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Super Eight— Not Super Great

In the age of wonder when Stephen Spielberg was weaving his magic, there were a whole series of sci fi thrillers which became classics almost instantly— including of course E.T. and Closer Encounters of the Third Kind. These movies were almost instant classics because there was a sense of wonder to them,  the aliens were approachable— shoot they were even lonely and wanted to phone home, and the kids who liked the aliens stole the show of course.   These were not creature features meant to scare the wits out of our children, but rather gentler explorations of the possibility of contact with aliens.   J.J. Abrams new movie,  Super 8 is something of an hommage to Spielberg’s earlier work, and the latter is in fact the executive producer of the film,  but this film, though it has some good elements and good moments,  is not E.T.— by a long shot, though it will certainly remind one of that movie.

Let’s start with the basics.  The film is set in small town Ohio (Lillian Ohio) in 1979.   The film gets its title from the kind of film being used by some teenagers to film their own version of a zombie movie, hoping to win an Ohio film festival award.  The film they are making (which we get to see at the end of the actual movie as they role the credits— so stay for the credits) is strictly amateur hour and makes for a smile.  But what happens in the movie itself is that these teens, while filming their zombie flick accidentally film not merely a train wreck, but a deliberate train wreck that involves the alien in question.    The film moves along at a rather slow pace (it’s an hour and 52 minutes long, but seems longer)  until all Hades breaks loose in the last 30 or so minutes of the film.

What is good about this film?  Well it involves some likable children, characteristic of many of the early Spielberg films and especially E.T.  The wonder, naivete, and nerdiness, as well as awkwardness of the teenage years is presented in a way that produces some knowing smiles of remembrance.   One child is a pyro who loves setting off cherry bombs and the like.  One child is the overweight film director, self-conscious and striving to transcend his own form.  One child is the sensitive child who has lost his mother recently in a tragic car accident.  One child is the blond daughter of a blue collar single parent dad,  who is perpetually down on his luck, and one child is tall and plays the leading man.   Together they provide us with an ensemble cast that is much more likable than their pre-occupied or overly stern parents.   The story is told from the point of view of the kids,  which enhances the sense of wonder and shock and awe in the movie.

As so often happens in alien movies, we have the macho military types who are the bad guys trying to control the alien, or prevent him from leaving earth, and they in turn are the cause of most of the mayhem in the movie.  Your tax dollars at work.  Local law enforcement ends up at odds with the Air Force.

This sense of threat, and profound misunderstanding of the alien are of course classic examples of Spielbergian themes at work.   Unfortunately Abrams quite unnecessarily over does the military overkill theme. We could have used more character development scenes between the teens or between them and their parents.  This movie ends up being somewhere between an E.T. like film and a creature feature.  This alien is not cute, like E.T.  nor can he talk.  He seems to be a cross between a spider and the alien in ALIEN that Sigourney Weaver had to tangle with.

The small town feel of the movie is played to good effect, but there are too many unexplained elements in the story.  Why in the world is the alien a subterranean creature?  How in the world does the army know where the kids are hiding out towards the end of the film?   Why exactly does the good guy deputy sheriff have to be so estranged from his good son?   We are never told.

Still, there are some special and humorous moments in this film.  It is neither just fluff, nor another summer popcorn special for airheads.  But it could have been so much more.   It’s not super great, but it’s not bad either.  It’s E.T. lite— less filling, tastes not quite as great.

  • Matt

    Wow, do you have an editor-in-chief??

    First off…

    I don’t agree with your stance on the film, I thought it was a great, fun film that surely was an homage to Spielberg and 80′s films of the like, but I’m not even commenting on that alone, as I surely appreciate and value differing opinions.

    The reason I am commenting is the BLATANT grammatical and spelling errors throughout your article. Please pass this off to another set of eyes to proofread or of course your chief editor. I can’t believe I’m reading published articles full of blatant errors like this. Online content is already undervalued as it is in this day and age, please do not further this stereotype, and essentially putting people like yourself out of business.

  • Matt

    By the way…

    I thought you were some snot-nosed 24 year old blogger, but just realized you published over 40 books, and appear to be at least in your mid-50′s by your pic.

    ….sigh. Even worse.

  • http://www.oscarsflickpicks.com Oscar

    Matt, in one respect you are correct: blatant errors in grammar and syntax are inexcusable when the ability to correct them is readily available.

