I purposely avoided seeing/reading/hearing as much as I could about J.J. Abrams’ and Steven Spielberg’s Super 8. I’m glad I did because it blew me away. To give you an idea, Super 8 is a return to the classic filmmaking that anyone who was a kid during the 80’s will associate with Mr. Spielberg. And I don’t want that to be misconstrued as a knock on what his career has become – I don’t like all of his films from the past twenty years but he is not and never has been a ‘bad’ filmmaker. However, as all artists should he has evolved and what he is now and makes today bears little resemblance to what he did in 1984. That makes sense, it’s obvious really, and not entirely due to his own motivations. Films, like all art, reflect the society we live in; social mores, customs, culture, technology, blah blah blah. Part of the absolute magic of the early Spielberg stuff is the magic of the times; maybe this is hindsight on my part or maybe it’s nostalgia, but the 70’s/80’s were a much more innocent and, sorry, naive time, and that helps add a sense of wonderment to movies such as ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark and, yes, even Close Encounters, Poltergeist and Jaws (well, maybe Jaws not so much…).
Super 8 has that wonderment; that’s what, to simplify, Mr. Spielberg brought to the table here. It also has the kind of ‘why can’t we do that, but bigger?’ bombastic visual insanity that Abrams continues to bring into the world of entertainment, and I for one am damn glad to have him doing it. I don’t want to tread too much spoiler ground here, because my desire to discuss or expound on the film does not outweigh my hopes that everyone sees it under similar circumstances to those that I did. But it doesn’t give anything away to say that Abrams, beg your pardon, blows it the f@#k UP! in Super 8 and left me reeling in ways maybe no other filmmaker has since I was a kid. As I said, I don’t want to get into too much of the why’s or wherefore’s, but I’d like to tell you a little about the how’s and to do that let’s talk about two main elements of the film: The Effects and the Acting.
The Effects: Simply put (and this is obviously not a spoiler unless you’ve managed to not see or hear anything at all about the film) the effects throughout are fantastic but if I had to choose just one, well, the train crash that really gets the ball rolling in the first act was so massive, so unbelievably GIGANTIC and AWESOME it literally made me cry. I’m not talking big, old-yeller-sized wracking sobs here, but I am talking about that feeling that I get all too rarely in the theatre when the sights and sounds overwhelm me physically and emotionally to the point that I simply have to break somehow and that somehow is tears welling up in my eyes and an exploding sense of amazement making my chest throb in time to the explosions. This can definitely happen more frequently in a film with massive, world-rending sequences, as if my own personal operating system just doesn’t quite know how to handle what I’m experiencing in the moment. It can also happen more frequently in a theatre such as the Arclight (I LOVE YOU), with the glorious attention they put toward sound, one of the most intense triggers in a cinematic experience and also one that is all too often overlooked by chains like Amc and Regal who seem to prefer to keep their audio on the milder side, most likely to avoid complaints that it’s too loud from the more conservative in the crowd (Boo! stay home!). However, in Super 8 there were moments where the sound design came together with the visuals and the score in such a way as to totally, completely overwhelm me. That’s a pretty good feeling and a really powerful invocation for a filmmaker to be able to achieve; as if they are flashing your life before you moments before you take your last breathe. These are moments where life is film and film is life and it might not be our lives, but it’s as though they are lives we get to borrow for a while, lives we want to give back unscathed but end up a little shaken up by, what in this case, were some truly alien and transcendent experiences (again, cliched or, as I’d prefer to think of them, archetypal experiences, but handled so that they were welcome and, regardless of anticipation, moving).
Next, acting. Everyone involved was fantastic, and the cast and story really made for a classic feeling to the entire thing. Nothing ever felt forced or old or re-used (well, maybe a bit re-used, but in a good way I guess). Joel Courtney was the highlight, turning in what to me was a masterful performance, making Joe Lamb a true peer to Elliot, Mikey, and Robbie Freeling. Watch for some great stuff from this kid.
A perfect amalgamation of the kind of modern, massive-scope monster movie Mr. Abrams made with Cloverfield and that Universal back-lot, subdivision community epic of those days gone by, Super 8 is a veritable masterpiece of filmmaking and an absolute PLEASURE from start to finish. There’s so much to say and I’m sure many people here and all over the, ah, blogosphere will put in countless hours saying it, so suffice it for me to shut the hell up and finish simply with: SEE IT.