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SUPER 8 Post-Release Discussion
#1

"Do not speak of this. If you do, they will find you."

This movie is a mix of ET, CLOVERFIELD, and THE THING.  From the kids making their way through a huge event involving an alien, an alien that looks like the non-union Mexican equivalent of the Cloverfield monster, to the alien making an ad-hoc spaceship to escape the Earth.  At a meta-level it's like The Thing in that it incorporates so many things to become one amalgam, but it doesn't quite pull it off.

I'd say that the emperor has no clothes, but there's a lot to this to like.  Oh, and there really is no mystery.  Abrams needs to stop doing that.  If this is a little disjointed, it's because I just saw it and I'm kinda tired.  I can delve deeper if anyone's interested.

The worst aspect of the film is that it tries to do too much, and as a result things don't get fully explored and don't gel together at the end.  It's the story of a young boy who is on the cusp of, not so much adulthood, but growing up.  He experiences what feels like his first love/crush, has to deal with the loss of a parent, in this case the mother he was much closer to than the father, and an alien invasion.  The thing is that the alien invasion feels ancillary at times to the story of the kid, Joe Lamb, but they intersect in what is supposed to be some type of cinematic parallel I suppose.  But they don't really connect the events so much, since it's played like a monster movie, or rather like JAWS.  It makes the end not quite work, but I'll deal with that later.

The film has a group of kids making a zombie (of course) movie.  The train crash from the trailer, the subsequent military invasion/containment of the situation provides "production value" as a backdrop for the this kid's Super 8 flick.  But as the stories intersect more and more, the kids get more and more drawn into dealing with the alien.  For the most part, quite a bit of this work.  Elle Fanning is pretty damn awesome in this, and the kid playing Joe does well with the kid who's kinda just there, but grows as he deals with this new girl in his life as well as having to deal with what he wants in life while dealing with the death of his mother and a distant father.  To note, in the group of friends he is not the leader.  The husky kid is the leader, he's the makeup guy, he makes things look good, but he's not the center.  He grows, partly as a result of Alice, the girl, and ends up taking off to rescue her when she gets captured by Juan Cloverfieldo.  The journey is mostly good, or at least worthwhile.  But it can feel shoehorned into it, or at least the the other stuff is shoehorned in.

And therein lies the problem.  We get a good amount of the kids, though there are too many to get invested in all of them, not to mention the death of the parent subplot.  As a result, the whole alien aspect feels much more of a set piece generator/plot instigator than something that causes the characters to react to and develop at times.  We're supposed to have some empathy for this thing, but like the Cloverfield monster, it's more seen at the sides than a character itself.  ET, for instance, made ET a central character so when ET was dying we felt more for it because we've been following it's journey throughout the movie.  Either the kids should have been streamlined, or the character subplots should have been.  The death of the mother ends up not being all that important, and just kinda exists to be pointed out at certain times.

Also, the alien in this is a monster, until it's not.

As a result some of the character resolutions feel forced.  Joe dealing with the death of a parent, as well as what seems like a loss of faith in parental authority doesn't parallel so much to why the alien shouldn't just try to kill everything.  To note, the alien was captured, maybe the Roswell thing (I'm not really sure), and tortured and examined to figure out it and its tech.  Like the alien in The Thing, it wants to leave and is building a jury-rigged ship to escape.  It kills some random people as well as the Air Force guys sent to reclaim.  Joe insists, to the creature in the only real scene in which they interact, that not all people are bad.  Which is something I guess he kinda learned growing up so quick?

This confrontation occurs because the alien grabs Alice, and Joe and his friends go after her.  They face malfunctioning military tech with tanks going off and machine gun fire as they make the journey to the alien's lair.  Joe, being more of a leader, insists on going after Alice.  So I guess he's growing up, and taking a stand, even against the "adults" who aren't always right or just don't understand.  Kyle Chandler does pretty well as the distant father, and does make the father figure that could easily come off as a jerk feel more like someone thrown into a situation that he's not prepared for.

By the way, one of the kids should have died.  There's a tank blowing a hole through a wall they're standing next to and the worst thing that happens is one kid's leg gets busted up.  Weird stakes since the rest of it feels fairly real.  This ain't the Fratellis.

