Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Super 8

Title: Super 8

What Exactly Is "Lens Flare?" It's the often screen spanning glare created when non-image forming light enters the lens and subsequently hits the camera's film or digital sensor, used to comedic excess by director J.J. Abrams in Star Trek.

And Why Are We Talking About It, Again? Because he doesn't exactly rein it in in Super 8, either. Though since his boy Steven Spielberg, to whom he is paying overt homage in this film, used it rather extensively early in his career, it's more understandable.

That, and every review you read is going to bring it up. I'm here to help.

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film:

Four E.T.s out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: In the midst of filming their entry for a Super 8 film festival, a group of middle schoolers witness a train crash and become caught up in ensuing events, which may or may not involve a military cover-up and...other things.

Tagline: "Next Summer, It Arrives."

Better Tagline: "As A Kid, J.J. Abrams Watched E.T. 150 Times."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) recently lost his mother. He and his father, a sheriff's deputy (Kyle Chandler) get on with their lives in different ways. Dad immerses himself in his job, while Joe devotes his free time to making a zombie movie with his friends. While sneaking out one night to shoot a scene with their new recruit (and sole female) Alice (Elle Fanning), they barely escape a train wreck, and are then forced to contend with military personnel swarming their small Ohio town as they attempt to figure out what exactly was on that train.

"Critical" Analysis:: Super 8 is, simply put, Abrams' love letter to Spielberg, the idol of his youth. I use the term "love letter" because it sounds more polite than "barely concealed rip-off." Look, I liked this movie. Quite a bit. But it's essentially the kids movie Spielberg himself would have directed between Close Encounters and E.T. if he hadn't fucked up and made 1941 instead.

All of Spielbergo's tropes are in evidence: Child protagonists that holler a lot? Strained familial dynamics? Distrust of the military? Possibly misunderstood aliens? Hell, Fanning might as well be the 21st century reincarnation of Drew Barrymore.

I'll admit, it doesn't work all the time. The deceased mother angle doesn't really play as big a part as we might think (though Alice's family is also involved), and Abram's obsession with [SPOILER] giant arachnoid aliens [/SPOILER] is starting to wear thin. To top it off, on many occasions the entire thing threatens to collapse under the weight of crushing period nostalgia.

But once you get pas that (if you can, that is), Super 8 is a nifty little story about a) a group of friends solving a mystery, and b) a young man coping with loss and dealing with falling in love for the first time. Courtney's take on pre-adolescence is eminently believable, and his burgeoning chemistry with Fanning is perfect (the scene where he teaches her how to be a zombie is perfect...or maybe I just really like zombies).

And for once, Abrams doesn't appear to be angling for a franchise film here. His cinematic track record would seem to indicate otherwise (a Star Trek reboot and the third Mission: Impossible are it to this point). Again, a very Spielberg move (Indiana Jones aside, he's never been very enamored of sequels). I keep coming back to the "homage" thing because, quite honestly, there's no way around it. If you're of a certain age and remember seeing E.T. on the big screen, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Is it worth a four out of five [whatevers] rating? Yeah, I think it is. Cleverer individuals than myself will no doubt snicker behind chewed fingernails at my moon-eyed walk down memory lane, but I think my cynical asshole cred can take the hit. Because if , like me, you ever looked out into the cold, uncaring universe and allowed yourself the faint hope that there's some meaning to it all, Super 8 will probably strike a chord with you too.

Super 8 is in theaters today. See it with your junior high sweetheart and a strict but ultimately sympathetic father.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar