Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Drugs are so bad!" ~ Super 8

Okay, before I get going I want to apologize for my lack of comments and replies. Blogger has been sketchy lately and every time I try to comment back on my blog it makes me log in again and takes me to the sign-in screen! I have no idea why, but it’s really starting to tick me off. I hope this glitch gets fixed soon. Anyway…
Most of you who know me already know this, but if you don’t, I’ll tell you. I LOVE, LOVE J.J. Abrams. He is a creative mastermind who has spawned my favorite television shows and one of my top favorite films ever Star Trek (2009). So it’s no surprised that Super 8 is a film I’ve been waiting for over a year to see ever since its teaser trailer. The film ended up being completely not what I expected, but that’s totally fine with me in this case.
Super 8 isn’t Abrams’ normal composition. I would rather call it one artist’s homage to another, in this case, Abram’s homage to Steven Spielberg. Spielberg produced the movie, no surprise. I wouldn’t stop there, I’d go so far as to say it’s a homage to the imaginative films of the 70s and 80s. These films often involved children, aliens or fantastical creatures, and a little bit of adorable cheese. Super 8 had all the above. Channeling films like The Goonies, E.T., The Never Ending Story, and definitely the sci-fi aspects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The thing I noticed right off the bat is the excruciating attention to detail. The sets, props, costumes, everything was accurate to the time period of 1979. The entire film feels like it was not only set in that time period but also filmed during that time period. From the posters and books in the bedrooms, to the candies sold at the gas station, to the tacky fashions and furniture, everything was pitch-perfect. There were so many creative shots that involved rack focus, silhouettes, perspective. You can tell detail went into the shot list and story boards. And of course filled with Abram's signature lens flares!
What sealed the mood of the film was the score. Michael Giacchino is to J.J. Abrams what John Williams is to Steven Spielberg. Giacchino does the score for every production in television or film that Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, produces. What was neat about this score is that Giacchino also made this his homage to John Williams. It very much had his flavor in it and it’s that style that perfectly packaged the mood and setting of the film. I was actually convinced it was John Williams until the credits said otherwise.
It opens beautifully with a sign in a factory that says “--- Days Since Last Accident” It had something like 600+ and a worker takes down the numbers and puts up the number 1. That immediately hooked me. That’s a perfect example of how you show instead of tell in film. We then move to the scene of a funeral. Young Joseph Lamb sits sullenly on a swing set in his front yard in the dead of winter. He is a black spot within the snow drift. I really like this introduction. Everyone is inside discussing and consoling the death of his mother, but he’s out alone in the cold. He looks longingly at his mother’s locket, an item much like a glorified security blanket for him. This is the introduction portrait to his character.
I’d say the other chief character is Jackson Lamb, Joseph’s father, played by Kyle Chandler. Chandler has a kind of a family in-joke value for me, so it’s always hard to see him without wanting to laugh, however that didn’t happen once in this film. He’s come a long way from his time in the Early Edition TV show. He was utterly convincing as the hard-edged father and local law enforcement bad ass (perdon moi francais). I was really taken with his character because Chandler played him with a wonderful subtlety. He is the type of actor who holds all his emotion in his eyes. Even if he seems stone-faced you can see everything going on in the eyes. He is a duty-bound sheriff’s deputy who takes zero nonsense from anyone. When the sheriff goes missing, he fills the shoes immediately without hesitation. I loved that he was a very clever character utilizing the tactful common sense and courage he had to get the job done, instead of bumbling around aimlessly.

I thought that it was an interesting choice for their last name, Lamb. Implies gentleness, or sacrificial lamb, when you see the types of characters Jackson and Joseph are. Jackson, like most men in that time period, is uncomfortable with his emotions. One quick shot of him crying in the bathroom, no doubt in mourning over his wife, is all you need to see. He shies away from giving his son the affection he needs. At one point in time, the sheriff tells Jackson “Go home and give your son a hug.” Jackson’s face after that statement is a look of almost terror and you get the impression that the weight of fully loving his son and being vulnerable enough to do that. There is one scene in particular where he and Joe get in a heated argument. I thought that scene was the best in the film acting-wise. I was utterly convinced that they were father and son. Their mannerisms, tone, body language was perfection. It wasn’t some over-the-top dramatism,but rather elusive relational accuracy.
The children were well-cast and funny and the smorgasbord of side-characters were all entertaining and unique. The family dynamics and relationships held together with realism even in the midst of a child-like science fiction piece. Joe’s friend Charles, who is the director of the super 8 zombie film, was a great caricature of film directors. The train blows up and he’s screaming about the focus ring falling off. There were so many wonderful filmmaking in-jokes. I am sure this had some of Spielberg’s own autobiography laced in.
Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) had a quiet elegance about her, even when acting alongside a bunch of dirty boys, as she played the role of Alice. Her father Louis is a drunk who slept in and missed his shift the morning Joe’s mother was killed, it would have been him working had she not picked it up. Her father is a direct opposite of Joe’s father, however both parallel in their grief. Louis’ wife left him and Alice years ago and of course Jackson’s wife was killed. You see throughout the film how both men are shown dealing with their loss, and the awkwardness of their role in their children’s lives, in two very different ways. In the end, they come to terms with their place and with their love for their children. It’s kind of a cheesy ending, but that’s true to the style of this film and the time period and genre it’s emulating.

I’m not going to talk about the alien, because in my opinion the alien was subplot and the plot was the characters. This may have Spielberg written all over it, but having the completely character driven story with a mysterious plot that you never seem to get all the answers to is classic J.J. Abrams. I personally love this syle because in our modern age stories all too much action and not enough of anything else. What drives the action is even more important that the action itself. It really doesn’t matter who this alien was or where he came from, but how did his presence affect the lives of the characters and press them on forward. Of course the alien aspect keeps it true to the science fiction genre and gives fun things to play with on screen. Including naming the gas station company “Kelvin” and making it a point to show that. Nerdy in-joke.
A lot of people just want to come to movies, particularly in summer, to see things blow up and die. While Super 8 has that going on, it’s not about that at all in the end. It’s about a boy’s journey to letting go. Throw in some geeky cheese, a unique script, and flawless production design and you have what I call the most original film of the year.


  1. Haha! Awesome! I had forgotten about this film coming. How could I forget a JJ film?! Anyway, great review! It sounds like an incredible film and I really want to see it now. And Kyle Chandler! :D hahahahaha! Great times. He looks good, though. ;)

    I think this movie, artistically and cinematically and stylistically, sounds amazing because it is so character-based! Good ol JJ. He never disappoints. It is like Sci fi 80s family cheese films as they should have been! Hehe!

  2. I can't wait to go see it! Sounds like it's on tap for this weekend!