Super-8 is a classic example of the dispensable action/adventure film. I enjoyed it in the cinema, but had mostly forgotten it by the time I was out the Cineworld doors.
A film doesn’t have to be complicated to necessitate further discussion. Entering the cinema, Super-8 seemed like the kind of film that would warrant some comment on, say, the (brilliant) train scene, how awesome the monster was, how evil the American government were. Yet, after seeing it I’m left with little of note. There’s nothing about it to make it ‘sticky’, there’s nothing fresh about it. And no, that’s not because it’s a tribute to 70s adventure films; it still has licence to do something interesting. So I have some points to make, but far less than I expected.
Super-8 is considered a tribute most directly related to ET. But ET has its own backstory. If ET ran in the cinema today, most viewers wouldn’t be watching it for the first time. It would trigger a sentimental response in so many people, most of whom would associate the film with happier times. ET doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it has hooks in the past that will trigger a positive emotional response in many of its viewers. People were enraptured by the film as kids. They’re now old enough to spot the film’s flaws, but this critical-view is offset by their sentimentality. Super-8 doesn’t tie into any of these emotions directly enough, unless you are an American viewer who grew up in a town similar to the fictional one depicted. I like Super-8’s aesthetic, of quiet-town American life and white-trimmed bike tyres, but it only appeals to me as a setting, there’s no nostalgia involved. It’s as acceptable to me as Middle-Earth.
‘Tribute’ films such as Super-8, can insulate themselves from criticism. The target of a negative comment turns out to be a reference to another film, the critic now looks like a fool. Dr Who somehow gets a free pass on its shoddy effects because ‘they are a reference to the earlier Who seasons’ (while the people in charge of the budget laugh). Similarly, films can pass off questionable points as being a tribute to a film that you haven’t seen. If a Tarantino film does something and I find it pointless and stupid, that’s because I haven’t recognised a reference to some low-budget Japanese horror. I am not a cinephile and should shut up, as opposed to just being someone who thinks that ‘this scene does not work’. I’m all for films referencing their own, but ultimately a good film should exist in a vacuum, on its own terms. Super-8 doesn’t quite manage to be an enjoyable and re-watchable film in its own right, which is a shame.
It’s not without its plus points though. The previously mentioned train crash is a tremendous scene that works very well on the big screen. It becomes ludicrous as carriages and trains parts keep falling from the sky, narrowly missing the cast again and again, but that makes it no less enjoyable. Much like the bridge attack in MI3, JJ Abrams has created another great action scene.
One character, the director of the zombie movie, repeatedly uses the phrase “Production value”, which someone becomes funnier each time instead of more annoying. Abrams also pays tribute to the ‘broken family’ emotional lynchpin of many of Spielberg’s films. Joe, the main character’s mother died, leaving his dad to raise him. His love-interest is also raised by her father due to an absent mother.
I imagine there may be some who see the alien’s treatment as comment on American foreign policy. The alien was captured and cruelly treated by the government, it just wanted to escape and go home. Its violent response is understandable, given the abuse it received. However, nothing to me seems to suggest any purpose, besides the explicit, to this part of the tale. So shut up.