Wednesday, 17 August 2011

SUPER 8 (2011) - 3 1/2 STARS

"It Arrives"


The big films are coming thick and fast and it's good to see Steven Spielberg involved with another summer blockbuster again as he produces the latest sci-fi phenomenon, SUPER 8 alongside the hard-working direction of another movie genius J.J Abrams. A lot of hype surrounded this film when the Super Bowl trailer was released for it last year and from the result of that, it has provided a fascinating if slightly predictable film that certainly entertains in terms of action and storytelling but also surprising its audiences with the solid performances from a relatively unknown cast led by some talented youngsters. However numerous references to both director's films take away the magic a bit as it all becomes a bit too familiar by the end....

In 1979, in the fictional town of Lillian, teenage Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is trying to cope with the recent death of his mother, who was killed in a factory accident. Much to the frustration of his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) who is the town's deputy sheriff, Joe copes by immersing himself in a project lead by his best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths). That project is a horror film, shot on a SUPER 8 camera, and Charles has enlisted the help of not only Joe, but the rest of his misfit friends, and has surprised everyone by talking the prettiest girl in school Alice (Elle Fanning), into playing the hero's wife. On the night of the first big shoot, the would be filmmakers witness a train crash which leads to mass chaos and carnage. Soon enough the town of Lillian is swarmed by military men, who won't tell anybody what is going on but the kids soon realise that there was something inside the train that the army don't want people to know about. They decide to investigate when people and objects start going missing leading to plenty of intrigue as it becomes clear that there is a monster on the loose. When Alice gets kidnapped by the creature, it is up to Joe and his friends to try and save her before it is too late as the mystery surrounding the beast finally comes to light....

There is no denying the genius of Spielberg who once again delivers another exhilarting sci-fi fairytale that mixes action and drama very well. The movie is adventurous as well as touching and full of strong character driven drama and works best as a coming of age film, despite the clinical effects and thrilling action scenes. The previews did a good job of not giving away too much of the film or revealing the monster to you but there's really no mystery here. All the kids impress as they really act like real teenagers with Courtney impressing as the young male lead while Fanning as Alice, projects such a genuine combination of childlike innocence and ahead of her years maturity, that you can't take her eyes off her whenever she's on screen. She is clearly proving that she's just as good as her older sister Dakota. It's fun watching the kids together while the adults do a good job too particularly Kyle Chandler as Joe's father; perfectly displaying his difficulty in the situation he is in and his lack of communication with his son. The script, written by Abrams, is exciting and skillfully paced. There always seems to be several subplots going on at once, yet there is never a moment of confusion about what is going on. Packing in action, emotion, and commentaries about childhood, Abrams' script never stops short of pure entertainment. The throwbacks to previous Spielberg films from his younger days, give a whole new generation of film buffs a glimpse into what others grew up with in the late 70's and early 80's. However from my perspective, one of THE best visual sequences in film takes place here with the explosive train crash scene which despite being a bit too OTT for some, is simply action-packed and edge-of-your-seat stuff, emphatic and loud, and only worth watching in the cinema. To watch that scene on the telly would only take away the magic of one of this year's most thrilling film scenes.

There is no doubting the film is enthralling but there are flaws and cliches to its story that make it too familiar to the Spielberg films even if the references are poignant. The ending is disappointing especially as it's just too similar to E.T and Close Encounters though on this occasion, the actual alien is nowhere near as sympathetic as E.T, and yet when the ending does happen, there isn't great satisfaction in seeing the alien achieve its destiny after all the terror it has caused to the town. Also as a cowardly film critic who doesn't like jump-scares in films, this is definitely not one to recommend to children under 12. There are several moments which really freak people out whether it be an explosion or the actual alien itself making an appearance plus swearing from the younger characters may put parents off taking their children to watch it. 

VERDICT: Cloverfield meets Close Encounters in this brass but obvious film which is riveting and emotionally beautiful but let down by several cliches and a damp squib of an ending. However its talented and unknown cast plus its mystery plot and stunning effects provide another box-office hit that showcases a possible future partnership between two sci-fi movie geniuses Mr Spielberg and Mr Abrams.


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