Super 8 Review
The brace of summer 2011 Blockbuster movies to hit American Region free Blu-ray continues – and the period produced some hits and misses. One film that did not appear to have much fuss made about it was the Spielberg produced ‘Super 8’ and this completely mystifies me now. Maybe the title put a lot of people off as it doesn’t sound terribly exciting after the potential audience discovers that it’s not about superheroes.
The Super 8 of the title refers to the Home Movie format which, for those of the digital video age, was actually 8mm wide movie film that came in a cartridge for ease of loading into a cine camera, was then exposed and sent off for processing. It was on this ‘bootlace’ film gauge that many film makers, myself included, did their experimentation and learning at their own cost.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, who was responsible for the recent ‘Star Trek’ reboot, ‘Super 8’ tells the tale of a group of young American kids shooting their own ‘masterpiece’. The central character is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), whose mother has recently died in an industrial accident and who has a distant relationship with his father, the town’s Deputy Sheriff. Joe seems to have bottled up all of his emotions as he doesn’t even express them at his mother’s funeral. This may seem a less than cheerful opening to a movie, but it helps explain his behaviour at other points. Joel Courtney plays it all with a very natural, non-method freshness that is unusual in the film world. As he was a virtual unknown before ‘Super 8’, his credible performance is what really makes the whole movie work and placing such weight on young shoulders is nothing new to producer Steven Spielberg.
Joe’s pal, the rather chubby Charles (Riley Griffiths), is the one with a vision for a zombie movie to beat all zombie movies and we see his enthusiasm as well as self belief shine through in his performance. He has quite a lot of fast one liners to deliver and he does so with the timing of a seasoned actor – indeed he’s also much better than many grown ups.
So we’re in the world of kids who are growing up and facing problems. Naturally, we’re reminded of ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Stand By Me’ here but as we haven’t had a successful film of this type for a while, we can handle it without too much cynicism or boredom.
During the shooting for the zombie epic the group of kids are filming at a rail yard at night and a train arrives, so the young director decides to include it as part of his ‘production values’. They actually witness a horrific train crash in which ‘something military’ escapes and local folks go missing shortly afterwards. Now, that’s all the plot that you’re going to get out of me – as I’m sure many will not have seen this movie and they deserve not to have it ruined for them.
Many a director could really have made a mess of a film like this, but Abrams (no doubt backed by Spielberg) has the skill and sensitivity to know not to reveal too much and so draw upon the thing that causes the most intense kind of fear – human imagination. He used his intelligence in the same way that Jacques Tourneur, director of ‘Cat People’ did back in 1942. Learn from the best, learn from the classics. What we can’t see is often far more scary than what we can.
The train crash scene was also directed in such a way as to place the viewer right in the midst of the action – and I don’t simply mean by the use of surround sound, although it undoubtedly helped. We’d been allowed enough time to get to know the kids and none were big stars so their longevity was not guaranteed. For all we knew, any one or all of them could have been killed in this sequence where railway carriages and heavy lumps of metal hurtle though the air and land around, as well as on top of them. We, the audience, have genuine concern for the safety of the characters – unlike in so many noisy, car chase and explosion filled extravaganzas of recent years. In short, this is a film made by proper film makers who knew what they were doing.
As kids, we all had something that we loved doing – a favourite hobby. Many of us wanted to make movies and it’s just this shared ‘madness’ that makes the group in this film appear more likeable. If they’d just been a bunch of dimwits that hung around on street corners making a nuisance of themselves by being unpleasant to old ladies, we perhaps would have not shared so much with them. We saw the limitless enthusiasm of Charles, the loyalty of Joe, the admiration for others who were prepared and delivered their lines correctly as well as the professionalism of the young make-up man.
All of this made the audience sitting ducks for what was to follow – and I’m still not going to tell you what is. What I will say is that this is an extremely well made film and I’m amazed that it almost passed me by un-noticed. This is one of the benefits of Blu-ray, as it gives you the chance to view a movie in a quality that rivals the commercial cinema without the need to have it spoilt by someone noisily munching popcorn or rustling a bag of sweets in your ear.
Do yourselves a favour, overcome the fact that it was produced by the great Spielberg and watch this movie as it’s one of the better films of the year.