J.J. Abrams Delivers a “Mint” Production in SUPER 8

This is going to be mostly a stream of consciousness so hold on tight.  Sometimes I’ll talk with big words like I’m pretending to be smart and other times I will speak with the verbal acuity of a middle school child.  So let’s do this!  Super 8 is one of the most original movies I have seen in a long time.  Yet at the same time, it provokes a nostalgic feeling akin to old Steven Spielberg films such as E.T. or Indiana Jones.  I wonder if that has anything to do with Spielberg being a Producer on the film?  Hmm…Anywho, I have been looking forward to this movie for a while now, not in an obsessing over it constantly sort of way, but more in a I’d see a trailer for it online and be like HOT DAMN this is gonna be good.  So needless to say, I had very high hopes for this flick.  J.J. Abrams just knows how to craft a good story. He gets how to make the audience connect with not just one, but also all of the characters in his stories, and works well with an ensemble cast.  The twist in Super 8, however, is the fact that almost the entire ensemble is…children.

I’m sure some directors see child actors as a good thing, but at the same time, the idea of having a group of six kids playing the main characters in your film would terrify most directors.  Abrams even said in an interview that he worked with Spielberg on how to work with children actors like Spielberg did on films like E.T. All I can say is homeboy paid attention in class because my goodness…these kids are brilliant!  Elle Fanning, who plays Alice Dainard, love interest to Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) in the film, has a very strong screen presence that rivals that of many actors twice her age.  In fact, all of the young performers do a wonderful job.  The friendships felt real, the laughter genuine and the connection was strong.  That’s important!

While some people may see this movie having pretty much all no name actors as a detriment, I see it as an opportunity.  Instead of everyone coming to see, say, Jim Carrey be Jim Carrey, they will be coming in not knowing what to expect and thusly be able to focus more on the story and getting to know and connect with the characters.  It gives Abrams the ability to start with a clean slate.  There is no “oh I thought so and so had a much better performance in his last film” or “this was a real departure for her and I don’t think she fit that role very well.”  Blah blah blah shut your face!  There are no pre-conceived notions and therefore Abrams can start from the bottom of the hill.  And while he may start at the bottom, by the end of this film let me assure you, you will have gone on a wild ride and loved every second of it.

Lets talk story!  The way in which the story opens, revealing one of the largest plot points almost entirely without dialogue, setting up the whole story without a word is just beautiful.  As the film moves on it becomes apparent that the adults in this movie maybe aren’t the smartest characters in this story.  The children begin to look smarter and smarter.  We follow the story of Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), who has just suffered a tragic loss and now has the summer to help his group of filmmaker friends, led by director extraordinaire Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish their big movie in time for the film festival.  Always driven by the lure of “production value,” Charles hatches a plan to shoot a scene at the train station one night.  This of course leads to the kids being at the train station when a horrific train crash occurs.  After running for their lives in the most badass crash scene I have seen in recent memory, the kids encounter a man who warns them that they must not speak of what they have seen, for their lives depend on it!  You know, like it’s no big deal for a bunch of middle schoolers to deal with that kind of responsibility.

Aside from all the action and adventure, this is also a love story between young Joe and Alice.  There is tension at first because Joe, being the Deputy’s son and all, poses a threat to get Alice in trouble for stealing her father’s car to drive them out to the train station.  Add on top of that the fact that both of their fathers hate one another and you’ve got a wonderful recipe for conflict.  These young actors are so good that at times I found myself forgetting that they were children and seeing them for their inner battles and turmoil that they are dealing with.  This film is a great example of saying so much without saying a lot dialogue wise.  That is the key to a truly great film.  Using the power of cinema to tell a story primarily through visuals.  I applaud Abrams for doing a terrific job of creating a feature that gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, yet still contains a new and exciting element that keeps you riveted in your seat.

