film 7 of 8

Super 8

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 4, 2015

It’s part of the film’s promotional campaign, but everyone involved also seem to be taking it seriously. Enough with the torch passing stuff! Spielberg and Abrams are not Moses and Joshua, after all. In fact, beyond that obnoxiously, doubly self-serving auto-myth about Spielberg’s teenage movie being preserved by the teenaged JJ, I don’t see much more than a very general, even generic resemblance. They both make noisy, obvious movies that pander a lot in order to make buckets of money.

Okay, this is also pretty fun. The opening shot very efficiently, very effectively establishes the whole plot, not to mention the whole setting. The after funeral dinner very efficiently establishes characters and relationships, prefiguring story without giving too much away. Also, with regard to our protagonist, the scene’s able blocking gives an excellent sense of how even nice and orderly young people are a kind of permanent outsider.

Okay, I guess both these guys are pretty effective filmmakers.

On the other hand. There’s a big sub-plot here about kids making movies. It has a self-referential, self-celebrating tinge to it. Is someone being a bit too pleased with himself here? On the other other hand, this filmmaking subplot does provide a good, modern, actual way for these kids to find and express themselves, to work things out in terms of who they are and what place they might have in the big world.

It’s also the site of a lot of happy comic and social invention and elaboration. I love that the movie detective is so reliably and admirably dumb. And that he barfs. And gets a compound fracture of the leg. The actual film within the film is pretty cool, all the way through, partly because it’s not symbolic, or a reflection of any bigger thing. It’s just dumb, resourceful, gleeful, energetic. Children don’t always have be symbolic, or idealized. And often, when they’re not, they end up being powerful symbols anyway, and even sweeter than the ideal.

This big/little dynamic gets multiplied in the town/army material. (It’s ET all over again, at least so far as the facile anti-establishment sentiments go.) To be fair, this could also be a simple genre convention, or requirement. And wait—adults not listening to kids is the great theme of children’s realism, so maybe Abrams & Co. are within their rights after all.

Super 8‘s nice little romance exactly counters and balances its cool monster sub-plot. It’s not merely romance though. This is male centrifugality, exhilarating, unsettling, dangerous, reeled back and redeemed by the centripetal, salvific female. This is so from the boy’s perspective! No harm is meant or done, and it’s probably flattering for women, for woman to be such an object of constant devotion. But girls need more than or different from this, don’t they? Intervening in the boys’ lives like some kind of estrogenus ex machina, offering such support for so little discernable reason. Then, with tender and appreciative condescension, getting whisked off and saved at the end.

Very interesting—Super 8′s creature is ET and the Thing from Another World, all at the same time. That’s actually kind of complicated, and kind of compelling.