Movie Review: Super 8
Why Super 8 is the LeBron to E.T.’s Jordan.
by Adam Sweeney / @AdamSweeney
A touching homage to a time period when adventure, not an ADD culture, possessed childrens’ hearts, JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is a blockbuster that values the art of storytelling as much as substance. That said, if its predecessor and main source of inspiration, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.; was Michael Jordan, then Super 8 is without question the film equivalent of LeBron James. Allow me to explain.
E.T. was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon that took us to a world of spectacle and wonder. It changed the game for how movies were told, just as Michael Jordan’s mixture of acrobatic grace and ability to connect with the everyman took basketball to a new level. Both works of art, and Jordan was just that, remain unmatched in the connection they made with the viewer. Super 8, like LeBron James, is a body of work unlike anything we have seen visually. Both provide jaw-dropping moments of explosiveness, but neither achieve the true mastery of their predecessors; that being the capacity to touch our hearts and make us truly care for the central characters involved. That’s not to say that Super 8 or LeBron aren’t extremely entertaining or worth watching. They just aren’t as good as the original.
JJ Abrams’ latest brainchild follows the journey of a group of middle school kids from Lillian, PA intent on making a zombie film that will make it into a local film festival. While making it, they get caught in the middle of a death-defying train wreck and mystery concerning the train’s contents thereafter. The story is in every way possible a tribute to films of the last generation like E.T., The Explorers and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s also both the biggest strength and weakness of Super 8.
The aesthetic of the film is wonderful, painting a small town dynamic where everybody knows your name with the mystery and threat of a military intent on covering up a dangerous experiment. The film constantly makes you ask questions. What was in the train that derailed? Why is the military so adamant about hiding the disaster? What happened between the children Joe and Alice’s (played expertly by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) parents that would create such a great divide that it would jeopardize a blooming relationship? Altogether, the film feels out of its time and that is a good thing. Still, one can likely guess the entire storyline and outcome if you just use your imagination and think about the elements within the stories that inspired it.
Like Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, Super 8 tries to balance and borrow from its inspiration while also creating its own world. It’s a dangerous game to play and Abrams pulls it off to a degree Singer could only have wished for. Still, this method leaves Super 8 feeling uneven. It’s not impossible to make a monster or extraterrestrial story that allows us to care for the creature. But in order to do so, the audience has to connect with the creature. It’s easy for us to love E.T. because he was cute, compassionate and had a connection both to us and the protagonist, Elliott. Ultimately, like a child who had stayed too long on a visit to his grandmother’s, E.T. just wanted to go home. We can all understand that. Super 8’s creature doesn’t offer us that, instead bringing terror and fear to the town; which is an extension of the alienation and anger he feels within. That said; it’s extremely difficult to care for a creature when you have just seen them smash someone’s head through a window. Most people would rather hang with the alien who eats Reese’s Pieces and brings flowers back to life.
With projects like Lost, Cloverfield and now Super 8, it is becoming increasingly clear that JJ Abrams is a master at gift-wrapping. Half of the fun of an Abrams project is the viral marketing and anticipation leading up to the film. The issue is that sometimes the gift isn’t as stunning as the package it came in. Super 8 reminds us of the greatness that blockbuster films from a past generation possessed. In doing so, it is a moving tribute. Unfortunately, it also traps itself by forcing us to constantly compare it to the superior films that inspired it. Just like LeBron can never match the wonder and originality of Jordan, Super 8 can’t match E.T. Super 8 is still the best summer of the year so far. Be aware of what to expect going in and you will fall in love with it. Just don’t compare it with the greatest of all time. Try to do that and you are setting yourself for up for a freefall. Just ask LeBron.