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Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: SUPER 8

After I first saw the trailer for Super 8, I thought to myself, "Classic case of JJ Abrams trailer." All the trailers for Abrams' projects have always been phenomenal, and then I've been supremely let down by his films. In fact, I've never really loved anything Abrams has ever done. Keep in mind - he's had very, very little to do with LOST, though most people attribute it to him. Damon Lindelof is the genius behind that.

So needless to say, I was beyond pumped for Super 8, after an incredibly intriguing and well-done trailer. I tried not get myself too excited however, for fear of another let down for a promising JJ Abrams project.

Internet, I was not let down. In fact, I really don't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so thoroughly in a movie theater. It may have been when I saw Shaun of the Dead. It's nice to see that a director who has been prone to doing so many things wrong got everything right this time. Abrams' originality, creativity, and sensitivity is on full display from start to finish. Abrams' previous films, Mission: Impossible 3 and Star Trek had style but lacked heart. He was hired to direct these films, and never really was able to put his own soul into them. Here, Super 8 is written and directed by Abrams, and his soul, passion, and heart is everywhere. He's done everything right.

Without giving anything away, the plot is simple. A group of friends in the 70s (a seemingly new-age Goonies) sets out to make a monster movie on their Super 8 camera, and happens to catch on film the derailing of a train bearing some highly classified cargo. Pretty soon, strange stuff starts happening around town, and it's up to our new Goonies to figure out what it is.

For the most part, I can't stand child actors. The Mummy Returns and The Goonies are rare examples where the children are fantastic. Casting the children in Super 8 might just be the biggest thing Abrams did right. The main character Joe, played by Joel Courtney is absolutely terrific. He's everything the character of Joe could ever need to be, and in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine someone else in the universe could give as perfect of a performance as Courtney does. Real actors force empathy upon you. Courtney does this so smoothly that you have no idea you've been feeling every whim of Joe's emotions until the credits roll. We feel his tenderness, his frustration, his toughness, and his courage. Courtney is, in my opinion, the single greatest thing about the movie and I can't applaud him enough. And to top it all off - this is his first ever acting job.

The rest of the gang pull their weight, though none shine as bright as Courtney. Riley Griffiths, another acting newcomer, plays Charles and has the potential to steal the movie for anyone who can't find their love for Courtney. There's some great moments of ensemble child acting too, moments that remind me of The Goonies and impress me greatly. In a movie as reliant on child acting as this, I'm glad Abrams didn't cop out and go with some hot young pop star with stupid blonde hair.

Great dialogue is hard to come by in sci-fi adventures like this. It's oftentimes too much, or not enough. Abrams' writing really does the trick, finding the balance in between stupidly long speeches, and unrelatable flat sentences. There's several moments in this movie where a character says something that is "just enough". Just enough to get the emotion they need across. And every time this happened, I waited for another sentence to come along and screw it up, something to ruin the great line that was spoken. That never happened. Check out Kyle Chandler's line towards the end, "I got you." Superb.

Super 8 is sheer entertainment from start to finish, but it doesn't forget about the importance and depth of its characters, and that is where this movie succeeds. Our characters are real, they feel real. They have real hopes and dreams, real emotions. Super 8 transcends Mission: Impossible 3 and Star Trek because it gives us characters we care about. Abrams brought together all the elements of real filmmaking. The effects, the production design, and even the beautifully sweeping score by Michael Giacchino, who has probably never written a bad score in his life. JJ has figured it out.

So does this movie deserve a 5 in terms of real, film analysis? No, probably not. But movies are an incredibly personal experience, and certain movies are for certain people.

Super 8 is for me.

5 stars

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