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Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Super 8

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Produced by: Steven Spielberg
J.J. Abrams
Bryan Burk

Screenplay by: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Joel Courtney
Elle Fanning
Kyle Chandler
Ron Eldard
Noah Emmerich
David Gallagher
Riley Griffiths

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Larry Fong

Editing by: Maryann Brandon
Mary Jo Markey

Studio(s): Bad Robot Productions
Amblin Entertainment

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): June 9, 2011 (Australia)
June 10, 2011 (United States)
August 5, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 112 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $50 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $220, 089, 773

Outside of the movies I've been watching for review (believe me, they are still coming, despite my near/week-long absence), such as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and tomorrow's Cars 2, I've been seeing a lot of classic films. Kurosawa's Drunken Angel and Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity would teach many filmmakers how exactly to use tension in a film. Also, on the reviewing side of things, I will be seeing for definite Final Destination 5 and I Saw The Devil, the new Kim Ji-woon film, and hopefully Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, Cowboys And Aliens, The Smurfs, Spy Kids 4 and One Day. As you can see, I'm still pretty freaking busy!

Super 8, today's film, is the latest to come from J.J. Abrams, most famous for his work as the creative force behind Alias and Lost, producing Cloverfield and directing the latest feature-film instalment in the Star Trek universe, 2009's eponymous Star Trek, a film I like very much. Steven Spielberg produces the new Abrams film, which initially had a marketing campaign reminiscent to that Cloverfield, but later was marketed as a throwback to film's in the 1980s such as Spielberg's own E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Robb Reiner's Stand By Me. In the summer of 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) loses his mother in a factory accident. His father Jackson (Kyle Chandler) has one of the wake's attendees Louise Dainard (Ron Eldard) taken away in handcuffs. Four months later, Joe and his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) are working on a low-budget zombie film, and convince Dainard's daughter Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the protagonist's wife. When they are filming a scene at a train station, Joe witnesses a truck drive onto the tracks, which derails the train. As is the case with movies of this sort, things go amuck and the army arrive to contain their 'property' in a rather secretive and dubious manner.

To start with praise on Super 8, the young cast must be applauded. Each member is instantly likeable, and the screenplay is written as such that they are given their own personalities (on another note, one of the kid's looks the spit of a young Jaz Coleman!). Nevertheless, there are three I would like to applaud specifically. Joel Courtney is wonderful as Joe Lamb, and has a tough range of emotions to master, and does so with grace. He lends a tremendously three-dimension quality to the character and gives Henry Thomas in E.T. a run for his money. Elle Fanning is also great, taking a character that could have been fodder and giving it real depth and humanism. Finally, Riley Griffiths' Charles is the film's scene-stealer. His is the character who could have been most annoying, but instead his passion/obsession in making his film comes across as endearing and his insults of the people around him are hilarious. This is easily one of the best supporting male actor roles of the year. As is expected in a J.J. Abrams film, the film's technical wizardry shine throughout. Zack Snyder's regular collaborator Larry Fong does a great job as cinematographer and the film's co-editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey also do fine work. An important part of the film is the score by Michael Giacchino. For those of you who don't follow the blog, I often have problems with orchestral scores, but here it really works. Giacchino's score adds another layer of pathos to what is already an emotionally strong film and gives us one of the year's finest in film music. Finally, this is really a project of passion for J.J. Abrams, and this passion is the skin that keeps the film together.

That said, whilst J.J. Abrams' work as a director of this film are praiseworthy, his screenplay, though full of well-written characters and dialogue, is less praiseworthy. As a throwback film, it is inevitable perhaps to be compared to film's such as those mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, Super 8 does not stand out from the pack and despite being a great film is one of the, if not the most cliched film I have seen all year. I won't indulge heavily, as that would give away plot spoilers, though to be truthful you could see them a mile away. Our lead protagonist Joe of course has lost his mother and has a busy workaholic father, the military comes into the small town of the fictional Lillian, Ohio in a suspicious manner etc. etc. How many times we have seen this before I don't know, and for a film that is so praiseworthy, it is infuriating that it was not as original as it should be. Not just plot details, but the structure of the screenplay, seems to revel in a bath of cliches that we are expected to just accept because Abrams has delivered an already great film. Well, to be frank, I don't!

If you can overlook the serious overabundance of cliches (which I can't), Super 8 contains just about everything you'd want to see in a film. Heck, even with these cliches, it is still a great film. The young cast, specifically Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Riley Griffiths are great, and Kyle Chandler who plays Joe's dad Jackson. As is expected from a J.J. Abrams film, the technical aspects of the film are pretty solid, and the film also contains an unexpectedly powerful orchestral score from Michael Giacchino. Finally, though an auteur's work it stands pretty cliche and unoriginal, Abrams' passion for the project shines through and gives us a thoroughly entertaining film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very pleased

P.S. Shows my great skills as a review, but I forgot to mention the production design, the costumes and the special effects. This film has a great, naturalistic mise-en-scene that puts us firmly into the world that the character's inhabit

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