Super 8 (J. J. Abrams, 2011)
I’m having some problems figuring out what to say about Super 8, which I watched yesterday and enjoyed a great deal. I think much of the reason for this is that I’m not exactly sure what type of movie it is. On the other hand, it knows exactly what type of movie it is, which leads me to an inversion of my usual problem reviewing certain films. It’s part monster movie, following closely on Abrams’ success with Cloverfield. It’s part homage to 1979, an historical piece that aims to capture an era (and does so almost perfectly as far as the atmosphere goes, and I say this as someone who was just a year or so younger than the principals in the film in 1979). It’s part coming-of-age rom-com, and this is probably the movie’s strongest facet, as it takes a well-worn plotline, social outcast 1 ropes hot girl into working with his crew in order to seduce her, opening the way for social outcast 2 and hot girl into falling in love, destroying his plan—and gives it new feet. And somehow, despite any number of anachronisms that don’t make sense in a movie that supposedly takes place in 1979, Abrams makes it all work.
Plot: in a small town in Ohio, a bunch of teenaged kids are trying to make a zombie movie. Director Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths in his screen debut) has a major crush on school hottie Alice Dainard (Because of Winn-Dixie‘s Elle Fanning), and so reworks the script to give his lead actor, Martin (Alabama Moon‘s Gabriel Basso), a wife, and asks Alice to be in the film; she agrees. Of course, the entire cast and crew of the movie are equally hot for Alice, including make-up artist and model-builder Joe Lamb (The Between‘s Joel Courtney), the son of a local deputy. Unfortunately, Joe’s father has an unpleasant history with Alice’s father Louis (ER‘s Ron Eldard), which complicates things when the two find themselves getting entangled. While the crew are shooting a pivotal scene at the local train station, they witness—and unintentionally film—a truck, driven by local biology teacher Dr. Woodward (John Dies at the End‘s Glynn Turman), driving onto the tracks and into the path of an oncoming train, causing the worst derailment in Ohio history. When the authorities arrive to clean it up, they turn out to be military types, led by sadistic tinpot dictator Nelec (Warrior‘s Noah Emmerich), who immediately crosses paths, and hackles, with Deputy Lamb, who is elevated to acting Sheriff when his boss, Sheriff Pruitt (Edward Scissorhands‘ Brett Rice), disappears under mysterious circumstances.
Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Much has been made of the fact that this is not only a love letter to 1979, but is also a love letter to a number of eighties films (notably E.T. and The Goonies), as well as closely mirroring Abrams’ own Cloverfield. This is true. And if that bothers you, so be it. I didn’t have a problem with it at all; better an homage than yet another Hollywood remake, as far as I’m concerned. Especially when that homage is as well-shot and well-acted as this one is.
Much has also been made of the movie’s many anachronisms—the two most obvious being mentions of Rubik’s Cubes and Walkmen, neither of which was available in America until 1980. Yes, these things jar, and yes, I did shave off a bit of star for them, but the way I see it, this is Abrams’ love letter to the time period, rather than something he exhaustively researched, and he wrote it how he remembered it. Should he have gone back and checked that all his cultural references actually made sense given the setting, or maybe changed the year to 1981? Yeah, he probably should have. Am I going to say “this movie is crap and you shouldn’t watch it” because he didn’t, as some of the more vociferous critics on the IMDB boards have? Of course not. That would be like saying “you shouldn’t see The Serpent and the Rainbow because Zakes Mokae is from South Africa, not Haiti.” Ridiculous.
You may have to be of a certain age to get the most out of this movie, but as far as I’m concerned, just go with it and you’ll have a very good time. *** ½