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Monday, 22 August 2011

Review: Super 8 (12A) ★★★★
After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon.

Nostalgia is an easy thing to play on.
Better things from a better time is generally how people reflect when mentioning 'the good old days'.Terms like "They don't make them like they used to" are thrown around all too often, and the trouble is they're often right. So along comes Super 8, a film that wears its late seventies/early eighties heart well and truly on its sleeve, well  for two thirds of its running time anyway.

Make no bones about it, this is J.J. Abrams love letter to Spielberg (who also produces) films of the past. It's important to note though that it's not just Speilberg's style he's echoing here, its Zemeckis, Dante and Reiner also. I feel these other film-makers have been sorely overlooked in other reviews.

At its heart Super 8 is about the kids, this is an important factor to recognize as it's what made other films of this genre work. ET, The Goonies, Explorers and Stand By Me all dealt with what was going on in the minds and hearts of the kids. The adults took a firm back seat in proceedings and the films fared better for it.

Super 8 has followed this tradition and is probably why it feels so good. We focus purely on the gang that's been put together through very careful casting and can relate and acknowledge to what's going on even though, like me, alot of the audience will be in their thirties. This is the target audience for Super 8, not the teens of now but of the eighties.

Now if we move the nostalgia to one side for a moment and concentrate on the plot we see a generic theme form here. Gang of kids stumble upon a mysterious 'creature' - I'm using the term 'creature' here loosely as to not give away a spoiler - that starts to cause havoc in their small town. Of course no adult believes them until the whole things blows up and the army becomes involved. Standard plot, start small and build big, again see ET for a classic example. This works, but it works because we get to learn about the kids, how each one has a different back story, some tragic, some comedic but it's them we concentrate on. The 'creature' becomes something of a background object that we lose focus on, see Stand By Me and the dead body for another example. You can see where I'm going here can't you?

At the end of the day this should be just another monster movie but the fact that Abrams has decided to set it in the period he has and use the kids as the fore runners makes for a clever move that pays of massively. It's the art of distraction that pays dividend and the fact that the 'creature' doesn't make an appearance till later in proceedings helps build the relationship between audience and kids. But of course the creature does make an appearance and this is where the film lost me.

I was drenched in nostalgia, I was loving every minute and reliving my youth with the gang, and then they showed the 'creature'. All of a sudden I was thrown back to adulthood and realised that I was back in a modern movie where CGI is the order of the day. From then on in it was business as usual and the 'creature' took centre stage, the focus had switched and so had my relationship with the film.

I understand that they had to show the thing, but I feel if it was a played down a little more, not so over-the-top and in your face it could have worked a lot better. They seemed to be trying so hard to give the audience an almighty beast to be afraid of, one that people would talk about after leaving the film that they lost track of what had made the film succeed in the first two thirds. The kids.

I also feel that there's a failure in the last third to keep the gang together. All films mentioned previously hang off the fact that the kids remain true to one another throughout. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will get between them and it really is one for all and all for one. The trouble here though is that they all too easily disband and go their separate ways, bar the central couple, so you feel there was no real relationship there to start with. Can you imagine The Goonies all disbanding throughout their adventure? No. Except for Chunk. The key was that they were to see it through together, no matter what the obstacles.

So in simple conclusion, Super 8 works. It has its problems towards the end but still holds up as an enjoyable throw back to childhood films. It's unashamedly nostalgic but so few films are these days that when one does come along, its good to see it delivered with an assured hand and an old master lending ideas.


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