Super 8 ✮✮

Close Encounters of the Turgid Kind

by Glenn Lovell

Despite the media hype — or probably because of it — the new J.J. Abrams opus “Super 8″ is a letdown, a jarringly messy blend of blue-collar angst and feel-good Spielberg. (Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment co-produced.)

Think George A. Romero’s conspiracy chiller “The Crazies” crossed with “The Goonies,” and you’re in the cluttered ballpark.

Junior Cadet Spielbergs

Add to this an angry, waylaid extraterrestrial whose presence is announced by flickering lights, panicked canines and kitchen appliances flying through the air. You’re right, it’s as lame as it sounds. When we do glimpse the thing from another world, it’s too little too late, another crustacean whatchamacallit — half Alien, half skittering arachnid from “Starship Troopers.”

This is a popcorn attraction that’s so keen to trumpet its own merits that we’re given not one but two father-child bonding scenarios, as well as characters repeatedly marveling at the over-the-top action and f/x. Military weapons mysteriously misfiring, causing cascading fireballs? “They’re huge!” shouts one kid above the din. A soldier torn limb from limb by the rampaging what’s-it? “Another one dead!” a kid tells a friend who, like us, has just witnessed the encounter.

“Super 8″ is spoon-fed sci-fi. It subsists on such “Well, duh” revelations.

Abrams, of course, is the creative brains behind TV’s “Lost” and “Felicity.” That’s why we approached this project, which Abrams wrote and directed, with great expectations. From the previews it looked like we’d be getting a character-driver sci-fi’er along the lines of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” Maybe that’s the problem: It feels too early to be thinking Spielberg homage. After all, Spielberg’s genre outings were themselves 20-years-later homages to “It Came from Outer Space,” among other 1950s B classics.

Even the title seems a suck-up to Steven, who has talked about making Super 8 productions as a boy growing up in Phoenix. His maiden effort was called “The Last Train Wreck.” Guess what gets things rolling in Abrams’ film? Yup, a massively overproduced train wreck, with cars slamming into one another before being launched skyward in a shower of twisted steel.

The year is 1979. Walter Cronkite is on TV warning about a potential meltdown at Three Mile Island. The town — Lillian, Ohio — couldn’t be any more Midwestern if it were smack dab in the middle of the continental U.S. Standing in for the young Spielberg is a 12-year-old named Joey (Joel Courtney, whose elfin looks will put you in mind of Elijah Wood as Frodo). Joey lives with his father (Kyle Chandler), the town’s deputy sheriff. They’re sans mom because, we learn in a dreary, drawn-out set-up, she has just died in a workplace mishap. This makes Dad bitter and non-communicative, Joey a confused and needy latchkey kid. Elliott in “E.T.” had a picture-perfect home life by comparison.

Joey’s hobby is making zombie movies with his misfit classmates. This summer they’re rushing to complete a production called “The Case.” Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the chubby director ever on the lookout for “production value”; Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the crybaby leading man; Cary (Ryan Lee) is the pyromaniac in braces; Alice (Elle Fanning) is the first reluctant, then game, leading lady. Joey goes all wobbly kneed in her presence.

It’s while shooting at the local depot that they witness the aforementioned derailment. Hushed up as an accident, it’s anything but. Lillian Middle School’s science teacher (Glynn Turman) drove head-on into the engine. Amazingly, he survives long enough to warn, “They will kill you. Do not speak of this or you and your parents will die.”

The train was transporting a secret Air Force experiment, which is now on the loose and responsible for all manner of havoc, including the abduction of the sheriff and a woman in large curlers. Your stereotypical military types, led by a nasty, pockmarked officer (Noah Emmerich), are determined to corral the thing, even if it means leveling Lillian in the bargain.

Will the kids finish their magnum opus? Will Joey and Alice reconnect with their respective dads? Will the what’s-it from another galaxy give the Air Force the slip?

“Super 8″ is at its most engaging when the nascent filmmakers are planning their next location shoot, arguing about who’s going to swipe the family car and who forgot to loan the camera last time. It’s fun and frantic, like going behind the scenes of this movie in miniature. There’s also a lovely heart-in-the-throat moment at the end, telling us Joey has finally learned to let go.

But that’s not much of a return on our investment.

Overall, “Super 8″ is less a tribute to classic sci-fi than a mechanical, by-the-book exercise in How to Build a Tribute to Classic Sci-Fi.

SUPER 8 ✮✮ With Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard. Directed, written by J.J. Abrams. 112 min. PG-13 (for alien violence, nonstop pyrotechnics)

8 Responses to “Super 8 ✮✮”

  1. CMrok93 Says:

    Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. And I cared for all of these characters, even that drunk dad that gets arrested in the beginning. Nice Review! Check out mine when you get a chance!

  2. Ray G. Says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Also, was highly disappointing. Clem was great! Save ur money from Super 8 and spend it on Xmen

  3. Brandon Says:

    Super 8 is a good movie

  4. duh!? Says:

    This movie has some entertaining elements but it is more in the script.
    I am so sick of Speilberg with his Formulas,stereotypes and way over the top action scenes.
    Seriously, in this movie a train hits a pickup, the guy and the pickup are only slightly damaged and for 5 minutes train cars are falling from the sky in all directions and it looks like a war zone. Suddenly the kids all have dirt on their faces!?
    The end is like King Kong with the monster (which is a stereotyped as possible) holding the kid and looking in his eyes as they “bond”.
    Good grief,really, how long gas Speilberg been a director? The army guys are the typical stereotype seen in EVERY movie.
    For some reason the army starts blowing up the town for no apparent reason.
    The monster has his blocks to remake the spaceship but instead uses bikes and irons to make it later.
    I know it is a movie and sci-fi but could you at least put a little effort into it and not treat the audience like they are all a bunch of idiots?

  5. Mike Says:

    The army wasn’t “blowing up the town for no apparent reason.” The alien and the white blocks were causing them to malfunction. That’s why one of the military people says “Our weapons are firing in all directions, we have no control.” Did you guys even pay attention to the movie?

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