Pace wise the story was spot on.  It didn’t really feel like it dragged at all.  Abrams does a good job of not spending too much time delving into the back story of the creature and where it’s from or what it’s doing.  He instead focuses on the present tale of the children and their mission to finish their film, and unbeknownst to them, grow along the way.  When it comes down to it, in my mind the real story isn’t the creature or anything concerning aliens or the government.  It’s not even the story of Joe and Alice.  The real story is about acceptance, about not holding on to the past and living in the present.  That theme, the heart of this film, is what separates Super 8 from most other summer blockbusters.  It’s not all just explosions, action and sex.  There is a soul to this film that the audience is able to connect with.  That is what will make this film a huge hit.

Cinematography wise this film was very planned.  Wonderful, beautiful, thought out plans.  One of the most well executed scenes cinematography wise is the train crash scene near the beginning of the film.  There was a feeling of chaos and intensity created with very specific and purposeful camera angles and movements.  In other words, it was as if chaos was created through planning, which to me is quite a feat to have accomplished.  I could really tell that great care was taken when choosing the camera placement and movement throughout the film.  Each shot was so artfully framed and obviously thought out, yet not to the point where it becomes unreal, but instead becomes a more artistic portrayal of reality.  This is a fine line that many filmmakers walk when making a film and to some of you who like the ultra realistic, lets make this movie so much like real life that its almost too boring to bear, this film isn’t for you.  If however, you were disappointed with the new Indiana Jones movies like I was and are still looking for your classic cinema fix, then get in line cause the dealer is in!  This isn’t just another run and gun spur of the moment kind of film.  There is a reason behind every angle, a purpose to every camera movement.  It’s refreshing to see that there are still filmmakers out there who care about this kind of thing.  So many filmmakers focus on the dialogue to tell their story and they forget that the image is a huge part of telling that story.  Abrams realizes that and uses everything in his arsenal to craft a truly well put together work of art.

Most people will connect with this film and that is why I believe this film is going to be very well received overall.  Abrams does a great job of making us care about each and every character, good or bad.  We want the good guys to live, and can’t wait for the bad guys to perish!  As a filmmaker myself, I found it very entertaining to watch these little tikes making their own 8mm film.  Their guerilla style of filmmaking; using the events occurring in and around their town as backdrops to give the movie “production value” just puts a smile on my face and a chuckle in my belly.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Super 8 and plan on seeing it again in theaters.  Abrams continues to deliver time and time again and as Charles says so many times throughout the film, “it was so mint!”



8 Responses to “J.J. Abrams Delivers a “Mint” Production in SUPER 8”

  1. Tina

    I was seriously contemplating seeing this movie with my friends next week, now I know we definitely will!

  2. Gregg

    Going to see it today!

  3. Gregg

    I was not impressed. The acting was great but this film is for teenagers. Stay for the credits though.

  4. Brian White

    Did u forget to put a comma before “but” in your comment above?

    I don’t know. I kind of agree with Jonathan. This movie made me feel like a kid again. It had that magic to it. The train wreck was out of this world. The only thing I though was weak and predictable was the resolution, but you can’t have it all.

    Honestly…for the time being…I would call this movie a sort of GOONIES for the modern day audience.

  5. Gerard Iribe

    Probably won’t see it until next week sometime.

  6. Aaron Neuwirth

    It’s Goonies meets Cloverfield

  7. Gregg

    Brian, thank you for correcting me. You forgot a ‘t’ after “though.” Nice job, Slick. This movie gets a 3.5 out of 5 from me.

  8. balyer

    This will definitely become one of the surprise hit of summer, 20011. I haven’t had so much fun watching a film since first seeing Close Encounters. Although, the movie’s title might be quiet deceptive, the film itself is a must-see. Totally fun, exciting, adventurous, and thrilling. The special effects are mind-blowing, the kid’s characters were believable, and the script was written to kept even the most calm natured, on the edge of their seats. The movie is in fact a story within a story, but it never loses its sense of reality blended in a very science fictional plot. Its early seventies setting has a sort of magical effect on the senses, a walk down memory lane with some of the hit songs played in the background. Do not cheat yourself. This is a must film for your family to see.