“Super 8” is Out of Sync
Note to Steven Spielberg: Get off the alien “thing” already! You did it brilliantly and poetically in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” (1977). You did it with heartfelt emotion and humor in “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). You took a wrong turn with “War of the Worlds” (2005) and continued that wrong turn with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008), an incomparable mess which, (yawn, yawn) also involved aliens. If you have nothing new to say on the subject of aliens, apparent from the movie “Super 8” (which you produced, not directed, but, over which I am sure you still had plenty of influence) move on.
We know, just from the publicity surrounding “Super 8,” that there is a monster, or an alien, of some sort, on the loose. The only problem is that it takes the characters in “Super 8” way too long to figure this out. As a result, the audience is miles ahead of the story. Just give it to us upfront. For example, in your movie “Jaws” (1975) we know, from the first scene, that there is a killer shark causing trouble. In “E.T.” the kids find the alien early in the film. In “Super 8” we know that there is a monster, or alien, so let’s just get to it and move the story forward.
In addition, enough with the “broken families that need to be healed” story line. Come on already. “E.T.” concerns a boy without a father. “AI Artificial Intelligence” (2001) starts out with a family that has lost a son, but is ultimately about a boy who wants his mother. In “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) the parents divorce. In “Minority Report” (2002) Tom Cruise plays a divorced man who has lost a son. Mix and match. In “Super 8” a boy has lost his mother and lives with his emotionally undemonstrative father. The girl in “Super 8” has no mother and a “ne’er-do-well” father.
I went to see “Super 8” because I was intrigued by the film’s premise: teenagers in 1979 American suburbia making a movie, in Super 8 (a popular home movie format, since superceded by home video). The kids film something that they were not supposed to see. Granted, I was not expecting a movie on the sophisticated level of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” (1966), about a photographer who may, or may not, have photographed a murder. Perhaps I was expecting something more along the lines of “Blow Out” (1981), director Brian De Palma’s simplified homage to “Blow-Up,” about a movie sound recordist who inadvertently records a gunshot, which proves a car “accident” was actually a murder. In “Super 8” the fact that these kids have shot this “top secret” footage is almost incidental to the story. For example, in “Blow Up” the photographs take on increasing significance when they are enlarged. In “Blow Out” the sound takes on new meaning the more it is played back. I will also include Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974), in which a recorded conversation takes on new meaning the more it is listened to. In “Super 8” the footage does provide the kids with certain information, but does not amount to much story-wise. It’s not like the “powers that be” find out about the footage and come after the kids, which would have made for a more interesting story. My point is that essentially the same story could have unfolded even if the kids were not making a film, but were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not having the Super 8 footage itself play a greater role was a missed opportunity.
As the end credits roll we are shown, on the left side of the screen, the finished Super 8 short film made by the kids in the movie. It is actually better than the feature film that precedes it.
Super 8, Director J.J. Abrams, 2011,
Paramount Pictures, 112 minutes, rated PG-13