Okay guys, here it is after way too long: my post on Super 8. (Which no one even remembers exists at this point. I know. It’s okay. I’m dealing.) This thing has turned into a total bear, so much so that I had to break it into two parts. (Big ups to my boy enstarstarstar for figuring that out, and to my girl RLJ for line edits.) In this part, I’m going to talk about the film from an artistic perspective. Part 2 will cover my Social Justice Problems.
The funny thing about Steven Spielberg is that while he’s incredibly famous and wildly influential, I am typically hard-pressed to name more than two of his films (Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park are the two I reliably have on tap, and no, I don’t know why). This isn’t because I grew up under a rock and therefore never saw any of his movies. I’ve seen lots. I just don’t think of them as “Steven Spielberg films.” In thinking about why Spielberg is so disassociated from his creative output in my mind, I’ve come up with sort of a weird reason. Bear with me and let me know what you think.
Spielberg’s filmography is, to put it mildly, overwhelming. He made all the Indiana Jones movies, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, and about a million other films, not to mention his production credits (127 and no I am not kidding, also I’m pretty sure I can’t count that high). In looking at his filmography as a director I am hard-pressed to identify a single flop. Many, if not most, of his films are prototypical in their genre. However, as anyone who’s taken a film history class can attest, prototypical films aren’t always interesting to watch precisely because they’re prototypical. Citizen Kane is important because it created film techniques that revolutionized filmmaking, and accordingly, it is boring as shit to watch because we see the techniques it pioneered every time we go to the movies. I’m not saying Spielberg’s films are boring; on the contrary, I love pretty much every one that I’ve seen. I could watch Jaws in particular every day of the week and twice on Sunday. What I’m saying is that his work is so epic and so transformative of various genres that when I see his films, they don’t feel “directorial” to me. They feel like exemplars of their genre, and I’m used to thinking of directors as Lynchian auteurs. (I really fucking hate Lynch.) I don’t know if that’s worth anything, and I hope people who are more versed in cinema than I will chime in to tell me how wrong I am. (Jackie, K. Cox, I am looking at you.)
In any case, I wanted to throw all that out there as context for my primary opinion about Super 8, which I liked a whole lot: this is, like few other mainstream films I’ve seen, a director’s movie first and foremost. While the acting is great across the board, especially from kiddo leads Joel Courtney (Joe) and Elle Fanning (Alice), no one performance dominates. The special effects are well-done, but they never reach the pyrotechnic level of most modern action films. All elements come together in one cohesive whole with narrative first and foremost – my mental image of this film is not of any particular scene, but of a narrative arc – and that is the work of a great directer. Despite my first two paragraphs, that director isn’t Spielberg. It’s JJ Abrams, with Spielberg producing. But Super 8 is first and foremost an homage to the great Spielberg sci-fi and action films of yore. (Spielberg doesn’t like this interpretation. I say he’s being modest because Abrams isn’t just his collaborator, he’s his buddy.) The lion’s share of credit has to go to Abrams, of course; he’s the one who was slotting all the pieces in place on set every day. But he very obviously was working on a model, and that model was laid down in Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Close Encounters (whose director, in case it wasn’t clear, produced Super 8). Also, it scared the shit out of me, and despite being the world’s jumpiest person (make a loud noise near me for maximum fun), I very rarely get scared by movies. The last movie to genuinely scare me was 28 Days Later. Super 8 is nowhere near as dark and creepy, but it shares an incredible facility with tension-building that leads to big terror.
I hope it’s clear by now that I really liked Super 8, because as with X-Men: First Class, there’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about that isn’t germane to a review. But in case it’s not clear: Super 8 is awesome and original and lots of fun, the kids are incredible and I want to embrace them all, go see it in theatres if you still can because it deserves to be seen on a big screen.
So that’s out of the way.
Coming tomorrow, the myriad ways Super 8 fails at depicting American society.