Saturday, June 18, 2011

Super 8

As we were leaving the theater after watching Super 8, the wide range of reactions to it became readily apparent. Most of us liked it, and a few of us adored it; I was one of the latter. Some, however, called it the worst kind of sentimental schlock, Spielberg with a JJ Abrams monster grafted on.

I could not disagree more.

As I said, I adored it, and I think it earned every bit of sentiment it displayed. In fact, I think JJ Abrams was working at three very different levels throughout the film, only two of which were immediately obvious.

To understand my thinking, it helps to listen to this TED talk he gave.

The first and most obvious level at which Abrams was working was indeed the sentimental one that some people hated. Super 8 is a coming of age story with aliens, Abrams' own E.T., but without the divorce focus. His canvas is broader than that earlier film's, but of course quite some time has passed since E.T., and Abrams is working in the world that has seen that movie.

The second level was also obvious but very important: the autobiographical. The young filmmaker in Super 8 has the type of camera Abrams had when he was roughly at that same age and is also obsessed with film.

If you stop here, you can still greatly enjoy the movie, but if you hate sentiment or you can't stand young teenage boys, then Super 8 will not work for you, and you'll be tempted to write it off.

Which brings me to the third level at which Abrams was working. The opening of the train car that contains the alien appears to be the unleashing of the contents of the mystery box, but it's not. It's just the opening of one mystery box.

In Super 8, Abrams is confronting a great many of life's biggest, most intriguing mystery boxes: death, love, sex (only obliquely), the Other, creativity, and, of course, the notion of mystery itself. He's inviting us to tackle them with him, and he's suggesting that the best way to appreciate them is via our young selves, via the barely teenage versions of us that have yet to be hurt by a lover who leaves or turned bitter by a bad job or a failed relationship. He's telling us that a certain purity of heart and innocence is appropriate for such explorations, that to truly dig deep into the greatest of mysteries we must use our hearts at least as much as our minds.

That is what JJ Abrams is really doing in Super 8. The fact that you don't even have to notice those moves to enjoy the film and his great skill at telling a story that works on all three levels, make Super 8 a movie that will do huge box office and go on to become a classic.

1 comment:

Todd said...

Yes - so glad you had a chance to see this movie. I was looking forward to your synopsis - you state things better than I.

I concur that this will be a classic. I also think JJ Abrams will only get better and better.


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