Written by: Fanboy Comics
Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon tries to figure out what went wrong with J.J. Abrams’ homage to Steven Spielberg.
As the most recent addition to the summer movie season, J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was heralded by critics and fans alike to be the greatest movie of the year – a vision of what films once were and could be again. Sadly, the film fell far short of this expectation, resulting in a disjointed and cliched effort by Abrams, the film’s writer and director, to mimic the moments of classic, coming-of-age films from the 1980s.
SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Super 8 is the story of a group of friends in the summer of 1979 who witness a horrific train crash while making a zombie film. When strange occurrences become more frequent in their small, steel town in Ohio, the group leads their own investigation of the crash while attempting to complete their movie.
With Steven Spielberg as the film’s producer, audiences were bound to hope for the best from Super 8, especially given the nostalgic trailers released as promotion, greatly channeling Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. The concept for the film was a familiar one for anyone who grew up in the ‘80s: a group of misunderstood kids must work together to defeat the bad guys, always one step ahead of their bewildered parents. Unfortunately for Super 8, this storyline only made up half of the film, as the movie began as two separate scripts: one that followed Abrams’ childhood, making Super 8mm films, and one that detailed a monster escaping from Area 51. Although Abrams combined the scripts to make one complete story line, the film never seemed to find its path. Somewhere in between a War-of-the-Worlds-sized train crash and the reveal of an unoriginal alien, the heart of the kids’ story was forsaken for cool special effects.
In an attempt to fill the emotional holes in the group’s story, Abrams inserted nearly identical scenes from successful ‘80s movies into the most epic of situations in his film. From the kids crawling along the train tracks to avoid the (derailed) train (Stand by Me) to the main character identifying with an alien, who had the ability to share emotions after coming into physical contact (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial), and a pattern of narrow escapes from the bad guys (The Goonies), Super 8 never allowed itself the chance to create its own “moments.”
With iconic films like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and The Goonies and Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, a generation of kids found in film a way to make sense of the changes in themselves and the world around them. For many fans, these films went so far as to instill a desire to become filmmakers themselves, hoping to create meaningful, yet entertaining, films that would inspire future generations in the same way.
These films were defined by well-written dialogue (that was befitting of young adults) and realistic situations (even in the face of unbelievable circumstances) that depicted life as it was: an ever-changing chaos of hilarity, heartbreak, and hope. The biggest and most memorable moments of these films were never generated from explosions or large set pieces; they were genuine, organic moments shared by people who faced life itself. This is exactly where J.J. Abrams missed the mark with Super 8. Rather than creating his own genuine moments over which future generations would reminisce, Abrams attempted to mimic and force the successful elements of ‘80s films into Cloverfield.
The film was not devoid of laudable elements. By far, the cast of youngsters that carried the film did so capably and genuinely. While each displayed their own quirky personas with ease, delivering witty dialogue characteristic of adolescent banter, I was absolutely amazed by the performance of Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard. Much like her older sister, Fanning’s natural talent was mesmerizing, appearing effortless.
I remain puzzled by movie-goers’ mixed reactions to the film; I so immensely disliked it that I cannot grasp what it was about the film that some enjoyed. It is highly unlikely that I will give the film a second viewing; however, I am open to discussions from fans who liked Super 8 as to the aspects that I may have overlooked or misinterpreted.
Barbra Dillon is the Managing Editor of Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, Calif. She has produced numerous short films including Something Animal and Batman of Suburbia, and served as Legal Advisor for the film Walken on Sunshine. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Barbra and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at FanboyComics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.