Super h8ed it

Posted by · 11:14 am · June 6th, 2011

Where to begin on “Super 8?” It’s so clearly the kind of film directors tend to make, unmolested, after a major hit, the kind where someone really needed to be pulling the strings and smoothing the edges and seeing the forest through the trees. “But I’m J.J. f***ing Abrams.” (I’m sure he’s a splendid chap.)

It’s a nostalgia wank, but you already knew that. I find myself wondering if the pitch meeting was little more than Abrams promising Steven Spielberg that the famed director’s oeuvre would be all but gilded and bronzed right there on the screen. But that can be forgiven…if there’s a story.

And there’s not. Well, there’s not a complete story. There’s a lot of mayhem that feels injected into a coming-of-age yarn that itself needed some tinkering, and then there’s a climax that is meant to bring it all together, but ultimately whiffs worse than Begbie’s scratch in “Trainspotting.”

The “script” for this film is like a frame made of fishing wire, so flimsy the high concept stuff (which definitely could have used some more time in the oven) weighs it past the breaking point. I found myself looking for reasons throughout to just forgive the film its hastiness because there is some great child acting on display, some genuinely visionary filmmaking craft and an overall vibe I wanted to submit to.

But that climax. God. It might be one of the worst-conceived in a film of this sort. Sinks the whole ship. Reveals the stark-naked emperor.

What’s really unsettling is that the nostalgia thing — which could be on the dangerous precipice of becoming a trend — begins to feel exploitative after a while. When I saw an arbitrary Batman poster on a character’s wall, I started to wonder if Abrams has simply found the pulse, picked his spot and mined the flow. He might be a legitimate geek, but he also knows how to push the right geek buttons, whether they’re organic to his story or not.

I was going to get into spoiler stuff, but I can’t really drum up the interest to do so. There are so many unmotivated instances (“We have to get to the cemetery! Let’s go through this neighborhood so we can have an out-of-place set-piece and go into this house because we’re seeing all these other houses get destroyed!”), so much potential squandered (the central puppy-love story betrays Elle Fanning’s clear talent by establishing her as little more than a cipher — and don’t get me started on Coach Taylor) and such an undercooked narrative that it’s kind of depressing to wallow in the specifics.

(On the lens flares: I dug them in “Star Trek.” They served a purpose in that film, i.e., to give the impression that there was always something exciting happening just off screen. It was thoughtful. Here, they’re borderline self-referential, and simply don’t make stylistic sense.)

Ultimately I think Abrams might have done well to cut back on the sci-fi “bigness” of this project, accoutrement that literally serves no thematic purpose, and scale it back to his interesting characters and how their lives play out in this sort of Stephen King-like community. But the movie is what it is, and despite being a spectacle film that will draw attention and ought to have redeeming characteristics in that vein, I would have a hard time recommending “Super 8ā€ at all. It’s far too unsatisfying on even the most basic storytelling level. It might not be a bad film (though I wonder), but it’s definitely not a good one.

(Readers who will no doubt ask about Oscar potential: It’ll be in a contender for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. Some consideration might circle Michael Giacchino’s score. I would discontinue talk of anything else whatsoever.)

ADDENDUM (6/10): The comments section indicates the level of umbrage some took with my perspective on this heavily anticipated film. I’m sensing that something I originally felt didn’t need saying, probably needs saying after all: I welcome any filmmaker’s vision that attempts to draw a line of tangible emotion through what would otherwise be little more than an entertainment. J.J. Abrams has succeeded in at least sparking that rarity this summer, and maybe others will look to this example — however not-quite-there I might believe it to be — as inspiration to go there, too. It’s a business of dollars, but I honestly believe it’s also a business where good intentions are more often there than not, so while I’d actually pay for a summer without something like “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” I’d equally pay for a summer WITH something like “Super 8.”

[Photo: Paramount Pictures]

→ 142 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily · Reviews

142 responses so far

  • 1 6-09-2011 at 12:50 am

    Rebecca Parker said...

