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Monday, June 13, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Super 8

It’s obvious watching Super 8 that J.J. Abrams deliberately set out to make the kind of movie that held him riveted when he was growing up. Fortunately, he also realized that you can’t do that. Making a late-70s/early 80s blockbuster that’s completely faithful to the period would not fly today, for various reasons (seriously, go back and watch the sail barge scene in Return of the Jedi and marvel at how slow that action seems now). Abrams did two things to being this nostalgic period piece into the present. One, he amped up the action, and two, he poured in several healthy scoops of millennial meta. And pulled off both.

The action scenes are riveting and eye-popping, from an early train-derailment sequence that plays like a level of Angry Birds with freight cars to a third act of unrelenting mayhem of the kind we never saw in the 1979 this movie’s set in. There are make-you-jump moments that you don’t see coming, even after years of being trained to see them coming. As for the meta, it’s easy to comment on how this is a monster movie in which a monster movie is being made and leave it at that, but it goes further. Tween auteur Charles explains in his primitive way about how if you know as little something about a character’s emotional life you feel something when he’s in danger – something that a lot of movies have forgotten since along about 1979. But you don’t mind all this telling, because there’s also plenty of showing. These characters have backstories rooted in deep hurt that the movie doesn’t skimp on exploring.

I know that this is supposed to be a homage to Spielberg (who just happens to be a producer on this, probably just so they could get the Amblin E.T. bike next to the Bad Robot), but watching these kids working on their shitty little monster movie, I kept thinking about a young director named Sam Raimi. In Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, Campbell describes scenes from his and Raimi’s youth that one imagines as being just like the ones we see here, with kids holding lights and microphones and cameras while their friends speak lines while wearing their parents’ clothes, only without being interrupted by catastrophic disasters. But then if this were an homage to Raimi, there would be shots where the camera was attached to the top of a flying train car, and quick-cut sequences where crap gets assembled, and a lot more fake blood. There would also be an ugly yellow Oldsmobile and, well, Bruce Campbell. Really, Raimi kind of gets ripped off here. But then the director isn’t the protagonist, a lowly makeup artist/lighting guy is. Maybe this has elements of autobiography in it, but I’m not sure how unless as a kid Abrams saw himself as what Raimi and his crew used to call a “Shemp.”

As for the 1979 setting, at first I thought it was just naked nostalgia, but then I realized it needs to be set in a time before cell phones and the Internet and VCRs and TVs with more than five channels and video games that had more than ten pixels on the screen, and all those other things that are more interesting to today’s kids than making movies (not counting YouTube classics shot on cell phones), and when kids could just zoom around the neighborhood on their bikes without anyone caring. Alas, it also means that almost everyone and everything in the movie is distractingly hideous to behold, but I decided it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

There’s some age-inappropriate behavior from the kids, like how brave they are and one scene where they sit around talking shit in a diner instead of a park somewhere and another scene where two middle-school boys argue about their feelings. And there stuff you find out at and near the end that’s a little off-putting, like how the monster is dealt with, and what it looks like (like your Uncle Steve says, you always have to produce the monster and it’s always a letdown), and the motives that trigger a lot of pretty horrible action, but the end also tells you it’s important to let go of some things so I’m going to try and do that.

Finally, given the title, I have to give J.J. Abrams for not making his crew of young filmmakers number no more than six. The temptation to add exactly two more must have been almost overpowering.

posted by M. Giant 10:18 PM 0 comments


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