Steven Spielberg is one of the most beloved American filmmakers of all time, the visionary behind classics as diverse as Schindler’s List and E.T.; J.J. Abrams developed a couple of popular TV series and sci-fi films, and lent his able directing chops to the Star Trek reboot. Aren’t you just salivating over the prospect of collaboration? Perhaps of the kind Spielberg was able to establish with the similarly distracted George Lucas on the Indiana Jones films?
Don’t count on it fella. We live in an age of diminishing cinematic returns, where summer films arrive with an avalanche of hype and stars, only to deceive us once they hit the big screen. Super 8 is no exception, amassing such an unbeknownst level of fanfare that it couldn’t help but eventually disappoint. It professes to be a beacon of clarity and wonder in a crowded blockbuster marketplace, but director Abrams struggles to define the film beyond the shadow of his mentor Spielberg.
…a competent 21st Century blockbuster…
The set-up is promising – early 80s mid-western suburbanites produce a zombie flick on super 8 film stock, yet unexpectedly document an alien escape in the process. Abrams is on surer ground with this aspect of the film; the kids have an easy-going authenticity surely encouraged by the story’s autobiographical weight for the director. But the film cannot conjure up the singularly eerie atmosphere of the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist, which Super 8 so desperately strives to evoke.
Runaway dogs, thunder and a hovering military presence proceed in identikit faux-B-movie fashion to a well-executed climax. Watching this film, we’re reminded of the sheer skilfulness by which Spielberg, the key reference point in all of this, was able to manipulate us, scare us, thrill us. Abrams’s well-marshaled film then, while not without its own pleasures, is only a competent 21st Century blockbuster, and despite its efforts, assuredly not a thing of wonder.