    Just got back from seeing it as I’m on vacation in New Zealand, and I thought it was fantastic. Is it a bit of nostalgia fanwank? Sure, of course. It feels like a combination of Close Encounters & ET & The Goonies with a touch of Jaws. But I thought it was fantastic – moody, well paced, great score and some terrific acting. Sorry you didn’t like it Kris, but I think you will find you will be in the minority on this one.

  • 2 6-09-2011 at 2:36 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Maxim: No conspiracy theories necessary. Kris and I would both rather be posting than not posting — for the good of our readers as well as the site. Apologies for the lull, particularly on my end — there have been unwelcome distractions. More material coming your way today, though.

  • 3 6-09-2011 at 7:44 am

    reallydude said...

    I’m shocked as to why this is so surprising to so many. Kris, you lack the basic skills to be a true critic. The truth is, you’re rude and unable to discuss the opinions of others without elevating your own. I say this because I have seen you do so for a good many years now and have truly given up on you or the ability take you serious in any way. I come here to get insight on film from Guy and others, not to watch you bully your readers.

  • 4 6-09-2011 at 9:35 am

    Jack Pig said...

    For those of us who were underwhelmed by MI:3 and very impressed by Star Trek, how are we likely to rate Super 8?

  • 5 6-09-2011 at 9:47 am

    David said...

    Saw the film last night at a press screening. Gotta say, I agree with Kris. I didn’t hate it as much, as there were elements that were done well, but when all was said and done it added up to nothing. Story story story… good acting, great action sequences and absolutely no emotional investment. The ending was terrible.

  • 6 6-09-2011 at 1:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    reallydude: Who’s bullying readers? If you make a dumb-fuck offensive statement, you’ll be called out on it. Sorry that rubs you the wrong way. As for being a “true critic,” I’m long (emphatically) on the record as stating I’m NOT a “true critic,” nor do I want to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion and can’t convey that opinion with a-little-better-than-basic English.

  • 7 6-09-2011 at 5:38 pm

    qwiggles said...

    Full agreement: super bore. That said…

    “I have no doubt a number of critics enjoyed the film, but when you read the reviews, there is an apologetic tone here and there for admitted issues therein. I guess Iā€™m just not willing to extend that tone just because of when a film is released and what is released around it.”

    I don’t know: the hedging tone one finds in a lot of the ‘it’s good, but…’ reviews seems to be only tangentially related to it being a ‘feeling’ movie coming out in the summer; which reviews do you mean? The gist of the B-B+ range seems more like: if only it had the balls to keep from degrading into a rote monster movie, what with all those good child actors. Not too far from your take in content, except in tone — they just liked it more.

    And on the other side, the raves don’t sound especially apologetic. The EW review also seems more concerned with depictions of ‘American summertime youth’ than with summer as a soulless release season, with that early potshot about superhero movies aside.

    At any rate…let’s say the critics who like it are banding together to say this one, for all its problems, is kind of sweet? Beyond the fact that this didn’t make up for the incoherence of the narrative for you (or for me: what a POS), why is this necessarily a problem? While it’s had an enormous marketing push, it’s still a new property that’s been sold haphazardly. There’s a good reason you hear a touch of advocacy in the positive reviews, just as you did in the ones for First Class, which was soiled by its predecessors.

  • 8 6-09-2011 at 5:44 pm

    Rebecca Parker said...

    Well, my “review” which, as you may put it, seemed “hedging” as I mentioned that yes, it felt like a “nostalgic fanwank” (not sure if that’s the correct term) was really more admitting that maybe, if they bothers you, it may stand out to you – but it’s not anything that bothered ME. Was it a perfect film? No, it had slight issues. But I don’t think there is such a thing – you can find fault in everything. I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year and very well done. Seems, to me, more that people who don’t like the movie are picking apart what the people who DO like it are saying just to somehow devalue our opinions. I don’t begrudge people not liking it (although I am disappointed) and I wish people wouldn’t begrudge those of us that do.

  • 9 6-09-2011 at 7:28 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    qwiggles: In truth, it’s not a problem. Not for me. Just an observation.

    Rebecca: No begrudging. I haven’t read your review, but there’s just a big imbalance in the critical community vis a vis what is and isn’t forgiven in mainstream cinema.

