Close Encounters of the Turd Kind: Super 8 Film Review

The Velvet Underground and Nico.

Is it bad reviewing to borrow from a bad review?

I hope not, because a line from Ian Nathan’s review of Super 8 (Directed by J.J.Abrams) in Empire Magazine will set up mine quite neatly. In his final summation, Nathan writes that Super 8 is a ‘homage to better times, and better movies.’ That solitary statement sounds reasonable enough so far (though ‘homage’ is a word to be distrusted – it too easily doubles up for ‘rip off’), but then…something incredible happens. A Gibbon, recently escaped from a chemical experimentation centre, picks up a rock and throws it at a pigeon, which loses all sense of direction and flies through a window into Empire’s offices. The Pigeon wreaks havoc, and smashes into Ian Nathan’s head – knocking him onto his key board and somehow, somehow, this awards Super 8 Four Stars. Four stars. I’m sure that’s the only way it could have happened, because in my incredibly balanced and level-headed review, I’m going to show that the movie is cheesier than a tramp’s cock, and maybe 3/4s as appealing.

Dizzied pigeons aside, Nathan does make a good point in saying that the movie is a homage to ‘better movies.’ Indeed, its downfall does stem largely from its derivative nature.  Super 8 takes several big movie clichés, and a few smaller ones, and tries to mould them into a sort of lumpen, movie-looking thing. And that’s what they have.

But first, a synopsis. A gang of plucky kids are making a home movie, when they witness a train crash. But this was no ordinary, run of the mill, boring train crash. There was something mysterious and dangerous on that train, and pretty soon the Air force are flooding the local village, and weird stuff starts to happen.

So lets address this movie cliché by cliché, and start with the gang of plucky kids. This is the most promising element of the movie, and the cast perform well considering the roles they have been saddled with. The gang consists of main character Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), his overweight best friend/ director Charles (Riley Griffiths), love interest/leading lady Alice (Elle Fanning), a ‘zany’ pyromaniac kid, a nerd, and another nerd. The hope is for some Little Rascals/Goonies style fun, and for the first ten minutes or so it looks like an almost charming film-making-as-coming-of-age flick might show up, a la Son of Rambow. Unfortunately this is sidelined by the train wreck and the intrusion of sci- fi themes. Even more unfortunately for the cast, the gags aren’t good enough, with not enough of the banter touching base (though one ‘Drugs are bad’ line is a high point). These kids are just like real life gangs of kids – fucking annoying. Apart from Courtney and Fanning none of the characters feel like anything more than sketches and you sense that a lot has been cut.  Cheesy and well worn as this material is, it’s the ‘young love’ strand between Courtney and Fanning that really grates. The old ‘learning to deal with girls’ issue is nothing new, and is saccharine enough to give you diabetes. Long, meaningful glances into each others eyes aretoo numerous and unbearable to watch. The only remedy for the schmaltz, in my view, would be to have a graphic scene where Joe plays with himself for the first time and thinks his pelvis is crying.

Jesus, I wonder how much shit I'm gonna get for this? I mean, like, every other reviewer loves this film! What the hell?

'What's happening to my body?'

Plenty more clichés to be found of course in the Sci-Fi/thriller element. After the pivotal train crash (which is pretty loud and noisy, and definitely the best effect) we learn that something weird was on that train. What it actually is should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen practically any movie, ever (the clue is in the title, and no, it’s not a turd).  There’s trouble all too soon and a number of paradigmatic thriller set pieces take place. There’s one sequence on an army bus, for example, which makes you wonder if you’ve wandered into a screening of Jurassic Park. The fact that Steven Spielberg is attached as producer cannot justify this. A lack of imagination is not excusable, especially in a children’s film. As well as being stereotypical, the action is also non-sensical. The Air Force plan to burn an area where they know the threat to be subterranean. For some reason, the menace’s presence is justification for tanks to shoot at random buildings and run over playgrounds. War breaks out for no reason, and its end is just as unnatural. There is no satisfaction when the threat is removed and the baddie conquered by Lil’ Joe delivering a speech right out of Roget’s book of platitudes – ‘Bad things happen, but you can still live.’ That’s, like, really deep and meaningful? As a resolution and a means of overcoming the obstacles it’s lazy, and renders most that precedes it pointless.

Better viewing in 1D.

Aww. Pricks.

Further clichés abound in ‘the letting go of a deceased love one’ theme. Joe’s mother, you see, has died in a sort of Milling accident. This theme is established subtly – the movie starts at the funeral and at the end Joe physically lets go of his mother’s watch in a metaphor whose transparency is so insulting that J.J.Abrams might as well be slapping you in the face with his cock while telling you to lose some weight. At least that would have some sense of originality. Occasionally the theme is evoked by nuance such as ‘telling lines’ heavily signposted by pauses and piano music, and film reel projections that Joe has somehow acquired of his mother cuddling him at Christmas. Seriously, the in your face-ness of this element kills all of the sympathy and emotional impact that this theme can and should produce. Something as universal as this should not be rendered so surreal and disengaging.

It is this sense of disengagement that turns the use of cliché from an irk into a real curse for the movie. If you were having sex with the movie (not recommended) you would be having sex with a reeeeaally thick condom on. Well worn concepts become well worn because they have been proven to land an emotional impact when well executed –  but none of the cinema standards that we see in Super 8 are examples of this. The coming of age element is barely seen through, and small developing bits of cheese (Joe and Charles’ love rivalry, Charles concern about his own gut) are left for dead, like mini Babybels in a bin. Not to mention the fact that the making of the kids’ movie, the whole focus of the title, is completely ignored until the credits. Where it isn’t funny. The sci-fi makes no sense, and is too easily resolved. The enemy is unthreatening and the action passé. Joe’s Dad never really redeems himself as an unsatisfactory father and his character is left in its permanent tight-lipped, uninteresting, gloom. The different cliché plots are muddled and often abandoned, leaving open questions and offering easy answers –  much to the audience’s dissatisfaction. Abrams is the creator of Lost after all, so perhaps he has form in this department.

Just like everyone else, I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to title this review ‘Super Great’ or ‘Super 8 out of 10.’  But I have been let down by a film that recycles (sorry, pays tribute to) not only Spielberg but a plethora of Cinematic stereotypes and even then cannot exploit them for any real effect.

So if you’re thinking of seeing Super 8, don’t, because you already have.

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