Tuesday, June 14, 2011

‘Super 8’ – Super filmmaking!

I’ve always been a movie nut; I practically grew up in a movie theater! As a young man, my best friend Steve and I would sneak from theater to theater; we would start our day at the early 10:00 AM show and end it somewhere around 10:00 PM (our local theater had 4 screens) assuming we didn’t get caught and kicked out for the day! This was back in the days when movies were not the big budget spectacles they are today; we had walking dead (which is why I love the AMC show ‘The Walking Dead’), Halloween slasher flicks, the ‘Troma’ films, and we even had the start of the big budget film (although it was done on a shoe string) with ‘Star Wars’. The 70’s and 80’s were a wonderfully fine time at the movies, it even encouraged us to get our own Super 8 cameras (Super 8 being the film size and format) – the very cool film encased in a cassette like cartridge - allowing us to make several films (of which I still have!).

J.J. Abrams bought all those memories flooding back with ‘Super 8’, his loving tribute to the films of his childhood and, of course, to Steven Spielberg. Part monster film, part sci-fi and part childhood coming of age drama, ‘Super 8’ delivers on MOST levels, falling short during the last act as Abrams cheats a little and wraps everything up just a bit too neatly (and quickly). Aside from that, it was a heck of a good time at the movies; the astounding train derailment is worth the price of admission on its own!

‘Super 8’ centers around a group of friends who are making a zombie film for entry in the local film festival while attempting to deal with their adolescent lives. Joe (Joel Courtney) is the son of the town’s deputy (Kyle Chandler of ‘Friday Night Lights’) whose wife and Joe’s mother of course, was recently killed in a factory accident. Joe’s father has all but shut out his son, overcome with grief due to the loss of his wife; instead, he dives into the work of being the town deputy, at one point telling Joe that he has a whole town to care for and cannot spend time worrying about his son. Joe’s best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the director and ring leader of the guerrilla filmmakers; this of course being a homage to Spielberg the gang is rife with charming goof balls: the fire bug who just wants to burn things, the hypochondriac and the wistful star in the making Alice (Elle Fanning, sister to Dakato and a true star in the making).

In a twist that you can read a mile away, Alice’s father, Louis (Ron Eldard, looking very much like a guy I hung out with in high school) is somehow involved with Joe’s mother’s death and is from the wrong side of the tracks. Just enough Spielberg adolescent drama to make the film sweet at moments, but not enough to distract from the cool explosions! ANYWAY…while filming late night on the local train platform, the gang witnesses the derailment of a train in very spectacular fashion. In true 70’s form, the train is actually a government train, carrying something very secretive…and dangerous.

Soon, dogs and people are disappearing at an alarming rate and the seriousness of getting caught while being out past curfew is no longer important. You can take pretty much any Spielberg touched film (E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters) and drop the storyline into ‘Super 8’, and somehow that is OK with me. It was that awe and wonder that built the Spielberg brand of filmmaking; it is that same awe and wonder that make these films special as well as memorable. Does ‘Super 8’ live up to the expectations of those films? No, not by a long shot; but it does go a long way to bringing back the memories of those films and the feelings they generated.

Once the end unfolds are we blown away by the alien? Are we blown away by the ending? Not really, you know what is going to happen, and Abrams wraps up everything with a neat little bow; I would have preferred he went a different route and surprised us all. But for what it is, a very enjoyable time at the movies, a time that will bring back memories (or even create a few new ones), this is a 3 star effort worthy of the big screen.

I for one am hoping for more Abrams/Spielberg team ups soon!

No comments: