Friday, June 10, 2011
While much of the plot has been kept a mystery, I would posit that the alien creature feature mystery at the center of the plot is secondary to the real story, an emotionally rich and compelling tale of coming to terms with trauma and family tragedy.
We begin with a group of kids. The central one of the story, Joe has just lost his mother in an industrial accident at a factory. Four months later, it's summer, and school is out. Joe seems to be coping well with his loss by helping his best friend Charles make a Super 8 Camera movie for a student film festival. Things take a turn when Charles tells Joe that Alice, the prettiest girl in school, will be playing the wife in their film. The band of kids; Joe, Charles, Preston, Martin, and a pyro named Cary, sneak out in the dead of night to film at the local train station. Suddenly, a train approaches. "Production value!", Charles shouts with glee. The group hurries to film the scene as the train passes, giving an air of credibility to their film. However, as they are filming, a truck drives onto the tracks and heads right for the train, colliding head on in a crash that can only be described as Train-pocalypse. A brilliantly filmed action sequence that is one of the most thrilling and intense in recent memory, it ends with what we presume to be something escaping the cargo containers, and the beginnings of the mystery.
During everything leading up to and including this sequence, the film is practically flawless. Once the mystery begins the film gets a little ahead of itself, and the inherent imperfection of the film begins to show a bit. While the whole certainly outweighs the parts, the second act of the film has the alien mystery and the story of the kids slipping past each other a bit, never fully converging until the third act. But this is small potatoes compared to a largely brilliant film otherwise.
Many have taken issue with the way the film is stylistically similar to classic Spielberg films from the late 70s and 80s, but few have engaged in why the film is told this way in the first place. The reason those films work, and why Super 8 works, is because the themes and ideas in place are timeless and universal. Naturally, a film that tells a story like this will feel antiquated in today's glut of modern summer blockbusters. But what Super 8 has that those other films lack is real feeling. The characters are so well fleshed out that one actually cares about their story on a level much more intimate than just wanting to see the next cool CGI-laden set piece. The interaction between the kids is just so genuine and downright moving in the end. In that sense, of course the film is similar to those films Spielberg made, because they covered similar ground. But to me, the similarities are only skin deep. Aesthetically, the film is very reminiscent of Spielberg's sci-fi masterpiece, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If that film and the recent Korean monster movie gem, The Host, had a baby, it would be Super 8. But this is a J.J. Abrams film to the core, very much in line with his coined "mystery box" sensibilities and lens flare (a visual trademark of his, that, once again, was inspired by Close Encounters).
Super 8 is a superlative achievement. It isn't perfect, but it is most definitely leaps and bounds beyond any blockbuster since last year's Inception, and likely to remain so until Abrams or Nolan make another film. From the brilliant and moving emotional center of the film, to the superb technical craft, to Michael Giacchino's INCREDIBLE score, Super 8 is the summer blockbuster event of the year for me. Undeniably cinematic, with heart to spare, it's the kind of film had I seen at a young age, I would be obsessed with. I can't wait to see it again.
Posted by Kevin K. at Friday, June 10, 2011