Super 8 is not a J.J. Abrams film. Sure, he wrote and directed it, but this is, quite clearly, a 1970′s Steven Spielberg movie.
To be totally honest, I didn’t flip for the movie in quite the way I expected. Every fanboy has the movies he or she has ridiculously high expectations for, and Super 8 was that movie for me this summer. After all, Abrams’ Star Trek is, in my opinion, one of the most fun action films ever. It’s well written, well crafted and superbly directed to create the right mix of smart dialogue and brainless action. It was a fantastic film.
Then when I saw the first full trailer for Super 8, I swore off any other advertising for the movie. Which is rare for me. Usually I don’t care about spoilers. A movie is best enjoyed when approached as a journey, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter if you know where you’re going…most of the time you know, through intuition, anyway…but what matters is how the filmmakers get you to give a crap about what’s going on.
But with this one, I didn’t want to know what was inside that train. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted to experience the movie with the characters, not as an outside observer who knows what’s going on.
Unfortunately, that’s the one place where the movie misses a bit. The “what’s going on” answer isn’t terribly original. In fact, it’s one of the more obvious plots that could have been inserted in this kind of movie. What’s more, after all the “what is it?!?” build-up, our characters conveniently stumble on something that succinctly (and rather ham-handedly) explains the entire situation in under two minutes. It kills the sense of discovery and mystery. There’s no big third act revelations (that you didn’t see coming right after that explanation scene, at least), and the movie just kinda plays out like you’d expect.
Luckily, though, that isn’t what the movie is about. Instead, this film is about the kids. And the kids are downright brilliant.
I’m not going to go into plot detail. If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you know how much I loathe giving you a synopsis and character breakdown. If you’re on this site, chances are you already know that stuff.
I will say, though, that my favorite part of this film was the “movie within the movie.” Seeing these kids running around with their movie camera, trying to make a film and actually doing an admirable job, I fell in love. The childhood relationships, the way these kids interact, and their passion for making movies is all 100% endearing and believable. For once, the “kids making the movie” plotline isn’t some side plot that’s discarded. It follows through all the way into the end credits. And for once, these kids aren’t being made fun of. They’re not out acting like idiots. They’re work is crude, but they actually have talent. And passion. And they really care about what they’re doing, and they care about each other.
That’s why this movie works. You care as much about whether the kids will finish their movie as you do about what’s going to happen with the train wreck. And, through that, you care about the kids, themselves, and their familial situation.
It’s classic Spielberg…E.T. Spielberg. As told through the lens of J.J. Abrams.
That being said, I have a feeling modern audiences, or at least the audiences this movie is being marketed to, might not respond well to this film. If they go in expecting action, scares, and a visceral thrill, that isn’t what it’s about. Sure, there are action scenes and tense moments, but this is a character movie with a supernatural/preternatural (NOT gonna spoil it!) sub-plot, not the other way around. I can see a lot of audience members walking out saying,” Why the hell did I just watch two hours of kids making movies, falling in love and having fights with their parents. I wanted some flippin’ monsters!”
But you know what, J.J? Screw those people. I’m so happy someone made a character story…a family story…that is believable, affecting, and not afraid to dip into tasteful cheese. Because I won’t lie…there were a couple of moments in the movie that I knew, in my brain, were cheesy. But because I cared about the characters, I was tearing up. I was in. J.J. earned the cheese.
So here’s my box-office prediction. This movie will open okay, but not stellar. But it will grow. This is the kind of movie your parents and grandparents hear about a month into release and decide to go see.
At least, I hope it grows. I hope it does well, because I want to see more movies made like it. Otherwise the summer blockbuster season will be filled with nothing but talking animals and dumb, transforming robots.