Anyway, the alien decides not to kill anymore people , despite it eating people before, and leaves in his magical spaceship because Joe convinces him that not everyone is bad.  They're just human I guess, doing their best, like Joe's father, Coach Tyler.  Seriously though, the end of the movie feels like JJ Abrams thought that it was running long and needed to shorten the ending.  It's like macro-level nanotech spaceship magic.  Everyone learns something about each other, and are able to accept the flaws in others.  But the alien.  I'm supposed to feel for this alien, but it's portrayed offscreen as a monster for the most part.  It also goes into its character.  It runs around naked and yells a lot and kills people, even though it had a spaceship and is smart enough to jury-rig another.

At least ET could talk and get drunk.

Still, I liked the kids for the most part, even though they should have dropped one or two to develop the others.  And the cast is all pretty good, even the kids who usually suffer the most in these types of movies.  The film drags because of jumping to too many plots, but the characters carry it well for the most part.

It's a Spielberg movie made by people that didn't know what exactly made a Spielberg movie work.  If you make a kids' nostalgia Goonies Monster Squad movie, you can't put in Jaws as the alien and expect there not to be any seams.  The monster/alien is a presence, but not a character.  If it needs to be one, it should be that, but you can't jump back and forth.

I liked it, but it's not something that I see myself constantly revisiting as I would ET.  Oh, and c'mon JJ, drop the lens flare.  Seriously.

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#2

Not to  pimp out another site, but Devin's piece on Abrams over at BAD is a fantastic summation of the weird cult surrounding the guy.

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#3

The film is summed up by the alien. When it's teased, there's promise, but when the film has to deliver, it's curiously unmemorable.

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#4

There's a great final release poster at http://www.movieposterdb.com/poster/fa44e527. check it out.

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#5


Quote:
Originally Posted by Aussie View Post

There's a great final release poster at http://www.movieposterdb.com/poster/fa44e527. check it out.


How about I fuck your mother? Oh, you'll never read this because you joined only to spruik some shitty poster then disappear forever?

Well, god damn.

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#6

I really, really liked SUPER 8, but I don't think it's nostalgia porn like Devin suggests.  I do agree that it's two movies stuffed into one, and some of the shifts between the two are handled awkwardly.  But unlike a lot of reviewers, I liked the alien story quite a bit.  The alien isn't exactly a character, I'd agree, but I thought the build up to the creature was well done even though Abrams does drop the ball a little bit in the final story.

But the kids?  They're great.  All of their performances are genuine, and I bought them wholeheartedly.  I liked the relationship between Kyle Chandler and his son, and Elle Fanning and her father.  If Abrams had figured out how to nail the landing with the alien story this would have been a lot better than just good.

My daughter, though?  She freaking adored this film.  Just went nuts over it.  She laughed and jumped at the scary parts, and the best thing about SUPER 8 for me was seeing it with her and her reactions to it.  I think kids are going to flip for this movie.

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#7


Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan "Nordling" Cerny View Post

My daughter, though?  She freaking adored this film.  Just went nuts over it.  She laughed and jumped at the scary parts, and the best thing about SUPER 8 for me was seeing it with her and her reactions to it.  I think kids are going to flip for this movie.



What age you think will like this?

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#8

No CHUD review? And no review from Drew at HitFix, either? If I didn't know better, I'd say the film wasn't screened for critics.

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#9



Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post

No CHUD review? And no review from Drew at HitFix, either? If I didn't know better, I'd say the film wasn't screened for critics.



Drew reviewed it a week ago.  As did Devin.  Not sure what the embargo situation was.

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#10

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rando View Post


Drew reviewed it a week ago.  As did Devin.  Not sure what the embargo situation was.



Really? Man, I missed those. Will go digging. Thanks.

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#11

It's too bad this alien invasion movie had to have aliens in it. Otherwise, it would have been my favorite movie of the summer.

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#12

I guess I'm having a selfish response to this movie. I made Super-8 movies with my friends when I was 12, and sometimes I think it was the best period of my life. So I was hoping for Super 8 to deal more consistently with the actual filmmaking, that perhaps these kids would just keep shooting throughout as chaos reigned and that their project would end up incorporating all that spectacular one-of-a-kind material. (Seriously, how does this movie NOT feature someone whipping out a camera during the spaceship climax? Even Close Encounters did that.)

