2011, JJ Abrams -- netflix
There's over a month's worth of distance between me and Super 8 right now, which means that the film is hardly fresh in my mind, and I'm having difficulty remembering exactly what I thought of it. Most of what I'm left with is a vague impression of being underwhelmed. I like JJ Abrams, I like what he does with genre material, making it big and thoughtful. The man isn't necessarily a visionary, I don't think he ever truly breaks new ground, but he's just really damn good at what he does. With Super 8, he attempted to replicate "that Spielberg touch" from the late-'70's through early-'80's, and nailed it right on the head, which may, in fact, be the reason why I was left unimpressed by the picture.
Truth is, I understand how amazing a filmmaker Spielberg is, and yet I'm not all that excited by most of his output. In recent years, it's been his inability to close out a film without a lengthy, and unnecessary fourth act, but even in most of his older films, I don't really connect with what he's doing. Spielberg has definite technical proficiency, a prodigal way with the camera, and an understanding of the language of cinema that few other directors do, and for some reason I find the results kind of lackluster. I understand his language, I just don't get too excited by what he has to say.
So with Abrams replicating the Spielberg formula in this film so precisely (but with more lens flares), I have the same detachment I had (still have) with E.T., Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones films and Jaws (yes, darling, even Jaws), all films Abrams cribbed from for Super 8. The story seems like a different take on the set-up of another Abram's production, Cloverfield, but taking a completely different turn with the giant monster angle. In which a group of ambitious teens make their own Super 8 movies, and happen to be filming at the scene of a massive train derailment (immediately stretching the limits of disbelief by having the train miss the kids and their car but decimate everything else around them) which lets loose a (seemingly) malevolent alien life form.
The focus of the film, in true Spielberg-ian style is as much on the characters and their drama as the events happening around them. The kids have their own romantic and strained friendship drama, while also having tremendous parental drama. Meanwhile, the town sheriff tries to figure out what's what when the military seems to be all too tight lipped about the situation. Of course it's up to the kids to figure it all out, and they do, and a hopeful ending for all results.
It's quite formulaic, this movie, but it's Spielberg's formula, as viewed through the lens of JJ Abrams, thus the quality level is damn high. It's a great looking picture with solid acting, top notch effects, grand score, but truly it feels familiar, almost like I've seen it before. There's not a lot of surprises as the story unfolds, and, for me at least, not a lot of excitement. The character drama, which is what should set this apart from the typical summer blockbuster fare, seems if not at odds with the scope of the film, then at least uncomplimentary.
I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. I don't dislike it. I don't really like it either. Just a mild, tepid, neutral reaction.