15 June 2011

Super 8

Starring Joel Courtney, Ella Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zack Mills
Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Release: 10 June 2011
Bad Robot, 112 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: In the small town of Lilly, five friends confront an alien presence and a military invasion during the filming of a zombie epic.
J.J. Abrams will forever be something akin to a cinematic God to me. His MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is the best of the franchise, and 2009's STAR TREK is one hell of a marvelous, damn near perfect film as I can imagine. So, yeah, there was a bit of hype for SUPER 8, as one can imagine. Plus: monster movie. Me love monster movies. Combine the signature style of Abrams that he has perfected, a story and film that pays homage and embraces the natural childlike wonder of amazing, impossible things, a giganto alien, swift editing, and the mighty musician Michael Giacchino at the score's helm, and you have SUPER 8: a marvelous, beautiful, brilliant movie that succeeds in everything Abrams set out to do.
Simply said, the casting director deserves a raise. Every actor in the cast was perfect in their respective roles, especially the children who never feel phony or remotely forced. Surprisingly, it's Ella Fanning who impresses the most. Subtle, genuine, and caring, Fanning plays Alice pitch perfectly. A very impressive performance from a young actress. The young protagonist, Joe, played by Courtney), is just as good, easily sucking us into his despair over his mothers death and also growing feelings toward Alice. These two leads are marvelous. As the ambitious young filmmaker Charles, Riley Griffiths owns the role. He is Charles. The wise-cracking, demanding, stubborn, narrow-viewed kid who already fancies himself the, say, next Spielberg. It's a role just as crucial as Joel's Joe Lamb, and Riley Griffiths rocks it.

There couldn't be a better cast of kids, frankly. They rock. It's a blast watching them huddle together and discuss strategy, or argue over having the tape in the camera yet, or bickering about blossoming romance. Just as charismatic and fun as the group from THE GOONIES, these kids make SUPER 8. And that's the point. No amount of crazy monster action or lens flares (which I actually genuinely like) or giant BOOM! BOOM! explosions can replace the beautiful heart of the film: the strained father-son relationship and the relationship of the friends.

If there was just one criticism I'd direct to this category, is that not enough time is given to develop certain aspects in a realistic manner. The subtle subplot of letting go, which both Joe and his father have to do; the other subplot about them finding common ground, not only together but also with the man who is sorta/kinda responsible for the wife's/mother's death. Would have appreciated more time dedicated to that, but understandably, they probably didn't want the runtime to go on too long and still had to squeeze in the military presence and monster mayhem.

One last rather random note: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is maybe one of the best examples of using the PG-13 one "F" word rule. SUPER 8, not so much. It's the films final 20 minutes, I believe, and the druggy dude who wants to get it on with Charles' sister looks up at monster-caused debris and exclaims, "what the fuck!" Doesn't get quite the "w00t!" FIRST CLASS got, nor much of a chuckle. Instead, sorta felt misplaced and stood out 'like a sore thumb' (as the expression goes). Doesn't add or deter the films enjoyment, just thought it was worth mentioning.
I am, first and foremost, a monster movie fan watching SUPER 8, so it's (finally!) time to talk about the big alien creature that's been kept hush-hush for over a year. To be frank, my initial feeling was disappointment. I realize that Abrams and his artistic department fancy multi-limbed life forms, but the creature here didn't fully appease my expectations. Looked a little too CLOVERFIELD-y, honestly. But again, considering the time of film SUPER 8 is, the monster is rather appropriate. Wonderful yet menacing enough to strike fear into the hearts of the army and children, yet amazing to behold. My biggest disappointment is that I would have loved to see clearer, full body shots of the creature. Yes, we did get that, but each frame was cloaked in so much darkness it was difficult to really get what I was seeing. A single alien attack in the daylight would have been beneficial. Still, I need to remind myself: we got ourselves a (quasi)big budgeted monster movie. Then I jump for joy.

Next to the monster, the other element of SUPER 8 I was most looking forward to was the score by Michael Giacchino. If Abrams is akin to God in the cinema world (personally), then Giacchino is the contemporary God of Music. Look through some previous MMAMs, I'm sure I have at least one or two of his works still up. This man is a genius, and his work for SUPER 8 supports my claim. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Perfectly channels the tone and emotion of this type of film: the evil military, the lurking presence of a powerful alien force, the sense of awe with the youngsters, and absolute blazing chaos for the action-y scenes. The SUPER 8 soundtrack hits shelves 28 June, and you can bet by days end, I'll be blasting that gorgeous thing on my iTunes. Giacchino, I love you, dude. Only sorta itty bitty tiny downside: recognized a film LOST-esque tracks, but that's to be expected from a guy who is weathered down by loads of work. After all, look at John Williams. His career is full of music that mimics itself here and there.
Unfortunately I can't label SUPER 8 as the embodiment of perfection I would have gleefully awarded it, but it's pretty damn close. My personal nitpicks aside, there is absolutely no reason why SUPER 8 should be missed. The film easily appeals to all audiences, not dumbing down the narrative or dialogue to make it more child-accessible; it truly is like THE GOONIES and Spielbergean films that are both young and adultin nature, appealing to both demographics without ostracizing the other. Editing is tight, the film is fun, the music is gorgeous, and it's a pretty nice film to see with the family.

Rating 8/10 = Fun, awesome, spectacular, heartfelt, nostalgia, town destruction, giant alien creature, evil military branch, pretty music, quick, enjoyable movie: what's not to love?


Rachel [f.g.i.] said...

You and I are on the same wavelength here!

I agree that casting director did an amazing job, and definitely desrves a raise - or, actually, a nice cut of the box office profits!

It did remind me of CLOVERFIELD, and I also think the lens flares were uneccessary. I kept thinking the dude in the projector room was f***ing up, haha.

But overall, I was very entertained! Great review!

Anonymous said...

For all its obvious touches of Spielbergia, Super 8 feels a whole lot like The Iron Giant meets Stand By Me. But that's not a bad thing at all. Good Review!

Duke said...

Nice breakdown Tim.

Elegantly written.

Fitz said...

It left me wanting more than just nostalgia.