Saturday, January 7, 2012

SUPER 8 (J. J. Abrams, 2011, USA)

Even the poster has blue lens flares!

A group of kids must suffer through the conventions of a Spielbergian science fiction melodrama to learn that grief is universal. J.J. Abrams pays homage to all of the worst clichés of his cinementor in between the ear shattering bombast of a Blockbuster!, an admixture of PG knee jerking violence and tear jerking motives. SUPER 8 is a superficial adventure that manipulates childhood trauma into a plot device that sets our inner alien free.

So what does the film get right? The young actors are excellent and Abrams seems to direct them casually, and it’s not difficult to imagine that this group are friends. Their conversations seem unscripted and spontaneous (though the adults are one dimensional morons). The two leads are able to promote pathos while being burdened with trite dialogue. Here again, the adults infuse the narrative with only bathos, inanimate objects infused with pathetic fallacy.

The rest of the story is a conflated mess that utilizes magic as an end to the means. It denies any real emotional impact in representing childhood trauma and instead parades cardboard cutouts in place of characters, giving the movie a video game mentality. I’m not sure why every science fiction film believes that the creature piloting the space craft can actually build it. I’m sure Neil Armstrong is a super intelligent guy but I doubt he could reconstitute the Apollo 11 from spare parts…especially alien spare parts. I also find it disturbing that the movie seems to be saying that the boy and his father, after suffering such a tragic loss, must “let go” of their grief. This elevates the message to the Spielbergian realm of pure emotional manipulation that is outright wrong, a pop psychology cure as sweet as a candy and just as sickly filling.

The movie, like the alien, is just too big and loud that not only stretches credulity but deforms it. I guess no one could see a 20 ft monster running around the city for a few days? It smashes cars, kidnaps people (wtf?), breaks into stores and steals electronics while no one witnesses these events or even questions the magnitude of the crimes. And what did the alien do with the hundreds of tons of dirt while digging his cavern? And how did all of the metal reform into the exact space craft that was depicted in the professor’s videos? What was the point of the Rubik’s-like cubes? And how in the world did the professor survive a head-on collision with a speeding train? The movie buries its logic under a screeching cacophony ("phony" being the nominative) of grinding metal and two vapid faux Pas (stupid pun alluding to the poorly written “fake” father figures). And if I see another blue lens flair I will fucking scream!

SUPER 8 is too big and empty of any cinematic calories, a summer snack that seems tasty when eaten but is nearly impossible to digest.

Final Grade: (D)


Rob said...

Yeah... I liked it about as much as you did. Seems to be universally beloved for some reason. I chalk it up to the nostalgia factor. But yeah...I didn't find it interesting in the least.

What's a blue lens flare?

KimWilson said...

This reason I haven't seen this is it didn't appeal to me, and after reading your review (as well as that in The New Yorker) I guess I was right. As Rob asked, what is a blue lens flair...something to do with CGI?

Alex DeLarge said...

Lens flares come in many forms and are basically a visual "artifact" (noticable as circles, bright lines, light beads, etc...) when shooting towards a light source. It is a stylistic choice by the cinematographer and can be quite beautiful (see EASY RIDER). Once noticed, they cannot be un-noticed. I don't even think un-noticed is a word...but you get my drift.

In SUPER 8, every night scene is shot towards a light source that refracts the light into a blue flat line that cuts every damn frame horizontally, usually noticed in the top 1/4 of the image. On the poster, see the blue light that bleeds out just under Speilberg's name? That's a drawing of a lens flare. And this movie doesn't just use them occasionally for aesthetic purposes, it's drenched with them to the point of distraction. It's not CGI but a natural phenomena with all cameras, but here I think they were digitally enhanced.

John Baxter said...

It's a shame, I'm not entirely sure what he tries to do with films like this and Cloverfield but at least he's trying I guess.

Ruth said...

I'm one of those who loved Super 8. Probably because I'm a sci-fi fan, and the nostalgia factor always gets me, but I thought it was a great film. The kids were definitely the high point - great performances from them.

Dusty said...

I really liked it. There's not many sci-fi family films in wide release these days. A lot of the lower budget family sci-fi has been terrible. Usually its directed towards the child and is to idiotic to even be appreciated by an adult. So I thought it was great to have something for my son that I could also enjoy. The child actors were great. The whole film was well above average for a summer blockbuster. Does it hold up to Tree of Life, Melancholia, and Drive? Probably not, but it more than exceeded my expectations. Of course I'm in the minority with Cloverfield also. I loved that film, but I love b-horror so both films played to the nostalgic feelings of certain audiences.