I'd love to see (or make) a movie that communicated the thrill of shooting photochemical film, when you knew you only had three minutes to a reel, and that you couldn't erase or re-record, and that you'd have to wait a week for processing to see if anything worked. As it is we never see an actual film cartridge, or a footage meter counting down, or a projector being threaded.

In Super 8, the central gimmick is supposed to be that these kids accidentally film something super-secret. But by the time anyone views or has heard about their footage, half the characters already know that something VERY weird is going on and the movie completely forgets the film-within-a-film concept until the kids' project runs under the end credits. And judging from "The Case", the events of Super 8 don't seem to have affected these kids in any way aside from shooting that one scene at the wreck site.

But enough about me and the filmmaking career I never had. On its own merits, Super 8 seems about a draft away from a script that could have really tied everything together. The period detail is ridiculously cluttered, and the clutter seems uniform from one house to another. I did appreciate the nod to those great Aurora monster kits, and I'm pretty sure there was a TIE fighter model in there somewhere. Fanning is spectacularly good and the filmmakers were smart enough to give her a couple of showcase scenes. The kid who plays the fat director is kind of terrible.

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#13

Nice insight HH. I played with Super 8 in my time, but mostly for animation. The  financing was another aspect I felt that was missing - shit was pricey and you knew the value of every frame. Instead, Fatty just steals from his parents and problem solved. Where are all the mowed lawns, paper routes and car washes? The sacrifice? It made a shooting day a BIG day.

I must say those Monster kits were something I'd forgotten. As you say, a lot of the period detail was garbled (1950s bikes in that first School's Out sequence, then BMXs and 70s curvy framed bikes thereafter), but those monster kits really rang a loud bell for me and I never even owned one. I knew kids who did and that locked down the suspension of disbelief by quite a degree for me.

The "Production Value!" set up (and set up and set up and set up) weirdly seemed like it was missing a beat or pay-off. Firstly they don't even frame/record the passing train for it's supposed value (Tip: a waving a flashlight and a piece of cardboard off camera would create the same effect on the girl that the train ultimately has), but mostly it seemed like this kid was supposed to be SO keen on "production value" that a whole train load of Hollywood FX is delivered at high speed as if to order. I kinda expected a beat in there somewhere where the kid realizes there's such a thing as TOO MUCH production value. Even flipping back to the model train at the end seemed like that was meant to be connected to that theme. In fact I felt like there were a lot of dropped beats and bits of funky timing that seemed to defeat the dedication the movie shows to the Spielberg playbook in all other respects.

The Middle-Draft problem looks to be on the money. I felt that just when the movie started to be it's own thing and you started getting into the lives of the characters, the script would hit a page from the initial rough where it was just a conglomeration of moments from that period of 80s Amblin/Amblin-esque movies - like after that nice bit with the girl and the boy watching the super 8 film projected on his bedroom wall suddenly (acting as an emotional intermediary), they chuck in this moment straight from Explorers with the alien grommet blowing a hole in the wall. It's like that had been put in there earlier as a scene-ending idea before the dialogue was written and they had a sense of the scene's stand-alone strength. I don't doubt that's a reference that will be lost on most viewers, but it seems indicative of a fragmented/incomplete screenplay full of temporary page-filling swipes that accidentally made it into the final movie.

I did like that the fat kid was pre-growth spurt in the first bit of The Case. Somehow, that implied stretch of time between starting and finishing made it seem like it actually WAS an important thing to this small fat kid, rather than the over-sized spoiled brat he is during most of the movie.

Fanning is interesting, particularly within that cast.

Playing the spot-the-clone casting game on this I got:

Main Kid = Sean Astin (Doppelganger)

Fat Kid = Vern/Chunk (Archetype)

Brace Face = Data in White Face (Racist!)

The dark haired kid = Bastian/Daryl (Doppelganger)

Fanning = River Phoenix (Reincarnation)

Monster = Cloverfield (Pirate Software Download)

Tall Kid = No idea (Filmmakers also didn't seem to know what he was - he should have been the good looking, slimy one)

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#14


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nardo View Post
As you say, a lot of the period detail was garbled (1950s bikes in that first School's Out sequence, then BMXs and 70s curvy framed bikes thereafter), but those monster kits really rang a loud bell for me and I never even owned one. I knew kids who did and that locked down the suspension of disbelief by quite a degree for me.