  • 10 6-10-2011 at 6:17 am

    Sophie said...

    I have read Guy and Kris’s film criticism for several years, but have made no comments. I have enjoyed the perspectives offered and made up my own mind by going to see the films I have had an initial interest in. Sometimes I have agreed with one or both of them. Sometimes I have disagreed. The point is I made up my own mind. I wasn’t a lemming. The only problem I see in the debate about Super 8 are those of you who have decided not to go simply because Kris didn’t like it. Are your opinions about film really in such lock-step synchronization with his? Wow! Maybe you were separated at birth. If you were looking forward to the film, go see it.

  • 11 6-10-2011 at 11:13 am

    corran horn said...

    Filipe: I’m with you on Cowboys and Aliens. Despite the goofy title, I really like what I’ve seen and heard thus far. As for anything on the level of District 9, Inception, and Dark Knight, I sadly doubt it. Hopefully, next summer’s promising lot (Prometheus, Gravity, TDK Rises, etc) will make up for this year’s lackluster crop (one of the worst I’ve seen in a while).

    As for Super 8 itself, I’ll be seeing it next week sometime (after I get back from apartment hunting in Boulder CO). I have no problem with Kris not liking it. He and I have generally been on the same wavelength these past few years. I’d happily take him over Wells and Poland any day.

  • 12 6-10-2011 at 11:41 am

    Noah Nickels said...

    Dood, your review is so far off base its borderline trolling.

    The lens flares were clearly used as foreshadowing, how you missed that is beyond me.

    How can the sci-fi be ‘accoutrement’ as you say, its a fucking movie about a giant space alien? jesus man, its like you wanted to use that word and were going to force it in there no matter what. the sci fi “bigness” is not an accessory it is the crux of the flow. And it doesn’t smash your face, abrams actually takes half the film to evolve the back stories and develop the characters.

    this is a prime example of hating for the sake of hating. contrarian just to be different. are you sure this review wasn’t written by Armond White?

  • 13 6-10-2011 at 2:13 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Trolling on my own site. There’s a first.

    But let’s see — the lens flare as “foreshadowing.” If it were a singular instance, I might buy it as a retro technique being employed, but it’s obviously a part of Abrams’s arsenal as it is and it just doesn’t work.

    I think maybe you don’t know what “accoutrement” means, but that’s what the sci-fi elements amount to on the screen. In fact I think they’re borderline clutter.

    If, as you suggest, the sci-fi “bigness” is indeed “the crux of the flow,” it’s an even bigger failure. But I actually see the “crux of the flow” (Do I get to make a snarky remark about how you must have been dying to use the word “crux?”) is the journey of the main character toward letting go of the past — unfortunately that’s played too much on the surface to have a deep impact.

    I’m sorry you think I’m “hating for the sake of hating.” I went into “Super 8” hoping to love it. It was, in fact, one of the few films of the summer I was looking forward to seeing.

    But I’m glad you think you know more than I do where I was coming from when I typed out my honest assessment.

  • 14 6-10-2011 at 2:28 pm

    noah nickels said...

    *** spoiler alert***
    The lens flares we see throughout the film are the exact same lens flares we see when the lights of the air force glint off the departing spaceship. It’s a continuation effect employed to engage the viewer and subconsciously re-enforce this was the fate of the alien all along.

    You are entitled to your own opinion dood, your review just came off as, to use your own words, snarky.

    how is the alien clutter? what is this movie with the sci-fi elements? what is goonies without a treasure map and search? I really dont get what you’re driving at. How are the sci-fi elements an after thought?

    would you have liked them to delve more deeply into why he was here in the first place, his mission, his planet what we learned? but you yourself say the heart of the story is the protagonists journey to acceptance, how much more do we need to add in the sci-fi? its certainly not just mere salad dressing.

    you’re absolutely correct and i retract my statements about your state of mind, it just touched a nerve, because i honestly felt you are being overly dismissive. clearly you have a movie mind, but i don’t feel you are using it in this instance.

  • 15 6-10-2011 at 2:43 pm

    Shane said...

