Uncanny. That’s about the only word that can describe Steven Spielberg’s instincts when it comes to film-making. Sure he’s stumbled here and there, but there’s something about his films that you can’t deny. Spielberg films look the way movies should look. They feel the way movies should feel. They might scare the pants off you, bring you to tears, or crush you with a wave of nostalgia, but one thing’s for sure, you will remember that film. Because Spielberg, despite possessing some of the best commercial instincts of anybody in Hollywood, makes films that aren’t quite like anybody else’s.
Well, until now, I guess. With Super 8, J.J. Abrams does his best Spielberg impression (with the man’s blessing, of course [he serves as Executive Producer]), and for the most part it’s, yeah, uncanny. The story concerns a group of Ohio adolescents with a penchant for making movies. One night while filming at a train station, they are witness to the derailment of a train with some mysterious cargo, cargo that they may have inadvertently captured on film. From there the military shows up and starts sweeping the town, the power goes out in patches, and pets and townspeople start to disappear. Then things start to get weird.
The film is a throwback to Spielberg’s Amblin output, a period in film Abrams is clearly familiar with, as what he’s created is a stunning re-creation. The cinematography does a lot of the work, lending a majestic air to every corner of late 70′s suburbia on display. Shots of watertowers, chain-link fences, and mill-workers are filmed with a grace not seen often enough, and as a result, every frame winds up as a thing of beauty.
But for as much credit as is due to the cinematography, the real champions are the kids comprising the principle cast. Possessing a natural and unforced chemistry, they lend the movie a lived-in quality that was imperative to the film’s success. These kids aren’t bundles of quirks or balls of energy, they are kids and they act like it, and when they are ultimately confronted with danger, they react like kids would likely act. In that, Abrams perfectly captures the spirit of a Spielberg film.
The movie is not without its problems, though. Abrams, despite expertly crafting a sense of magic in the beginning, has trouble maintaining it, and as a result, the movie kind of falls apart in the third act. Actually, it doesn’t fall apart, so much as change. By the climax of the film, we have stepped away from Spielberg, and moved more towards Cloverfield. But that’s only a mild disappointment, given the unchecked awesomeness of the first two acts.
So what we are left with is an astonishing film with some third act problems that are easy to ignore. Because what we really have here is a bravura piece of film-making. One that dared to pick up Spielberg’s mantle, and didn’t wind up a total catastophe. A film that deals simultaneously with monsters and the difficulties of parenthood, and that treats both with necessary reverence. A film that looks up with awe, while also trying to figure out exactly how things work down here.
Posted under Kyle's Adventures in Pop Culture
This post was written by Kyle on June 13, 2011