    But, on the other hand, this IS just a blog, and I’m willing to bet that Ben had to rush through his review because of other obligations. I know what it is like since I also blog on movies and such, but I have the luxury of spending one or two hours getting each sentence and thought correct. Even THEN some obvious errors get through, much to my obsessive chagrin.

    As for the content, I have to agree, the movie was just so-so as art form, yet acceptable as just entertainment. I’m still waiting for that “Summer Blockbuster”. It has been, so far, a disappointing movie summer.

  • Ben Witherington

    Gentlemen: I found 2-3 errors, total, and corrected them, so I am uncertain what you were seeing. I also ran this through the patheos redline check, and there are no redline errors. So, I must confess I am at a loss as to what you are referring to. Do enlighten me. Not a bad movie, but not great.

    BW3

  • Matt

    Well within the first 4 seconds of reading:

    1. Stephen Spielberg (Google)

    2. Closer Encounters of the Third Kind (Google)

    3. Hommage (…………………..Google)

    Anyways, @Oscar, you are correct, just a ‘blog.’

    But again, in the emergence of the “blogosphere” in the last several years, there’s a lot of bloggers who then dub themselves “journalists / writers” overnight, simply because there text gets published onto a screen. This would offend REAL, professional journalists who have started in print, and honed their craft for years and years (and no… I’m not a writer nor journalist).

    That being said… after posting my first comment, I then read Ben’s quick bio to the top right, and was shocked that he has over 40 published books, and is easily in his mid to late 50′s.

    Again…. I thought he was the standard, 20-something “blogger.” If this was the case, the errors are somewhat expected, as you would assume a seasoned writer / journalist would never, ever let one type-o or syntax error easily escape.

    And Oscar, just like you said — “when the ability to correct them is readily available”

    FREAKING GOOGLE! PLEASE!

    ANYWAYS… in all honesty, I’m sorry for being picky. I’m a business owner who just fired my secretary for having at least 1 – 2 grammatical / spelling errors in 99% of her correspondences. It’s very crucial to appear professional in my business, and things like this just bug the hell out of me, sorry guys.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    I have no editor for blog stuff, and I type with two fingers. Thanks for the help with the corrections. I don’t treat things on blogs as publishing anyway. I’ve written best selling books which do have editors. I treat blogs as like being in a chat room, and so should we all, in my opinion. It’s a draft of ideas subject to correction, put out there for discussion but I take your point about using Google and being more careful. I’ll do more proofing in the future.

    Blessings

    Ben W.

  • Randall

    Good job Ben! The Pharasees are ever with us! Picky, picky, picky! Gosh, I hope my syntax and spelling are correct! Get a life, Matt!

  • Another Matt

    Evidently Matt is one of those guys who wants to get online and correct all the errors on the Internet. Good luck with that!

    In the mean time, you might consider googling “I’ve got too much time on my hands” and see what you find…

  • Matt

    Well, in all fairness and reality, it’s the first time I’ve ever commented on a message board guys, believe it or not.

    It was just the combination of myself not agreeing with the review, and “Stephen” Spielberg and “Closer” encounters of The Third Kind that set me off like a perfect storm.

    No harm done, and again — don’t mean to be picky guys, but….. above are BLATANT mistakes, especially in the context of reviewing a Spielberg movie where you use the wrong spelling of his name, and wrong title of one of his classics……..

    Again…. call me picky, but it’s just coming from a “credibility” standpoint, which I think Ben recognizes after my pointing out.

    So please, other users — don’t act like it’s not warranted. Picky? sure…. but valid in its context.

  • Stephen

    I liked the movie. But I grew up on ET, The Goonies, Stand By Me, and great Spielberg films. It was easily the best movie of this disappointing summer (so far – Cars 2 isn’t out yet). I thought the best thing about Super 8 is that it treated kids with respect (something not seen in a lot of current fare).

    Super 8 was certainly better than the stuff Spielberg and Lucas have been putting out recently…

  • Kevin

    Matt:

    I’d appreciate it if you made your comments gender neutral. I’m sure men and women read this blog and using the term “guys” is not appropriate blogging etiquette.

  • Matt

    Sheesh, so which is it??

    General blogging etiquette must be “gender neutral,” yet on a MOVIE REVIEW we can butcher Spielberg’s first name, AND the title of one of his classics… AS LONG AS we’re gender neutral of course!

    Oh man… nevermind everyone.

    I just originally pointed out blatant, editorial mistakes in the context of a movie review (sue me)…. yet everyone calls me picky, and criticizes me for not being gender neutral.