    ‘Lens flare as foreshadowing’ – gimme a break. So what were all the lens flares for in Star Trek? They’re an irritating stylistic device which distracts you from the fact that the nothing cuts together in a meaningful way.

  • 16 6-10-2011 at 3:38 pm

    Sophie said...

    You do yourself no favors by trolling your own website. Your nit-picky word analysis of some of the posts is just a convenient way of avoiding the points being made by the authors. When you aren’t telling someone they used the wrong word, you are far too defensive for someone who is comfortable with your knowledge of film. Saying less would serve you better.

  • 17 6-10-2011 at 7:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Noah: I think you’re misreading me slightly. I’m fine with the alien as a concept, but it feels half-baked, as others surely have pointed out (so it’s not some left-field perspective). Therefore it just feels like clutter when the real power was the relationships developed between the kids.

    I didn’t necessarily need an in-depth study of that aspect of the script, but I have to say, the moment it wraps itself up, it felt…cheap. Flimsy. There was nothing there, ultimately, and “bad things happen” doesn’t cut it. For me, anyway.

    Sophie: Are you addressing me? If so, I’m not following. It’s not trolling to engage discussion. (I was making a joke with that term, which was placed on me, by the way, by the commenter I was addressing.) What do you mean nit-picky word analysis? I’m just addressing the arguments made.

    Boy, there sure are a lot of pissed-in cornflakes and hurt feelings in this thread…

  • 18 6-10-2011 at 8:04 pm

    DylanS said...

    I haven’t seen “Super 8”, but having just re-watched “Star Trek”, I feel safe in assuming that Abrams uses them only as a signature stamp to indicate that it’s an Abrams work, also a means of breaking the fourth wall to occasionaly remind the audience that they re watching a movie. It’s sort of like what Alfonzo Cuaron did with the digital snow hitting the lens in “Harry Potter” and the blood splatter in “Children of Men”. At least that’s my interpretation.

  • 19 6-10-2011 at 8:18 pm

    Sophie said...

    Kris, Have you ever considered writing riddles for a living? You may be the only critic/blogger I have ever read who has a real shot at reviving that lost art. You have a real flair for not really answering your critics in the most inventive ways.

  • 20 6-10-2011 at 8:21 pm

    Andrej said...

    It’s because this is one of those ‘big’ movie which everyone seems to marry to before they’ve even seen it. If a criticism just as harsh had been applied to a rather low key film, no one would bat an eyelid for it, guaranteed.

    Not trying to be a whiteknight here, but geez, this isn’t worth getting all flustered for. It’s not like Kris is criticizing your mom or anything, it’s just a friggin’ movie.

    :-/ Stop getting so personal about it.

  • 21 6-10-2011 at 9:45 pm

    Alex L. said...

    Seriously guys, everyone just go see the movie for yourself! Whether your thought on movies match up with Chris most of the time or not. We go to the movies to be entertained, enlightened, and once in a blue moon, touched. My taste also matches Chris but after reading Chris’s Inglourious Basterds review then seeing that movie I knew that movies are a personal experience. If someone told you to jump off a bridge would you do it? (BTW I loved Super 8 a lot. My favorite Abrams directed feature so far!)

  • 22 6-10-2011 at 9:47 pm

    Alex L. said...

    Oh and I would really like to know Guy’s thoughts on the movie when he gets to it!!?!?!?

  • 23 6-10-2011 at 10:30 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Still not following, Sophie. You must know something I don’t know.

  • 24 6-11-2011 at 2:52 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Alex L: I’ll be sure to let you guys know. Quite intrigued myself.

  • 25 6-11-2011 at 2:52 pm

    Sophie said...

    I would never claim that. That is the difference between you and me.

  • 26 6-11-2011 at 3:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Claim what? What are you talking about?

  • 27 6-11-2011 at 3:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Sophie’s recent detour into confusion aside, I do agree with her initial statement here. No one should take someone else’s word for it. See the film. (And see the addendum to this review added last night.)

  • 28 6-11-2011 at 3:23 pm

    Lesley said...

    Well, I loved it! JJ Abrams did a superior job at emulating Young Spielberg than Michael Bay or even… god forbid… old Spielberg! (have we all forgotten the nostalgia attempts from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?)

