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Massawyrm mulls over SUPER 8

Hola all. Massawyrm here.

SUPER 8 very much wants to be an Amblin film, so much so that it hits all the notes that one would expect from just such a film. That said, it is not an Amblin film; not in as much that it will be remembered among them and achieve classic status. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a wonderful film. I loved every moment of it. But it feels more like a great modern band doing a song in the style of an immortal classic band than it does that original band itself playing a new song. You get what JJ Abrams is going for, but it never quite becomes what it is trying so hard to be.

The biggest distinction between this and the films to which it is being so often compared is that it is, in concept, *trying* to be one of those films. Each of the films that inspired it – whether it be ET or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or THE GOONIES – started out as a really great idea that was then filled with great characters. This feels like Abrams worked backwards – creating great characters with very fleshed out arcs, only to add the science fiction later. This is, at its heart, a coming of age film. And on that front it is magnificently composed. The children are great, the love story touching and the setup of how they come together is everything Abrams clearly wanted to put on film.

But Abrams is once again playing by his “Mystery Box” rules, keeping things guarded and close to the chest in order to build suspense. Trouble is, this kind of thing only really works if we get a very real sense of what it is we are not being shown. In Spielberg’s JAWS or Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE – two of the greatest examples of “mystery box” films – we get a clear sense of the menace we’re not being shown. It is easy to understand, even if we don’t have a clear picture in our heads of the size and scope of the creature until late in film. SUPER 8 is high concept. REALLY high concept. There’s a lot of information to get out before the mystery is finally unraveled, and by then, those having trouble connecting to this film will have checked out.

It’s important to note that, at the end of the day, I love every bit of this mystery. But those that don’t, or won’t, will find this to be one of the major sticking points. Like CLOVERFIELD before it, they’ll wish to have seen more of this story told from a very different perspective. And the story you really care about – the one with the kids – could easily have been inserted into half a dozen other concepts and worked just as perfectly as it does here. In other words, this movie could have been split into two separate films without people having known they ever belonged together.

It is exactly the type of summer film I expect many to shrug off while we geek masses scream about its genius. The very best moments here don’t involve monsters or special effects; they involve children watching movies in their bedroom or being chased off by bitter, conflicted parents. For those of you that complain that there aren’t enough real stories or great characters in the summer season, this will prove to be an oasis amid a desert of stock characters and CG. Abrams proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he has to potential to make a lot more than just popcorn fare; there is a heart and soul to this that tells me he will be chasing an Oscar sometime within the next decade and that, if the story is right, he might well get it. In that way, Spielberg is the perfect mentor for him.

But the only way this will ever be spoken of along with the classics is for its deliberate attempt to be among them. It is a really great homage with its own perfect elements, but not an instant classic in any way. It’s just great – and one of the films you shouldn’t escape the summer without having seen. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Until next time friends,

Massawyrm

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