Not 'jumbled', but 'cluttered'. As if Abrams told the prop department "Send me all your '70s stuff" and they sent it all and he put every last piece of it in all the sets. Every wall has something chunky hanging on it, every flat surface is piled high with... stuff. That could have worked if it was only, say, the fat kid's house that was like that, for contrast.

Good catch on 'Charles' growing taller. Missed that.

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#15

Now that I think about it, Charles' kitchen table was ridiculously cluttered.  I don't see how they can even use it to eat it given all the stuff that was constantly on it.

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#16


Oh:

Quote:
Originally Posted by neoolong View Post

Juan Cloverfieldo



Kudos to you, sir.

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#17

You know in many ways, this is JJ Abram's "Superman Returns".   It clings so fetishistically to the Amblin/80's Spielberg look and feel that it forgets to tell a cohesive story or try to make its own mark.  It's not as bad as "Superman Returns" but nowhere near as fun or effortless as "Star Trek".     It's just a hard movie to critique because the stuff with the kids and the coming of age stuff was nicely done but the alien stuff seemed so underbaked in comparison.   I don't mind having seen it but I was expecting so much more.

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#18

Just got back, and I was with it until the scene with Joe talking to the alien about how it understood the thing's pain.  It took everything in me not to just laugh out loud at the sheer corniness of it.  And it only got cornier from there.  In a better movie, that bit where he lets go of the necklace would have packed at least a minor punch.  As it was, it did nothing but make me roll my eyes.  The kids are all great, and refreshingly natural.  Nothing showbizzy about any of them, though Elle Fanning gives Kristen Stewart a run for her money in the Mopey Olympics.  The tension and scares work well.  The action is well-shot, and I caught a lot of little winks and nudges to E.T. and Star Wars, from the flashlight scene in the cemetery to the kids constantly saying how they have a bad feeling about this.  I really can't quite put a finger on what would have made this better, but it falls in the "good, not great" category for me.  Crowd seemed to love it though.  Hearty applause at the end, and nearly everyone stayed through the credits to watch "The Case".

The dad just magically forgiving the other guy for his wife's death in a quick scene when he's spent the entire movie pissed about it was a big WTF.  Weird that I just saw this movie and cannot remember anyone's names.

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#19

Worth mentioning...

I weirdly saw this in a huge audience of kids. Biggest, and only applause from them other than the end? Kyle Chandler's ninja escape sequence from the military area.

I've always liked Kyle Chandler, but I gotta say, he was so so so excellent in this. I think he finds the depth of character in a cliched role of the stern-but-caring father, and really delivers in the moments with his son where he's clearly being tough to overcompensate for a lack of knowledge about being a single father. Really great, subtle work.

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#20

The necklace bit would have worked if they hadn't milked it by having the lid flip open to reveal Mom's picture. WE. GET. IT.

Meanwhile, I realized something else: There's nothing Spielbergian at all about the first crush/young love subplot. That's a different genre, one that SS to this day has never actually explored in his own films.

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#21

The whole family feud thing bugged me. As long as they don't spell it out, you think the guy just made a mistake and killed Joe's mom. Fine. Then they go into a spiel about how he was drunk and didn't show up for work and so Mom was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which seems a pretty thin basis for Kyle Chandler to decide to arrest him when he comes to her wake and forbid his son from associating with the entire bloodline. Would Jack be as pissed if he had missed work because he had a cold, or was waiting for the cable guy to show up?

Also, the scene of the entire military misfiring bugged me in a very nerdy way. I get the monster interfering with electronics, but tanks and guns are entirely mechanical. Making those malfunction seems like stopping a hammer from making a nail go into a piece of wood. With that kind of power, how was it even captured or held? Couldn't it just stop the hearts of everyone in a one-mile radius? Especially when it's able to just bust out of its cage.

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#22

Somebody nailed the alien when they said it`s teaser scenes are excellent, but but seeing it in action in the third act not so much.  It`s essentially a more intelligent less killy version of Jaws.  I think my friend nailed the description as Goro and Cloverfield having a love child.

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#23

Yeah, I thought it was a drunk driving incident. Which makes the kid getting in the car that may have killed his mother a little disturbing. But I can't think for the life of me what job that alcoholic dude would do that the kid's mother would be able to stand in as his replacement. Power to the Sisters and all that but they really seemed like quite different physical types.

