james debate
james debate

Sunday 11 September 2011

Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by J.J. Abrams
Produced by by Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Running time 112 minutes

Geek deity J.J. Abrams returns with most ambitious foray yet into cinema.

super 8 jj abrams spielberg

Better known for his Television credits, with the likes of Lost, Alias and Fringe to his name, J.J. Abrams has in recent years started to delve into the world of cinema. Beginning with franchise films like Mission Impossible 3 and the recent Star Trek remake, Abrams also saw great critical and commercial success with his first original creation, Cloverfield. Now in Super 8 Abrams teams up with his childhood idol Steven Spielberg to produce a film that is arguably his most mature and polished work to date.

The director's veneration for his producing partner here is apparent throughout, with homage paid repeatedly to Spielberg's classic sci-fi from the 1970's and 1980's. Everything from the setting to the style to the dialogue will evoke memories of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or ET. There are numerous other references of iconic pop culture (eg. Romero, the Twilight Zone, amongst others), but it is certainly a distinct Spielbergian vibe above all else that pervades.

That is not to say that Super 8 is lacking in originality or its own identity. Indeed, Abrams straddles the line between respectful tribute and basic mimicry perfectly, and adds in a few of his own modern touches that make this film distinctly a J.J. Abrams production.

The story itself concerns a group of kids in small-town America (So far so Spielbergian, even the classic character archetypes are all here!) who are in the process of making their own home movie on a Super 8 camera for a school competition, when all of a sudden strange things begin to happen across town. Naturally their childlike curiosity and desire to make a good movie compels them to dig deeper, and thus the plot unfolds.

The narrative that unravels is traditional sci-fi conspiracy stuff, you have aliens and military cover ups all accounted for, and if I were to have any complaint to make about this movie it's that this element of the film feels a bit hackneyed in a 'been-there-done-that' sort of way, and the alien itself was a somewhat uninspiring creation. Not to give too much away, but think more Cloverfield than Close Encounters, a concept which clashes quite strongly with the more simple and down to earth style in which the rest of the film is made (I suppose this would be the Abrams twist on the classic Spielberg formula). Meanwhile the military suits themselves are not fleshed out at all beyond 'look out, bad guys!', which leaves these antagonists lacking the real bite or intrigue that other better movies in the genre have produced.

Fortunately, the quality of the film making here is such that these flaws can be overlooked. The direction and production in general is so spot on and superb that you find yourself caught up in the story even if you don't really buy into it. Ultimately the secret is that none of the sci-fi or alien stuff really matters that much in this film. As strange as it is to say for something which is billed as sci-fi, these elements feel more incidental than central to on-screen events.

The real purpose of this movie lies with the characters, and the magic of film making in general. Super 8 is really a celebration of the passion of film makers, all the way up from the little kid with a cheap handy-cam to the big name Hollywood titans to whom this film so lovingly pays homage, and that desire for storytelling. It succeeds wonderfully.

Go see Super 8. It is a wonderful film, and certainly one of the better I've seen so far this year. Its few nagging flaws or lack of depth do not detract from its many strengths, and to focus upon them inordinately would be to miss the point entirely.

Quality of film making
Loving tributes to classic cinema

The "alien" (ok "hate" is too strong a word)

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