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Super 8

July 21, 2011

J.J. Abrams, for better or for worse, is a director whose work is recognizable. That’s actually a rare thing in Hollywood, at least on a popular level. First, just to get it out of the way, there’s the lens flare. Some people seem to have a problem with this, but I don’t mind it. It’s his calling card and I never find it really distracting. I even find it interesting. There’s also his other flare, er, flair – for the over dramatic, especially when it comes to disaster: Big crashes, big destruction, big everything. Another recognizable feature? His monsters. Even though they’re all different, there’s a certain similarity between them. Perhaps his best recognizable quality? Character development. He does this extraordinarily well. This is no small feat in the modern blockbuster. Alas, there is one more common theme that I see occurring in just about every Abrams’ project: consistency.

Much like every other Abrams project (at least the ones I’ve seen), Super 8 is strong at the beginning, but slowly unravels toward the end. As I already mentioned, Abrams is great at character development. The relationships between the kids in Super 8 are fantastic. Sure, some of the kids are a little cliche, but there’s depth there. I think a little of the credit goes to the casting department, but most of it should go to Abrams’ ability to draw realistic and moving performances out of his leads – which is especially amazing considering that two of the leads had never acted before!

Another element that Abrams does well is build suspense. I would be tempted to attribute this to the fact that Steven Speilberg produced the film, but this is something Abrams has been doing well for a while now. When the story is still surrounded in mystery and suspense and the focus is on the children, Super 8 excels. Of course, the same can be said for Abrams’ previous movies, Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek (and Cloverfield, which he produced), as well as his t.v. shows, Alias and Lost (I’ve never watched Felicity or Fringe). Strong characters, believable relationships, compelling mystery and legitimate suspense – this is a recipe for a great movie (or t.v. show) and he had me from the get-go in every project I listed above. If only he was able to sustain it!

So what was the problem? Well, much like these other projects, Super 8 abandons all of the strong elements that Abrams does well for conventional and cliched endings. Once the monster is revealed, the mystery is gone; but this alone is not the problem. Even worse, the monster becomes the focal point of the last quarter of the movie. In fact, some of the children that were so wonderfully developed throughout the movie are almost completely absent at the end. Equally unforgivable in my book, Abrams decided to add a “relatable” dimension to the monster which falls completely flat. There’s a reason E.T. and Jaws are two separate movies. You don’t feel sorry for Jaws and you don’t worry that E.T. is going to eat you. Of course, it’s no coincidence that these two films are classics, while Super 8 will be lucky to remain in the mainstream consciousness for more than a short time. That said, I still recommend this movie, as the scene where Alice stuns all the boys with her acting chops is worth the price of admission (or a rental) alone.

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