Super 8: Americana and Meh
There are only a few films which adequately capture the vibrancy of pre-adolescent childhood. When you are old enough to embrace and understand the joys, right before puberty takes you into a whole new world of sexuality, discovery and growth. These films almost always involve a group of young boys, with a token “girl who can hang” running around in the 60s, 70s or early 80s going on wild adventures.
Super 8, at one point, had the potential to be described as one of these movies.
You know: The Sandlot, E.T., The Goonies, Stand By Me, It and The Mighty Ducks. At the moment Now and Then is the only movie with more than two girls I can recollect, though it was not strictly set in time period as the really memorable films are. Most other flicks featuring ladies are either teen or adult oriented. Oh shit – totally forgot about My Girl. Wait, that was still just one girl. Damn. Loved that movie though.
Sometimes I wonder about the lack of lady representation in pre-pubescent adventure/bonding/feel-good movies and what that does to the self perception of our female pre-teens. I would just like to see an equal number of girls and boys in these kinds of films. It’s not a crazy request. Just ya know – REALISTIC.
Shit, I went to a birthday party for my niece today and just as many young girls were romping around the yard as young boys. What’s up Abrams and Spielberg? Set in a similar time period “That 70s Show” managed to blend guys and gals hanging out without imploding the sun. Soooo – figure it out!
It would be wrong to let this observation slide, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily deterred me from really enjoying the movie – it was just a bummer to note. I’m not going to be as militant about it as with X-Men: First Class, because that would imply a deeper caring about the material than I am capable of drumming up.
THE GOOD: THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
All of the depth came from the children – the two principle leads Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb and Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard held the emotional weight of the production. The chemistry between them – their quiet moments together processing the death of Lamb’s mother and their own attraction to one another absolutely held me captive.
Riley Griffiths as Charles Kaznyk was pitch perfect as the bossy zombie film director, but the crush he confesses during an emotional breakdown between him and Joe just didn’t carry over on-screen. There wasn’t nearly enough time devoted to the dude sidekicks for this to be a complete “kids bonding film.” It was sort of a buddy movie mixed with romance over a science fiction background. With a father-son grieving theme as well. I mean, shit – that’s A LOT of storylines packed into two hours of screen.
If you are looking for the kind of bonding and strong personalities that “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies” possesses, than you will be sorely disappointed. Aside from that kid with the braces and addiction to fire, the characterizations didn’t stand out for me, and actually smacked of tokenism. The chubby/bossy kid, the waifish blonde from the wrong side of the tracks, the doe-eyed everyboy and the other kids were just comedic fodder whose names we couldn’t be bothered to remember.
THE GOOD: IT’S A TRAIN WRECK
JJ Abrams can rock you to the edge of your seat. When it comes to a disaster – Abrams has that shit ON LOCK (or should I say, Locke?). He knows how to make explosions and fear resonate. He makes good use of those small, stricken moments during and after an intense action sequence. The dude is brills for this.
THE GOOD: AMERICA, FUCK YEAH
There is something warm and comforting about the late 70s and early 80s. I was born in 1982, so it’s not a childhood nostalgia. It’s perhaps a yearning for a time of safety and American prosperity. When jobs were plentiful, homes were mostly paid off and kids rode their bikes everywhere. It’s definitely white, middle-class, midland America but it feels like home. The nostalgia and American pride of the functioning factory town and community riddled with Union employees, the familiar sight of those beefy American made cars chugging down the street and the nasty brown and green decor…it makes me happy and sad at the same time.
If I could roll back the clock to a happier time for many people in our country, it would be the 70s. Good music, good weed, no AIDS, no internet (I know *gasp*). All the kids roaming the streets free from the helicopter-parents and instead being raised by a community. The kids building models, reading comic books and spending afternoons making movies and figuring out how to blow shit up.
I didn’t do all of that when I was a kid, but I did a lot of it. The 70s and America at this time feels so much more tactile. So much more connected to the people and things around them.
As much as I love the internets, Facebook, cellphones – all those elements of technology that benefit and add to my life in some way…I do think quite a lot about a time before instant communication and intangibility. It REALLY IS a different mindset. It’s a different America.
The innocence of our youth is still there. But the stability and safety of our communities? Not so much. I think we should be sad about that. We’ve lost a wonderful and vital part of American culture.
THE ALRIGHT: MONSTERS VS. ALIENS
The last 30 minutes – the emotional arch, resolution and choices made in the last half of the movie were quite disappointing.
Remember all those movies referenced earlier as being the ultimate “pre-pubescent kids bond and adventure together” flicks? Those movies stand out because they changed the game in some way. They told a unique story. They featured interesting or different characters. They did not follow a formula.
The same cannot be said for “Super 8.” Aside from the premise of the short film being created by the kids and the interesting dynamic that added – the monster/alien and limp emotional arch didn’t pull it from the shadows of what has come before it. Without those previous movies, this film might have stood on its own two feet.
But so much of it smacks of homage. Homage or mashup. And I’m fast growing tired of the Quentin Tarantino mashup of film making. That kind of style doesn’t make CLASSIC films. It borrows too heavily and adds nothing else aside from perhaps an interesting origin story (Abrams developed the film as he archived old super 8 films created by Spielberg). In fact, without that back-story I might not have given a fuck about seeing this movie in the first place. Maybe.
THE INTERESTING: ADULTS LIKE IT
Spielberg spins some kind of magical web that ensnares grown women and men into watching movies that by all rights should not be appealing to our age demographic. We should not be charmed or entertained by, or commiserate with youth at this point in our lives. The stories that captivate us should be about those who have freedom, agency and…cars.
Strangely though: we arrived in droves. Probably for the monster/alien and also for the nostalgia. Cause the trailer looked so epic. Who knows. But some pieces of it were magic.
THE CONCLUSION: MAGIC DOESN’T MAKE PERFECT
It’s weird that someone like me would make such an observation about adults loving kid stuff when the majority of my interests are about idling in childhood. Comic books, YA Literature, video games. I divide my time between adult and childhood pursuits. So of course this flick would be right up my alley. What surprised me is that so many others were just as engaged.
I only wish it would have been more memorable. I only wish I could have watched a classic movie about growing up and aliens. Instead, it was just Americana, homage, a sprinkle of magic and meh.
Bechdel Test: ”Super 8” features more than two female characters with names and DOES NOT PASS the women test, DOES PASS the men test and DOES NOT feature more than two minority characters who have names so it DOES NOT PASS the race test.