Quote:
Originally Posted by avian View Post

The whole family feud thing bugged me. As long as they don't spell it out, you think the guy just made a mistake and killed Joe's mom. Fine. Then they go into a spiel about how he was drunk and didn't show up for work and so Mom was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which seems a pretty thin basis for Kyle Chandler to decide to arrest him when he comes to her wake and forbid his son from associating with the entire bloodline. Would Jack be as pissed if he had missed work because he had a cold, or was waiting for the cable guy to show up?

Also, the scene of the entire military misfiring bugged me in a very nerdy way. I get the monster interfering with electronics, but tanks and guns are entirely mechanical. Making those malfunction seems like stopping a hammer from making a nail go into a piece of wood. With that kind of power, how was it even captured or held? Couldn't it just stop the hearts of everyone in a one-mile radius? Especially when it's able to just bust out of its cage.


The power being displayed was Psychokinetic. Which means the remote moving of physical objects. But yeah - where/how was that level of power being generated? Was that what the creature was building? A kinetic electromagnet of some kind to draw in all the cubes (smash them out of their crates etc)?

I wish they'd used that water-tower image a bit better. Like seeing more and more stuff sticking to as the movie progresses. Seeing the cube rattling against it just made me think it was trying to get thru the tank to the other side and off into the hills or whatever.

Also, was it just me or did those dogs "running away in sheer terror" at the gas station look like the jolliest bunch of pooches you ever saw in your life? I was thinking up until the map bit, that the alien was eating them T-Rex style.

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#24

If it was stated, I can't remember, but was it ever said why the dogs were being taken in the first place?  The alien wasn't eating them, so why were they vanishing only to pop up in different counties?  Was the alien just fucking with people by taking their pets away?

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#25

The alien had me until it started eating people. I feel like Abrams wanted the loneliness and yearning to get home of ET, but the bite and horror of Clovie/War of the Worlds and I stopped hoping the alien would get away when he had that person's foot in his mouth. I understand it, he's been trapped here a while, but they go through great psychic pains (of the telling, not showing variety) to make it seem like the thing is just misunderstood and then blow it when it starts killing people. Also, the central premise of 'sometimes bad things happen', I can see that working for someone who lost his mother in an accident, but when you've been stranded on a distant planet for over twenty years, tortured and dissected, that stops being a 'sometimes bad things happen' scenario and starts becoming a 'willful evil in this universe out to destroy you' scenario. I may have applauded, or at least gone 'oh shit!' if the alien had straight up eaten Joe at that point.

Kids were great though. Abrams can know childhood dialogue really, really well.

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#26


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nardo View Post

The power being displayed was Psychokinetic. Which means the remote moving of physical objects. But yeah - where/how was that level of power being generated? Was that what the creature was building? A kinetic electromagnet of some kind to draw in all the cubes (smash them out of their crates etc)?


I get telekinesis, but only applicable to firearms and military vehicles? If the monster has that level of power and control, why is it wasting time picking people up and scarfing them? It's like, I don't know, one of us trying to toast bread with our breath instead of dropping it in a toaster.

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#27

I thought it was obvious that (A) the alien's effect on technology was magnetic, not psychokinetic, and (B) all the dogs ran away because they sensed the alien's presence before the humans did.

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#28

I just got back from seeing an early-morning screening. It was okay; I felt like the emotional core of the movie was mis-*LOUD CRASHES / ALIEN SOUNDS*

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#29

Shit "telekinetic" is what it should read. Psychokinetic is Akira-style mind powers yo. Though obviously the creature is telepathic too.

I'd argue some kind of rough Alien Tech Telekinetic Engine over magnetic, simply because THAT'S WHAT WE SEE IN THE MOVIE.

Is it well thought out? No. Like the creature itself, it exists only to serve the requirements of the plot and general spectacle/Spielberg Riffing.

Yeah, the map shows a relatively neat ring of Doggy GTFO. Standard "Animal Sensitivity" trope in SF/Supernatural tension-building scenes.

Juan C eating people was just really poorly thought out. They should have had it eating/mutilating cows for the UFO lore tie-in. Having the victims hung upside down was just a piece of lousy business that served nothing. The girl was snatched for no really good reason and she would have been fine if it hadn't chosen her for a last minute snack before leaving in his spaceship.