    And stop picking on Kris. He’s confident in his opinionsand sharp with his rebuttals but he also has feelings. Let’s be grateful that this thoughtful website exists in the first place and of all the coverage he does for you guys FOR FREE…

  • 29 6-11-2011 at 5:33 pm

    Sophie said...

    Just read the addendum. While perhaps a conveniently forgotten afterthought, at least you finally engaged directly with your readers complete thoughts, rather than mere semantic differences. Bravo!

    And Lesley…for free??? Are you really that naive?

  • 30 6-11-2011 at 6:06 pm

    Lesley said...

    How much do you pay to come here and read this content? Are you really that jaded?

  • 31 6-11-2011 at 8:53 pm

    Vinci said...

    Super h8’ed too. Just wrote my review. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Thank you Kris Tapley.

  • 32 6-11-2011 at 8:53 pm

    Sophie said...

    Lesley, Your original claim was that Kris isn’t paid for this. That is what I am referring to. Kris, I now have more sympathy for what/who you have to deal with on this site.

  • 33 6-11-2011 at 10:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think the point Lesley was making was that the content was free, not that I’m not paid for what I do.


  • 34 6-11-2011 at 10:31 pm

    Lesley said...

    Yeah, that was pretty clear. Sophie must know something we don’t know, not that she would ever claim that though. That’s the difference between you and her, Kris.

  • 35 6-12-2011 at 12:23 am

    Nick said...

    I saw it before I read any reviews, and I gotta say, I had the exact same reaction. And for everyone that went completely bat sh*t crazy over this review, why would you even be reading reviews in the first place if you aren’t willing to listen to somebody’s opinion? I don’t agree with Kris’ reviews all the time, but he’s still probably one of themost honest and reliable critics that I know of.

  • 36 6-12-2011 at 9:36 am

    Vinci said...

    I don’t remember the lens flares from Star Trek, but I found Abrams’ use of them very distracting. In fact, I didn’t know what lens flares were until I read your review. At the time of viewing, I thought there was something wrong with the IMAX projector.

  • 37 6-13-2011 at 6:21 am

    Joseph W said...

    Agree on the lens flare. It was okay in Star Trek. Cause there was a lot of lighting inside the ship. But in this it was just – what? made no sense.

  • 38 6-13-2011 at 12:21 pm

    Sawyer said...

    Super H8ed it.

    Just kidding. I think I was more entertained than Kris, although he didn’t really get into that, but I had many of the same issues, especially with the script. Definitely no better than Cloverfield, and a not nearly as good as Star Trek.

  • 39 6-13-2011 at 5:50 pm

    Dan said...

    I am a longtime reader of this blog and have found it it to be one of the most informative and discerning film blogs on the web.

    I recognize that as film fanatics we have a variety of strong opinions about the art form we love and I have disagreed with the bloggers on this site many times. I was one of the minority who felt The Dark Knight was not worthy of an Oscar nom in a field of five. I loved Super 8, because although the plot was spotty, it accurately portrayed my own junior high fantasies. I appreciate the general professionalism of the opinions

    I don’t mean to be a snob, but if you are going to critique the contributers to this site, which you have every right to do, at least do it with a degree of maturity. If you want to be an a**hole about it, start your own blog.

  • 40 6-13-2011 at 6:47 pm

    Kyle T. said...

    The film did not work for me at all, and I agree with almost all of Kris’s critique.

    As a Canadian, and one raised in an urban setting, I wonder if maybe the film plays better for Americans, and specifically those who relate to the small town upbringing of the kids in the film. I had the ‘average’ Canadian childhood upbringing in the 80’s (although the film appears set in the 70’s) and found myself unable to connect with the idealized version of childhood Abram’s struggles to bring to life.

    I’m the last person who wants a vapid, empty entertainment, but I almost feel the opposite of Kris, that it would have been more successful as a straight on thril ride, and left all of the ‘stand by me’/’goonies/’et’ isn’t childhood great stuff out, instead of the much needed (and missing) complexity of something such as Lost or Alias (hell, even Star Trek)