Like me, you may be looking forward to super 8 and the return of Amblin movies. As Amblin goes, this is more of the *batteries not included Amblin than The Goonies Amblin. It turns out to be a patronizing exercise in fabricated childhood emotion.
Charles (Riley Griffiths) is making a movie on his family’ super 8 camera. It’s 1979 and all his friends are helping. One night they capture a train crash on film and stumble upon a mysterious military conspiracy that unfolds as they wait for the film to be developed. This is the perfect vehicle for Joe (Joel Courtney) to deal with his grief over his mother’s death at the steel mill. What, you want a plot summary, right?
I should love a movie about child filmmakers made by filmmakers, but the young characters ring false. They speak in overlapping, unfocused interruptions, which is how teenagers talk today but not how I imagine kids 30 years ago talked. When Joe marvels about how the lovely Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), it’s pushing us to find it charming, not genuine puppy love. It’s a script problem, but also may be child actors a little wiser than the characters they’re playing, and being over-directed.
The film talk is so technical it loses any wonder of kids loving film. It’s funny when a background kid mimics talking on the phone, but otherwise Super 8 tries to teach kids about film rather than glorify the budding Spielbergs. Wasn’t J.J. Abrams one of them?
I was okay with the setup: the dead mom and the wake with kids talking about the body. I mean, you’ve gotta start with a broken family. Then it’s so patronizing how the child connects with the monster. I appreciate the values of it, but the execution was inorganic to the story. Devil had a great take on the same “forgiveness vs. angry aggression” issue, but nobody wants to hear that lesson from M. Night Shyamalan. When Alice comes to Joe’s room, you should feel something but it’s just “insert heart here.”
The train crash is impressive but obviously all CGI, or at least composited. It never feels like a scene is unfolding, just a sequence of money shots that the kids pretended to run away from on the set. By the time the action picked up, I hated the kids so much I just wanted to be done. It’s so mechanical it’s no fun. Don’t follow the D-bag, because they kill D-bags in movies like this.
The film builds a mystery, because you really don’t know what’s going on, but not a lot of suspense. There are a few attacks where the monster is obscured. It’s basically just Cloverfield with more money and less personality. Now the camera can spin around from more angles, and the lens can flare like in Star Trek. All the things Cloverfield avoided.
’79 puts this movie just before the era of the Amblin greats, and the references are simply irritating. I usually love references, but jokes about how nobody can develop film overnight? Yeah, that’s funny because we know they now have one-hour photo. And wow, a walkman, just like having your own personal stereo!