After the jump you can watch a spoiler-free video blog reaction to JJ Abrams‘ Super 8 that I recorded a couple weeks back with Alex from FirstShowing. I have delayed posting this, as I wanted to include a written reaction to the film. The video blog focuses more specifically on the film, my written thoughts are more of a subjective reaction to the movie, along with a couple notes about the public perceptions of JJ Abrams vs. the realities.
Brief Thoughts on Super 8:
Super 8 for me captures a feeling of childhood that I havent seen in movies in a long time. Hollywood doesnt make movies about kids these days, not without a big name stars and high concept condescending stories. What happened to the good ol’ coming of age story? You know, the types of stories which connected with the truths of childhood and growing up? I feel like none of the major studios would make The Sandlot, Stand By Me, A Christmas Story, My Girl or Angus in 2011.
The best compliment I can give Super 8 is that I could watch a whole movie with the characters of this film, a story that doesn’t involve a train crash, a mysterious monster on the loose, or any sci-fi aspects at all, and I would enjoy it just as much (if not more). Most movies of this type have paper-thin characters who only serve to get the story to the next plot point for the next special effects heavy tentpole action sequence. Super 8 succeeds where most of these types of movies fail. You care about the characters, maybe to much. If anything, it succeeds on such a grand level that when the story switches gears to full science fiction action adventure mode, you might wish it could’ve just stuck with the story of the kids.
When talking about Super 8, a lot of people are making comparisons to the Goonies or E.T., but to me it feels more like Stand By Me meets Close Encounters, by the way of Cloverfield. Yes, one of these three things is not like the others, can you guess which one? As the story goes, Abrams wanted to make a personal story about a group of kids making movies with Super 8 cameras. Abrams didn’t think he had a whole idea and with the help of producer Steven Spielberg, they arrived at the idea of combining it with another one of Abrams’ ideas which involved a monster on the loose in a small town. The resulting movie does feel like two separate ideas mashed together, and suffers from a couple jarring tonal shifts.
Most people think of JJ Abrams as a science fiction action director, but I believe that branded image is well crafted misdirection. Abrams’ strength is that he has always been brilliant at capturing the truth in character-centric drama and comedy as both a writer and director. Think about it. From the screenplays he wrote early in his career, Taking Care of Business, Forever Young and Regarding Henry, all character centric. He was given a writing credit on Michael Bay’s Armageddon, but his real contribution to that film was the two notable character-based moments in the story (I’m sure you could easily guess them if you try). After discovering Alias, I went back and watched Felicity — another great example of Abrams’ talent of being able to connect emotional truths in relationships. I would watch each episode, and without looking at the opening credits, most of the time I was able to guess which episodes Abrams had written.
Most people look at Lost as a sci-fi television series now, but in the first season it was very much a character-centric drama inside a mystery box. The best scene in Mission: Impossible III is not a special effects heavy action sequence, but the cold open, which involves the villain Owen Davian played by Philip Seymour Hoffman holding Ethan Hunt’s wife Julia at gunpoint as he demands information that Hunt doesn’t possess. And many people like to think that Star Trek is a science fiction action movie, but the film contains less than 10% of the action of a big tentpole blockbuster film (for instance, compare the minutes of action against 2012, an action movie released the same year). The reason why Star Trek works is purely because of the character moments. Again, the opening sequence aboard the USS Kelvin is another great example of Abrams’ masterful ability to manipulate emotion and make us care.
What does this have to do with Super 8?
Because for me, Super 8 isn’t really about a monster on the loose in a small town.
Experiencing the death of one of your parents at such a young age may as well feel like a gigantic never ending train crash.
A monster runs wild and destroys everything you knew about the small little world you grew up in.
I try not to get too introspective in my movie reviews and screening reaction video blogs. But with JJ Abrams’ Super 8, I find it impossible not to be a bit introspective in my thoughts.
I grew up more than a decade after J.J. Abrams, yet I feel we lived through many of the same experiences. I didn’t have a Super 8 film camera, but instead a 8mm video camera. Instead of zombie movies, I produced movies like “Warriors Through Time”, an epic scale battle between two super-powered time travelers (all shot with low-fi special effects in a small backyard in Natick, Massachusetts), and a story of a pet hamster, left at home during a family vacation, who must defend the house from evil burglars (it was kind of Home Alone meetsLooks Who’s Talking, because you heard what the Hamster was thinking). Okay, maybe not the greatest ideas ever. I’d love to see what Abrams cooked up as a child director.
My Father had always been a little emotionally distant. My mother died before I hit double digits, and while it may have taken years to get past, it eventually brought us closer together. I’m telling you all this so that you can understand one thing — while I had never experienced any of the action you’ll see in Super 8, the movie connected with me at my very core.
Super 8 is a movie that feels like it was made just for me. Have you ever experienced that? Some of my favorite movies of all time give me this feeling. And as you might imagine, its hard to be objective about such a movie (not that a movie review should ever be objective, but you know what I mean).