Super 8 (C+)

Written by: Mike Sergott

Sat, Jul 2, 2011

Starring: Amanda Michalka, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler
Directed by: JJ Abrams
112 minutes

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In Super 8, J.J. Abrams has made a homage to Steven Spielberg. Despite being set in the 1970s, this is a full-on, modern-day E.T. (there’s a decent amount of guns, explosions and crashes throughout… perhaps Abrams expressing displeasure with his mentor after Spielberg went back and digitally deleted all of those government agents’ hand guns and replaced them with bananas or hand sanitizer or whatever hell those were).

The only problem? I never liked E.T. As a kid, I barely tolerated it. As an adult, I can’t stomach it. Too sugar-coated in that way only Spielberg can (ie, only through a child eyes can we capture the ‘wonder’ of things and appreciate people different from ourselves and outsmart government agencies… y’know, bullshit like that).

Super 8 follows that blueprint exactly, with a liberal sprinkling of Goonies thrown in to amp up the “kids on an adventure” factor. Now, I’m under personal strict orders never to criticize Goonies in any way, under penalty of divorce. But to be honest, this particular gang o’ kooky kids is what makes the movie somewhat appealing. Instead of trying to save their parents’ house from foreclosure, they’re just some bored kids in the ‘70s trying to make a zombie movie on their Super 8 camera (and yes, they had me at zombie movie).

Along the way, while sneaking down to the train station late at night to capture some realistic background shots for a pivotal scene, they are witness to (and almost victims of) a horrible train wreck. When the train’s mysterious cargo escapes, enter the military to (a) immediately go into cover-up mode and (b) destroy the “cargo” at all costs.

Stereotypelab

Let me say this: I know several people in the military and not one of them is anything close to evil (well, maybe one). I also know one government agent and, while he’s a little slow on the uptake sometimes (we don’t call him Mr. Potato Head for nothing), he’s as nice a human being as you’ll ever come across. So it always starts my eyes rolling when the government descends upon small town folks with nothing but evil in their hearts and destruction in their agenda.

Of course, the small town adults are not much better – this being a JJ Abrams production, we are bound to have daddy issues up the hoo-ha. With almost no women to be found, the single dads include a guilt-ridden alcoholic and the still-grieving-after-his-late-wife’s-death, no-nonsense deputy sheriff. Since we already have an alkie, the sheriff has to express his grief by simply looking sullen and getting mad when his son plays with his friends (all of whom seem to be pretty good eggs).

No, it is only the wide-eyed, well-adjusted (despite the warped environments they grow up in) young boys and girl who have the open mind to understand what’s going on, act on it and, ultimately, connect with the aforementioned “cargo” in order to save the day for cargo and humans alike.

Plot holes you could drivce a spaceship made of spoons and old TV parts through

To go into much more than that would give too much of the plot away. Suffice to say that on the one side, the children and their zombie production have enough charm and humor to make things enjoyable almost throughout… however, on the other hand, the stereotypes , plot holes (the kids simply escape the military outpost by… getting in a car with a stoned guy and driving away? Really?), and cheesy life lessons (much like Lost, the key lies in letting go) can leave you gagging on your popcorn as you exit.

Oh, and one last thing: despite my comparisons between this and E.T., be advised this is not a kids movie. My 5 and 6 year-olds would’ve been terrified by the train crash as well as the violence exhibited by human and non-human alike. Adults only, please.

The verdict

Plenty of people loved E.T. And given the current crop of shitty summer fare being forced on us this season, you could do worse. So I’m giving this a B-, although I have a feeling by the end of the year I’ll be course-correcting this down to a C+.

Rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some nudity.”

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Mike Sergott has written 209 articles for Appetite for Deconstruction.

Mike Sergott is co-creator and staff deconstructor for A4D. Due to his unorthodox-yet-versatile style of journalism, many have referred to him as "the Fat Lever of the Internet.”

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