It even raises the question of why they're unconscious beyond being a plot device. Does the creature have the ability to telepathically stun people? I would have loved to see evidence of that throughout the movie rather than limp Spielberg riffs. If it has to eat bulk meat, let it chow cow.

EDIT: LOL at D.T.

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#30

I think this is a solid entry in the Amblin lineup, about as good as the last movie in this spirit, which was the much less hyped Monster House.  It would be no great trick for somebody to punch holes through this one, but it was fun and I was surprised to find the kids to be uniformly good.  And here's to one day seeing Noah Emmerich in a role where he isn't a dick.

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#31

What a half-assed film. The only thing that redeems it is the idea that maybe the monster is kind of an incarnation of Joe Lamb's grief, lashing out against the world -- and since the movie draws big parallels between the boy and the creature, I think that metaphor can be conjured effectively. The problem is, even if you take a psychological reading of the movie's entire narrative, we're stuck with a Spielberg-approved E.T. rip-off. The monster is an outward manifestation of inner turmoil in both films, satisfying desires for connection and understanding -- for E.T. this is a lot more fleshed out, of course, since in Super 8 we only get that scene at the end to really draw the connection between Lamb and the alien.

That's why the whole movie fails. There is a hell of a lot more effort spent on building up the monster as a being of wanton destruction than anything deserving of our sympathies, and so that moment between the two of them in the tunnel falls flat. So I guess I'm agreeing with all the people who say it's two movies mashed together incoherently, since the reason, thematically, that they're mashed together in the first place is extremely tenuous and basically tacked-on. Also this movie is fucking boring. The kids do all of nothing for 45 minutes after the train crash, just hanging around pretty much. Why can't they go looking for the alien almost immediately, giving us some narrative drive? Instead they wait three days while the film gets developed doing jack-shit and "bonding," I guess, in the case of Lamb and the girl, even though the poor writing pretty much prevents that from happening.

I gotta say though, I LOVED the beat where he lets go of the locket. Just a fantastic visual metaphor and maybe even iconic -- it gave me chills actually. It is so good that Abrams probably came up with that moment first, and then worked backwards from it.

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#32

Super 8 is the best sequel since Leonard Part 6.

Nah, sorry, I haven't seen it yet. I overslept the opening midnight show. I'm sure it's okay.

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#33


Quote:
Originally Posted by JMulder View Post

I gotta say though, I LOVED the beat where he lets go of the locket. Just a fantastic visual metaphor and maybe even iconic -- it gave me chills actually. It is so good that Abrams probably came up with that moment first, and then worked backwards from it.



Agreed 100%. That moment is so great that it is a shame that the rest of the film couldn't live up to it (and yes, when the locket opens up it's quite on-the-nose, but it absolutely works as a case of classic Spielberg audience manipulation).

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#34

Yeah man. Another slightly on-the-nose but more subtle bit (which I think slipped under the radar for a lot of people in my theater) comes during the first confrontation scene in the house between Joe and his dad, when the father claims that the town's safety is now in his hands because the responsibility's fallen to him after the disappearance of the sheriff -- "there used to be someone else, but now I have to do it alone" he says, or something to that effect (I'd like it if anyone could remember the exact line). And immediately after he says those words, both characters realize how applicable they are to their own situation and how fucking hypocritical he's being by NOT applying the same logic to the problems confronting his own family.

It's the kind of really important, weighty character beat that the movie is otherwise devoid of: in one concise little moment, it shows that the father's motivation for "saving" the town is to make up for his failing to emotionally connect with his son after the mother's death, and is directly related to his struggle to adjust to the burdens of being a single father. Of course, it seems like it was almost an accident, a nugget of drama Abrams just kind of stumbled across, since the movie seems to be inept at making any more connections of such genuine emotion.

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#35

I actually kinda loved it, flaws and all. Yeah it was manipulative and the confrentation witht he ailen was definatly a "what" as Carey said when the ailen ran off. But it worked for me.

My favorite carachter bit was Charles asking Joe if he could "do this without him". The whole big brother kinda thing.

I saw it in a theatre with that Regal RPX...that train crash was freaking epic. Best sound I've ever heard.

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