super 8. [alien invasion/visitation movies. #5]

I’ll keep this short, because it’s a busy week writing-wise, but I really did want to write briefly about seeing Super 8. 

I loved this movie. It certainly wasn’t perfect, without spoiling things I’ll just mention that parts at the end were a bit overdrawn, and there were some key moments in which there was emotional growth that made no sense based on the events in the movie. Those things will probably keep the movie from finishing the year as my favorite film of 2011. Still, I really did love it.

It was so beautifully reminiscent, as an homage should be, of Spielberg’s work in the late 70s and 80s. Close Encounters and ET, with a bit of The Goonies (which was co-written by Spielberg) thrown in for good measure. Youthful yearning for adventure, rooted in a deep desire for community, feelings that were aroused by movies like ET when I was young, came rushing back into me. That’s actually a likely part of my disappointment with parts of the end of the film, a comparison to ET will often leave a film lacking, because I think ET has one of the most perfectly crafted final acts in the history of film.

A few of my favorite elements of Super 8 were:

1. Satisfying contents in the mystery box. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard tell many times of a talk Abrams has given when he discusses his ability to create an atmosphere of mystery and anticipation and wonder. He talks of the mystery box, and how our anticipation of what might be in the box is always more satisfying than what is actually in the box. I was reminded the other day (by the lovely and talented Rebecca Canlis) of a really good example of a mystery box with really disappointing contents : Signs. I still like Signs much more than most people, but those aliens were so lame and disappointing. In large part, that was because the CG wasn’t prepared for what M. Night wanted to do with aliens, but it’s come a long way since then. The alien in this was really awesome looking and imaginative.

2. Amazing young cast. Finding young actors who don’t suck is really, really hard. Directing them well is just as hard. This movie has got the goods. The kids played off of each other really naturally, they were likable, they cared for one another in believable ways, and Elle Fanning was nothing short of a revelation.

3. It reminded me of falling in love with movies. One reviewer who had a snippet on a commercial I saw for the movie mentioned something along the lines of Super 8 having everything that made us love movies to begin with. I whole-heartedly agree. The scope, the relationships, the sense of adventure, the impossible seeming truly possible… Super 8 really did remind me why I fell in love with movies in the first place. Sure, that love is deeper and richer now. I love movies for different reasons than I did when I was 11 and could imagine nothing better than going to the movie theater, or renting six movies from Blockbuster and watching them all within like 30 hours (Okay, so, minus the Blockbuster part, I still can’t imagine anything better than that). In Super 8, Abrams offers the world exactly what Spielberg was once the master of, a well-crafted adventure story full of delight, wonder, friendship, and young love.

  1. “Overdrawn” is the perfect word for certain moments in the end – and I absolutely drew the comparison to ET in citing this failure on Super 8’s part. But, yes, so very good and nostalgic.

    As for Signs, I too like that movie way more than most – the elements of faith and happenstance and mystery were pitch perfect in my opinion. It’s just that moment in the home video where they spot the alien in the alley – too cheesy for words and a huge disappointment. I do feel bad for film makers, who have such a hard task in creating suspense and also making sure the audience gets their investment’s worth in terms of pay-off.

    Great review Scott!

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