June 14, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

"After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon."

It may not really be a horror film, but everybody is already writing about "Super 8" so I thought I'd better add my two cents as well. I'm going to cut right through the chase by telling you straightaway that J.J. Abrams has pulled off the impossible and created "Cloverfield for kids". Yes, it really is that bad.

Unlike "Cloverfield", there isn't any more of that motion-sickness inducing camerawork to get upset about. Instead, J.J. must have been watching his collection of Michael Bay movies as he's learned new ways to totally annoy his audience. Not content with just having people running in all directions screaming, now we have massive CGI mechanical things and monsters to worry about too with an abundance of explosions and lens flares.

What we have here is a typical Summer movie which tries its hardest to homage its producer Steven Spielberg's movies from the '80's but has the feel of something from the '90's, the decade that nobody cared about. All the caricatures are rolled out to show parents how they shouldn't be and to give mischievous children yet another excuse (as if they need one) for adventurous misbehaving.

"Super 8" is supposedly set in 1979 and, although the mention of a Rubik's cube is anachronistically a couple of years ahead of its time, the kids are all into making their own little zombie film using the popular "Super 8" home movie camera of the title. Did kids in America really do that? Although I can't relate to it, I do remember that Super 8 was big in Britain in the late '70s with lots of 10-year-old wannabe filmmakers sending in their feeble efforts to Michael Rodd's "Screentest" on BBC1. I'm sure everybody remembers the kid who sent in short stories made up from animating his Action Man (G.I. Joe) figures nearly every week. I never had a Super 8 camera, but I did pick up a couple of projectors from a boot sale back in the '90s and had loads of fun watching the 20 minute version of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" until the bulbs exploded. But I digressed.

Obviously this nostalgic setting is something important to J.J. Abrams as his idol Steven Spielberg is well known for making films at an early age. Abrams, on the other hand, was more into music as a child which leaves me slightly bemused as to why none of the kids are into playing instruments. This is Abrams' film and not Spielberg's, isn't it?

Since I'm on the subject, you have to marvel at the score which sounds just like "E.T." (1982) in places while annoyingly like the "Pretty Women" song from "Sweeney Todd" (2007) in others. The music actually threw me right out of the film as I kept thinking, "Where have I heard that before?"

Of course, what you really want to know about is what happens and what the big reveal is. Well, apart from the train crash which you can see in the trailer and the whole fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, coming under attack from an escaped alien trying to make his way home, there's nothing much here for anyone with a reasoning brain. You can already guess that it's going to be a twist on Spielberg's own E.T. story coupled with Richard Donner's "The Goonies" (which was also written by Spielberg) and not much else.

The kids aren't too terrible as actors though the only one who really stands out is Elle Fanning. I have no idea what any of the others' names are or even what their character names were now that the film is over and I'll be damned if I'm going to try and play "match up" with a cast list to try and work out who was who. There's a fat kid, a short kid, a tall skinny one with glasses, yeah, you get the picture, plus a more normal looking one who provides the main focus of the story and has a bit of a love interest going on with Elle Fanning's character for as much as anyone cares. It's little kids for God's sake! It's not as if they are going to do the nasty right there on the screen or anything. The older sister is hot enough to do something but not in this PG-13 rated crap so why even bother to give her any screen time?

I'm not going to spoil it for you too much even though this film starts with a train wreck and, after a good first twenty minutes, then becomes one itself. Suffice it to say that you've seen the extra terrestrial monster before and it looks just like what a fusion of the creative minds of Abrams and Spielberg would come up with.

The final third of the film loses any interest that the group of kids were originally generating and, after a couple of "Jurassic Park" moments, the ending follows along the same lines as everything Abrams has ever done. Oh, yes, there will be scratching of heads and disappointment.

I hated this predictable and completely unoriginal rehash of everything that Spielberg already entertained us with in the '80s, but I'm not sad about it like some people will be. I never liked any of those movies to begin with. I was already into far more adult horror when I was supposedly the right age to appreciate them, and I expect the majority of kids today are the same way. "That sucked!" is already on the lips and fingertips of texting tweenagers emerging from cinemas everywhere.

"Super 8" is a soulless film that could only be enjoyed by really little kids at best which is a shame because, with a decent director who knew how to do endings, it could have been wholesome family entertainment for everyone.

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