The JJ Abrams-directed & Steven Spielberg-produced big Summer movie Super 8 opens in Irish cinemas on Friday August 5th. Hoping to revisit his childhood, our man WatchingCattle took a look…
Steven Spielberg in the eighties meant sit down and shut up. It meant bullwhips, nazis, ghosts, sharks, snakes and most of all aliens. Being 9 and seeing films about aliens rocked, how could it not rock? You’re 9 and there are fucking aliens on the telly. I’ll admit it – when I sat in a cinema and saw the trailer for the first Transformers movie and saw Spielberg’s name I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, all my dreams come true… Optimus Prime about to be brought to life by the man that made dinosaurs that actually looked like dinosaurs – be still my beating heart! But that was before I read the small print of “from producer” above Spielberg’s name and by the time the trailer ended with the words Michael Bay I could feel that shitehawks scaly dick slide uncomfortably into my childhood dreams. Spielberg has been dropping the ball a lot of late. Firstly he let the Jurassic Park franchise sprawl needlessly into a third installment of refried shit and then he committed the cardinal sin of making an utterly pointless bile and vomit inducingly awful fourth Indiana Jones movie which is possibly the only film I will ever weep openly during every single turgid frame.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Spielberg has been climbing out of the directors chair of late especially since the abortion of a mess that was the Crystal Skull. He has got two films in post production at the moment according to IMDB, but lately he seems to produce or executively produce virtually everything on the planet. So here he is producing a film which for all intents and purposes is an homage to his own work. Odd? I mean he’s passed middle age so why would you do such a thing? Do you really need the adulation that much Steven? I mean why not just direct a decent film yourself for us all to celebrate instead? No, he’s gone and helped a fanboy make his version of his hero’s classic eighties work.
Super 8 doesn’t so much have Spielberg’s touch on it so much as Spielberg has his hand up its skirt throughout. The main character is a young middle class white lad from a small town in middle America whose family is in turmoil after the death of a parent (I told you). He has a difficult relationship with his widowed father who is the straight laced town sheriff. While making a super 8 (‘Super 8’ is a type of film, kids. It’s what family movies were produced on before video, which is what family movies were produced on before digital cameras, which is what family movies were produced on before phones) movie with his friends – the fat motor mouth director; the nerdy braces wearing fire bug obsessed with fireworks; two other lads; and the soon to be love of his life – they witness a train crash and possibly there may have been some kind of monster on board. Soon there are disappearances, spooky goings on and the Air Force are cleaning up the mess, covering things up and refusing to answer questions. So nothing new at all here. Basically you have Elliott, son of Sheriff Brody and the Goonies making a movie and an alien on the loose. Fine, originality is over-rated anyway, you can take the most hackneyed story and, in the right hands, you can come away with gold.
Abrams, however, isn’t the right hands. There are good things here. The late seventies have been lovingly recreated, the performances are damn fine particularly from Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota) who play their roles with just the right level of conviction to seem believably freaked out by the goings on and excited by their blossoming relationships. The building tension for the first hour or so is handled well and the whole thing is entertaining, none of the kids are annoying which is nice and there are some stand out scenes. Most notably the barely pubescent sexual tension is handled nicely, and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. Generally the whole thing skips along predictably, but amiably, enough. What Spielberg managed to do in his films of the eighties was to take strands of the premise and tie them noose tight until the story bolts into its final act and the tension becomes unbearable as everything plays out at once in energetic near chaos – which Spielberg is complete control of, of course. The similarities between this and those films only serves to heighten Abrams shortcomings as a director.
It’s all here, a shady government agency, family in turmoil, kids in jeopardy and of course a fucking alien monster which may or may not have been captured on the film stock which makes up the title of the film. Abrams is unable to tie these strands together into a tense ending though and seems happy to deal with each issue one at a time and as a result the ending seems protracted and the whole thing lacks any discernible tension. Several times the film is undone by showing too much monster and at the wrong times. The plot veers nonsensically just so the town can be inexplicably exploded because apparently what this film needs is more explosions. There is of course one of Spielberg’s signature scenes in which a monster attacks a vehicle with our heroes inside and in this instance it’s notable how deep the gulf is between Abrams and Spielberg. It’s not to say that Super 8 is rubbish – it’s not. It’s passable unoriginal family entertainment, but that’s the crux of the issue. It’s only passable and it’s unoriginal. After the credits roll stick around – they show you the film the kids have produced and it’s the most successful sequence in the whole film which is somewhat faint praise.
Super 8 opens in Irish cinemas on Friday August 5th.