1985 when VHS rose to prominence. For legends like Spielberg, George Lucas and Robert Zemekis, it was with super 8 that they honed their craft in the 70s. A personal story, Abrams is surely inspired by those directing heroes. The depiction of the young budding filmmakers in Super 8 are essentially those directors as kids. 1979 is also significant because it was well before the dawn of cell phones and the internet. The 70s backdrop allows for a simplicity often lacking in the modern technological world. We can focus on the developing action in the traditional sense. Had it been set in 2011, the events would probably involve YouTube, Twitter and Facebook which would have given the narrative a cluttered feeling.

Does Super 8 live up to the hype as the summer’s greatest film? No. Is it an entertaining action thriller? Definitely. It’s satisfying enough as it unfolds and it‘s got one of the most memorable train crashes since 1952‘s The Greatest Show on Earth. It just doesn’t have the innovative distinction to make it anything more than a pleasant summer distraction.

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6 Responses to “Super 8”

  1. I saw Steven Spielberg all over this movie. For me, that was not a bad thing. I liked seeing all his older movies rolled up into one. Was it great, no, but it was fun, exciting, a little scary and touching. A great combination people will enjoy.

  2. Very interesting review, Mark! I see it wasn’t your favorite, but I can’t wait until it opens here! I’ll be sure to let you know my view on Super 8.

  3. Love the review Mark you toucheed on so much. We had been waiting for this movie sicne the teaser sneak peak preview so long ago and didn’t realize it was out finally till we saw your review. At first thought it may be related more to Cloverfield but once saw Speilberg was all over it- that makes sense, he has an unmistakable presence. Looking forward to check this out now more then before.

    • There definitely are strong similarities between Cloverfield and Super 8 since producer J.J. Abrams worked on both, but this definitely feels more like Spielberg than Abrams in story (even though Abrams wrote the story too).

      • We finally saw this Tuesday night and really enjoyed it,
        Reminded me of the feeling from some 80’s films, Goonies, E.T., Stand By Me, feel good fun film to watch and just an all around good old summer movie

  4. Markus Robinson Says:

    I agree with you 100%. “The Goonies 2”, haha I love that!

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