Tuesday, July 5, 2011

SUPER 8 (2011)

With this film writer/director J.J. Abrams (who directed the engaging STAR TREK reboot) aspires to make the ultimate Steven Spielberg movie from the 1970s and early 1980s.  A feat that Spielberg (who produced and seemingly approved of this two-hour tribute) hasn’t achieved since JURASSIC PARK (1993).  But what felt fresh 20-some years ago feels calculated now.  Instead of fashioning a story that showcases Spielberg’s signature style from that era, Abrams has chosen to ape the style at the expense of coherent story, using an aesthetic akin to a television clip show episode.  Call it Spielberg’s greatest hits without the charm, wit, or sense of wonder.  Set in 1979 the film follows young Midwest teen Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) whose mother has died in a factory accident and whose father, local deputy Jackson (Kyle Chandler), blames town drunk and fellow factory worker Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) for her death.  Dainard has a pretty daughter named Alice (Elle Fanning) upon whom Joe has a crush.  When Joe’s friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) casts Alice in his 8mm zombie movie Joe takes a renewed interest in helping his friend with makeup and model building.  While shooting a night scene at the local train station, the kids witness a truly spectacular derailment (a set piece which strains credulity beyond the breaking point even for a summer popcorn picture).  The disaster looses both a literal monster in the form of a CG alien, and a figurative one in the form of the military, led by the menacing Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich).  Sadly Abrams can’t decide whether he’s making a horror/adventure movie (like JAWS) or a coming-of-age story (like E.T.) or a first contact film (like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS), and none gets sufficient screen time to engage.  Worse, he telegraphs every meaningful moment with on-the-nose dialogue and cloying reaction shots.  The actors, young and old, do the best they can with the ham-fisted material, but only Fanning is able to rise above the syrupy morass.  This cynical exercise in faux nostalgia could, at a stretch, be considered a success.  Abrams has indeed made a Spielberg movie; just not a good one.

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