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Critical Mass: The critics love 'Super 8' for what it represents

June 10, 2011 |  3:26 pm


Director J.J. Abrams' neo-Spielbergian coming-of-age sci-fi action fantasy "Super 8" has been under wraps for a long time now. But the veil of secrecy is being lifted as the paying public finally gets a chance to see exactly what Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg have been up to.

So how are the critics, who saw the film early and have had a few days to collect their thoughts, reacting to this tale of an alien run amok in small town Ohio circa 1979 while a group of pre-teens make an 8-millimeter zombie flick? Does it recapture the magic of late '70s/early '80s Spielberg that it's so self-consciously attempting to evoke?

Mostly, the answer is yes. But it's not an unqualified success.

Take, for example, Kenneth Turan's review in The Times. Turan came away from the film heavy-hearted, lacking for enthusiasm for the wonders Abrams had shown him. He writes, "A longtime admirer of Spielberg, Abrams has made something more in that director's style than his own, an action that has diminished his own effectiveness without replicating what makes the best of Spielberg's films so successful." In the end, he says, "the problem with 'Super 8' is not how much there is to complain about but how little there is to be excited about."

Village Voice critic J. Hoberman is much kinder to the film, though perhaps he sees a little more depth in it than even Abrams and Spielberg intended.  "The whole thing feels like one long car crash -- not meant as a put-down. Machines exist to pulverize or be pulverized. Without necessarily meaning to be, 'Super 8' is an American tale, dramatizing the long-ago crack-up of the nation’s industrial infrastructure."

Meanwhile, New York Observer crankster Rex Reed revs up the chainsaw for his review. He writes, "Sorry to dash your hopes, but it’s just more of the same junk. Junk for children, with an estimated $45-million budget. There oughta be a law." But even ol' Rex isn't totally immune to the charms of Abrams' youthful cast. He writes, "The best thing about 'Super 8,' by far, are the kids, all perfectly cast. The script does a much better job making them believable and real than the adults.... Watching these youngsters following their dream against all odds, I found myself getting some of my inner child back and laughing out loud at the same time."

On the other hand, San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle was enthralled by the film, which clearly taps into his sense of childlike wonder. He writes, "The pacing is superb, quick and agile without being frenzied, and the special effects are jaw-dropping. Abrams gets excellent performances from his young cast."

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum is similarly over the moon about Abrams' look back at our lost Spielbergian childhoods. In fact, hers may be one of the most effusive in its praise, short of a sci-fi message board. She starts her review: "Loving, Playful, and spectacularly well made, 'Super 8' is easily the best summer movie of the year -- of many years. And I make that declaration with full knowledge that the season has just begun. It's been eons since a movie has conjured up such intense, specific feelings, images, memories, and nostalgic fantasies about American summertime youth -- everyone's American summertime youth, regardless of current age, nationality, sex, or climate. It's been ages since adolescent innocence, fatherly authority, and everyday awe were in movie vogue... How have we survived for so long on such a meager, high-cal, low-nutrition diet of processed summertime superhero sequels?"

But it's Roger Ebert who succinctly sums up what is best about the film -- not the visual effects or the thrills or the individual performances, but the style of filmmaking. It's a loud declaration that story and characters matter. It's a refutation of the brand-obsessed summer filmmaking of today. Or as Ebert writes: "All the same, 'Super 8' is a wonderful film, nostalgia not for a time but for a style of filmmaking, when shell-shocked young audiences were told a story and not pounded over the head with aggressive action. Abrams treats early adolescence with tenderness and affection. He uses his camera to accumulate emotion. He has the rural town locations right."

So did Abrams and Spielberg fill you with nostalgia or leave you pining for "Transformers"?


J.J. Abrams reveals the secrets of his new film

'Super 8' seeks an audience among the summer tent poles

'Super 8's' Elle Fanning has the pedal down on her Hollywood career

--Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Joel Courtney stars in "Super 8." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Comments () | Archives (8)

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That disclaimer right there is the reason this is no longer the world that "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" aired. I mean, I remember trying to get into R-rated movies, but I don't remember trying to post a comment on a blog.

Wow!! I loved it!!! I have loved everything JJ has done. I noticed in Super 8 he paid homage to the messy households of lower middle class families (who are now becoming extinct) as well as the scene in close encounters where Roy's kid was beating a doll, I LOVED that scene too, JJ.

But what I don't get, is what is known as 'predictive programming'. Look this term up and look into it.

Why does Hollywood want people focusing so much on ALIENS, covert operations and nefarious military secrets?? Sure seems like it! And who but Steven Spielberg would you want at that helm?

This film touches on the many different alien conspiracies regarding underground alien activities, secret space programs and secret military activity that is NOT for the betterment of all (when is it ever??). They make the alien the good guy (kind of, after all he was JUST HUNGRY and wanting to go home) and the military the bad guy (the sergeant stealing the boys locket his mother gave him and the over all story line).

Of course aliens are telepathic, everyone knows that!! LOL.

For all those people who are waiting for disclosure, this movie is going to feed that frenzy and perhaps JJ and Spielberg have been paying attention to the not so 'on the fringe anymore' opinions about these subjects. More people now days believe that we are indeed (and have been) being visited by extraterrestrials. As Steven Hawking has recently put it, they (aliens) probably aren't so nice. But when you look at how human beings tend to behave, would that be any surprise??

Why aren't any of these 'critics' talking about any of this? Because critics aren't paying attention to how movies effect human behavior and opinion. All they have to offer is more FLUFF.

S8 was good and it did make me long for the 70's era hometown I grew up in.
The characters were delightful.

I too loved this film for it's warm portrayal of growing up in the Seventies. It's child actor were dead on and their story sparkled.

Where the film lost me was it's flat scifi plot. Unlike E.T., the movie that it so clearly wants to emulate, the alien creates no bond with the children or the audience. The ending appeared devoid of emotion. The creature's design seemed straight out of Cloverfield and appeared too menacing.

I'm not asking for a remake of E.T. I just felt the children's plot could have been better integrated with the Alien's plot. I know that I should review the movie and not the potential of the film. But this film was very good but could have been great.


Roger Ebert is right on. My overriding thought 20 minutes into the film, and again at the end? FINALLY . . . a STORY.

Loved it. Great actors, nicely written characters, loads of thrills and laughs. Blows X-Men away.

One of the best movies so far this year. What a great way to have spent two hours of my weekend.

I loved it! The rural locations, set design, props, everything was dead on; the very essence of what it was like to be a kid in 1979. I know, because I was still a kid in '79 and J.J.'s keen authenticity brought it all back to me. That aside, how nice it was to leave a theater and say to my date, I finally got my moneys worth!


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