A throw­back to golden era of fam­ily movies

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

SU­PER 8

1/2 Star­ring Joel Courtney, Kyle Chan­dler, Elle Fan­ning, Ri­ley Grif­fiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso. Writ­ten and di­rected by J J Abrams. 112 min­utes, rated M (vi­o­lence and fan­tasy hor­ror), show­ing at Read­ing Cin­e­mas Porirua. Even ac­cept­ing the soft, sweet al­lowances of nos­tal­gia, there was some­thing very spe­cial about the fam­ily movies made in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Steven Spiel­berg and his ilk.

E.T., The Goonies, Grem­lins, amon­gothers, not only epit­o­mised won­der­ful cin­ema for the arse-end of gen­er­a­tion X, they came to sym­bol­ise child­hood.

Just as slasher pro­to­type Hal­loween came to em­body the wayward habits and hor­mones of teen cul­ture, these imag­i­na­tive sci-fi ad­ven­tures, en­hanced by er­adefin­ing spe­cial ef­fects, re­moved the blink­ers for eight-to-14 year-olds who had been reared on the small-screen sac­cha­rine of Lassie and The Won­der­ful World of Dis­ney.

We re­alised Walt was wrong, it needn’t be ‘‘a small world af­ter all’’, it could be a boundless ex­panse, and these pic­tures con­nected with kids in ways Star Wars and In­di­ana Jones sim­ply couldn’t. Video games, BMX bikes, comic books and toys weren’t just props, they were pow­er­ful mo­tifs in the hands of Spiel­berg, Richard Don­nor and Joe Dante.

All of this is the mer­cu­rial magic J J Abrams has tried to con­jure and cal­cu­late for his su­per­nat­u­ral throw­back, Su­per 8.

It’s 1979 in small town Ohio. Tweenage Joel (Joe Lamb) is busy help­ing his buds – bossy Charles (Ri­ley Grif­fiths), fire­works freak Cary (Ryan Lee), squarepegs Pre­ston (Zach Mills) and Martin (Gabriel Basso) – make a zom­bie movie, with dreams of win­ning a state-wide film con­test.

When he isn’t ap­ply­ing fake blood and makeup to his friends or, even bet­ter, Alice (Elle Fan­ning), an older stu­dent who has agreed to join the pro­ject, Joel is strug­gling to kin­dle a re­la­tion­ship with his po­lice­man fa­ther (Kyle Chan­dler), fol­low­ing the death of his mum.

Shoot­ing at the train sta­tion one night, the kids wit­ness a mas­sive crash in­volv­ing a mil­i­tary train and a pick-up truck. When some top se­cret cargo es­capes the wreck, the sleepy town turns Twi­light Zone. Peo­ple, an­i­mals and elec­tron­ics go miss­ing, and the army has been called in.

The tone, nar­ra­tive, young char­ac­ters and score en­sure Abrams’ nos­tal­gic in­ten­tions are ex­plicit, to the ex­tent you can work your way through a Spiel­berg checklist as you watch the movie: Wideeyed kids – check. Well-mean­ing but obliv­i­ous adults – check. BMX rid­ing at night – check. Cu­ri­ous alien gad­getry – check. Stone-eyed army men – check.

How­ever, this assem­bly does not feel laboured or coldly cal­cu­lated. The set­ting and char­ac­ters are beau­ti­fully es­tab­lished, par­tic­u­larly the friend­ship of the boys, fu­elled by peppy ban­ter and en­thu­si­asm, and the chang­ing dy­namic when Alice en­ters the frame (Fan­ning is the high­light among the like­able young cast).

As for the mon­ster stuff, this doesn’t turn out as well. I ex­pected a less pedes­trian ap­proach from the man who re- in­vig­o­rated the Star Trek fran­chise. Abrams may have shot him­self into a cor­ner by his de­ci­sion not to show the crea­ture un­til the last act of the film, as ev­ery scene where it’s an out-of-thecorner-of-the-eye blur or a non-de­script dark mass plays lame and ir­ri­tat­ing.

He didn’t need to build the pic­ture around the crea­ture’s mys­tery. He had some damn in­ter­est­ing young char­ac­ters and re­la­tion­ships to draw our at­ten­tion with, most of which get jet­ti­soned in the third act when the fo­cus turns to blow­ing stuff up. Yawn.

And when you do spend the bet­ter part of 90 min­utes build­ing up to a big re­veal, you bet­ter be con­fi­dent it’s go­ing to melt our eye­balls. It doesn’t. Abrams’ crea­ture looks like it was de­signed by com­mit­tee, a hodge-podge assem­bly of ran­dom ideas.

Worse, in try­ing to make his mon­ster one part Alien (ad­ver­sar­ial ter­ror) and one part E. T. ( sym­pa­thetic out­cast), Abrams fails at both, so the big fi­nale may be high on vis­ual spec­ta­cle but it’s light on emo­tional con­nec­tion – a key, if not the key, in­gre­di­ent in those won­der­ful movies he is try­ing to repli­cate.

Su­per 8.

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