    Well, perhaps I’ll just become a blogger myself, have no disregard for spelling, syntax, grammatical, referential errors, publish it on the internet, but then make 100% sure I’m gender neutral.

    okay, got it.

    ….

    Look, I’m sorry for not being gender neutral (simple mistake that is more forgivable then spelling the title of a famous movie wrong), but again — I was simply pointing out mistakes of this review — that’s all.

    And I’ll apologize AGAIN for being “picky” about the fact that the author butchers movie director names and titles on a MOVIE review.

    Alright, I’m done — sorry once again everyone.

  • http://danwhitmarsh.blogspot.com/ Dan Whitmarsh

    If I were a copy editor. . .

    >>”there’s a lot of bloggers” should read “there are a lot of bloggers. . .”
    >> “simply because there text gets published” should read “simply because their text gets published. . .”
    >> “we can butcher Spielberg’s first name, AND the title of one of his classics” should read “we can slightly misspell Spielberg’s first name and the title of one of his classics. . .”
    >> “yet everyone calls me picky, and criticizes me for not being gender neutral” should read “yet a few people call me picky, and one person criticizes me for not being gender neutral. . .”
    >> “have no disregard for spelling. . .” should read “have no regard for spelling. . .”

  • Matt

    If you were a copy editor, or……………………………………

    If I was a published author of over 40 books / author of an online blog (i.e. “my profession is writing for crying-out-loud”)

    …Buuuuuuuuuuuuuut…

    I’m not.
    ….

  • Kenny Johnson

    I loved it. Like Stephen, I came of age at the same time as the kids from Goonies and Stand By Me (actors, not time period.) I thought JJ perfectly captured the spirit and tone of early Spielberg and coming of age films of the 80s that I grew up on.

    For me, he capture adolescence perfectly. The kids were great — and they were more important than the story. The story was just a backdrop, which I think was intentional — and appreciated by me.

    Maybe it speaks more to us 30-somethings who saw E.T. as children and Goonies as 12 year olds.

  • Matt

    I agree.

    I read other reviews that critique the implausibility of the story, which is not a great argument in my opinion; feels like they miss the point JJ Abrams was trying to portray.

    But I felt as you, in that the movie had less to do with the alien, but more to do with the classic Spielberg-ian theme of awkward, adolescent kids.

    A perfect blend of E.T., Goonies, and Stand By Me.

  • Kevin

    Matt:

    Thanks for making your recent responses gender neutral :) I’m sure the guys here appreciate it!

  • Doris

    Gentlemen,

    Thanks for the good chuckle. I have realized that even the most knowledgeable people occasionally make mistakes in grammar and spelling. The online environment has gotten tremendously lax, especially with regard to educational forums. It is probably best to ignore these mistakes in others. As soon as one points them out, surely they will make a mistake within that same comment. It seems that we must give each other a little grace. Typically, things written online are not reviewed and edited the way most printed publications are.

    Matt, I respect your desire for professionalism within your business. I am sure that Kevin was being facetious with his nudging about gender neutrality. Try not to take it so hard.

    I have not seen the movie but plan to this evening. Again, thanks for the chuckle.

    Doris

  • Mike T

    When you have no real retort to something opinionated online, that you may not agree with or find useful, always be sure to take the predictable low-road and pick on grammar issues. This way people can quickly discount or ignore anything else you have to say since it cannot be of any importance or of any quality as you needed to use at least 4 sentences to explain the critical point of your own banal opinions. How about using the same energy to define your opinion as to why you liked the film?

    I didn’t like it, found it slogging, directionless and couldn’t care less about any of the pouting sniveling characters or their reasons for doing whatever it is they do/did from beginning to end. The absurdity of the premise with respect to the mean ol’ Air Force just shows the hackneyed stretch to have the U.S. Government as the real antagonist (‘Close Encounters’) in trying to stop the alien from rebuilding its craft and getting away from the idiot humans (E.T.). It was never explained why, if the alien could understand human words/thoughts (ridiculous), the USG didn’t engage the alien in the previous 20+ years to learn something from it instead of trying to kill it or steal its technology (imagine how smart we would be if the big bad military didn’t always try to stop progress….yawn). Mix into the mish-mash a Transformers plethora of overblown special effects that no one could possibly survive and you have a dumb storyline and a very forgettable, over-anticipated film, the kind that just stupidly ends like the t.v. show ‘Lost’ (Abrams) with no apologies for making you sit through a whole load of crap and making you wish you could get an immediate refund (anything by M. Night Dingalingdong).


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