Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: Super 8 (2011) TH

Small town kids, the military and a train with puzzling cargo

"Super 8" is a popcorn blockbuster that acts as a light drama, mystery and thriller, though one that's all about shameless homage to past films and late '70s pop culture in which it takes place. It's a something's-on-the-loose film with the "something" hiding in the background and adolescent nostalgia out to play in the foreground. It racks up blatant nods, such as '50s giant monster films, George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," and even Spielberg classics like "The Goonies" and "Jurassic Park." It's done purposely to bring out fun references for sentimental history buffs, as well as keeps cinemaphiles busy with trivia, who might otherwise be ready to call foul at the first retread.

A motley crew of early teen filmmakers have various talents that range from bossy director, special make-up effects wizard, lead actor, pretty actress to the over-charged demolitions expert. Apart from the recent accidental death of Joe's, the make-up effects kid, mother, they live in a normally quiet town and keep themselves busy filming make-believe zombies. While on location for their super 8 movie in the dead of night, they solely witness a massive train wreck involving a truck with a person they know. The hurt man gives them a grave warning to stay away. Shaken up, they keep to themselves but as soon as the Air Force troops show to clean up, some bizarre things occur and it's up to the temp Sheriff, after the current went missing, and our little friends to find out the truth and take matters into their own hands.

Due to items and people disappearing out of the blue, the town feels under siege and holds a meeting but things aren't making sense apart from thinking it's the Russkies. The stand-in Sheriff sees a conspiracy closer to home as our own military refuses to say exactly what's in the cargo of the trains. It took too long to actually unveil the big mystery and eventually begins to lose some of its grasp when it initially began with thrills due to blocking your view point to show abrupt disappearing acts of civilians and property during wee night hours. The constant question is: What does it all mean? Not to mention that it better be a heck of a hot item when it's fully unsheathed: one that awes and glimmers and is saved last for hopefully good reason.

Pushing aside the mayhem and conspiratorial overtones, Joe and Alice, the actress from their movie, form a forbidden love due to their dads having beef, as well as some light drama with regret over the mother's death and growing pains with adapting were injected to make it more personal and dramatic than continually pulse-pounding. To lighten the load even more, there are some relatable jokes and good times shown with being an adolescent during the summer. The young actors portraying the roles have chemistry and managed to be candid and entertaining without being naturally annoying. It hearkens back to that good ol' period when you didn't always see the big picture of adulthood enough not to worry about the future instead of the now--which at present is both just so scary and astonishing.

"Super 8" has thrilling orchestras mixed with contemporary tunes of the era. This has jarring sounds, finely-tuned CGI to show over-the-top action and big explosions to knock your hat off, except they're more spread out than in the previews. It hinted how much power and leeway Big Brother has over its citizens and visitors to the point of black-and-white, closed-minded villainy. They attempted a quick wrap up by throwing out some forced sympathy for the now revealed mysterious entity despite massive property damage and trauma, as the justification for what's happening isn't entirely its fault. Though it would be like only watching the endings of "King Kong" and "Frankenstein," which did a similar "made bad by society" mock up, where the rest of the film showed evolution and gradually built up to genuine sparks of feeling. "Super 8" tried to jam-pack the experience with it all--some concentrated on, some not--and it felt like important answers were swept under the rug, as the tone shifts back again to the town people being just so relieved that it's all finally over and that the event brought them closer together.

Director: J.J. Abrams (Lost, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek 2009)
Starring: Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler