Got to see another movie preview screening this week (gosh I'm lucky), this time it was the much hyped top secret JJ Abrams project (is there any other kind?), SUPER 8, which comes out Friday.
Super 8, for those that don't know, is the follow up directorial effort by Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek) inspired by classic Spielberg mystery/spirit of wonder blockbusters, that also happens to be produced by, Steven Spielberg. However, we know movies are produced by other directors all the time, and that doesn't necessarily mean we can expect something very much in line with what they themselves would do. Just look at the Transformers franchise, also produced by Spielberg, I don't think many people would say those movies feel very akin to ET or Close Encounters. Here though, it's got Spielberg written all over it... Small town besieged by some kind of unknown otherworldly entity? Check. ...youth driven cast of pre-teen misfits? Double check - Hell, there's even a young up and coming blonde girl in the group from a famous Hollywood family (Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, ala Drew Barrymore, of the Hollywood Barrymore's, in ET) ...Lots of sweeping shots of wide eyed wonder that are both sublimely lit and swirling with wind and air? Oh yeah, chock full of it! If it wasn't for the trademark lens flares (yes lens flare detractors, JJ's back at it here) and harder science bent to the mystery, you'd swear it was actually a Spielberg pic... and that's all meant as a compliment. And, in a movie that's a love letter to this type of thing, that's all good.
And Super 8 is plenty good. It's full of movie magic, charm, and a cast that lights up the screen. The story, and it's core mystery/development are both solid. Unlike M Night Shyamalan, another Spielberg devotee, instead of adding his own "twist", JJ simply teases us as to just what it is we're seeing unfold. Like the best Speilberg. Jaws became an all time great movie because Spielberg understood he didn't have to show the massive great white to scare the living shit out of us, he just had to tease us with glimpses of it, and we'd do all the heavy lifting. Super 8 is very much of this school of film... for better or worse.
The difference between the Spielberg classics and what JJ's reaching for here is in the execution and reveal of what's behind everything, and when we finally piece together exactly what's at play in Super 8, you're either completely on board, or not, and lets just say the details of what's happening are decidedly JJ Abrams in nature. This JJ centric core conceit, coupled with some rather jarring things that he hopes you'll just go with in the spirit of film (I don't want to say what, for sake of spoilers... but if you really want to know, I'll put them here in invisible text which you can highlight: A) the train crash being caused by a pickup truck (which is even pointed out by the characters) B) the driver of said truck surviving the crash C) the survivor of said crash keeping all his top secret government notes in the same school storage locker as confiscated items from class, and D) the prominent use of a Sony Walkman, in the summer of 1979, a little too early from my recollection of when someone would actually be using one of these), ultimately keep this from being a truly great film for me. I just wrestled too much with the nature of what was driving the story (again without spoiling anything, if you want to know, see the invisible text: the creature, as we learn about it, was too conflicted in design, being both primal monster, and super evolved alien intelect, wasn't something I could fully buy into... I felt they wanted to have their cake, a Cloverfield monster, and eat it too, ET), and if I can't buy into that, I can't ultimately buy into your movie. As always though, your mileage may vary.
There's certainly enough amazing things here for a really good movie; the stories' setup, the cast - especially the young group of friends and their interplay, the spot on recreation of 1979 America, and the over all beautifully shot and staged production, I did really enjoy it. I just wanted to like it more.