Movie goers and friends,
I begin sitting at my dinning room table at my sublet in Worcester. Empty water bottle to my right and empty cup with what once was a glass of iced mocha coffee. iPhone at the ready and my notes on “Super 8” opened.
This was my first time seeing “Super 8.” Thanks to Netflix and a slow Thursday night before I move out, (I should be finishing up my packing…oh well), I stumbled upon “Super 8.” It caught my attention while it was in theaters and through the trailers but after finding out it was an alien movie and not a movie centered solely around the Super 8 camera, it lost my attention.
With that said, I was glad I watched it. It is a film that is perfect for a summer night and on the big screen. I did not do it justice by watching it on an iPad. But the image quality was still far superior to that of my television. But in sum, “Super 8” is, “mint” Hollywood. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, starring Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, and Elle Fanning, the movie was a summer blockbuster hit.
If you watch this movie and hope for a mentally stimulating film you will be let down. And to be honest, I didn’t expect to write about this movie, but I felt the desire to because it reflect a lot of what Hollywood is creating in todays movie industry.
To begin, Hollywood has shifted toward a lot of camera movement. With directors like Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, the camera is never given a rest. In many ways the camera has to move in order to help make up for a lack of original storyline and plot. So the originality and true art of Hollywood rests on how creative can the directors and cinematographers be at moving the camera and creating visually stunning shots and angles. This is an art in itself. Think of it as a series of photographs…that move at a very high rate. Now J.J. Abrams comes up with a series of stunning images and shots. From Joe at the wirelines on his bike at sunset to to the repetitive “front of the car” close ups as the vehicle interjects on the action in the background. But again, these shots make up for the lack of originality elsewhere in the film.
Character development is predictable. The Father, Deputy Lamb, is a cold, strict, and workaholic man who puts his job before his son…as per the opening scene shot of the cop car in the foreground and Joe in the background on the swing set. It is imagery of his central flaw. By the end of the film, the Father realizes his faults, puts his anger about his wife’s death behind him, and embraces his son in the final shots of the film. Joe is a shy and timid boy who is clinging onto his mother. He is shy towards girls, but by the end of the film he is a leader like his father and wins the girl.
The story has triumph, danger, love, growth, action, emotion, and and vindication…a solid outline of many Hollywood films. The alien plot line is banal and honest not all that interesting. I much rather prefer the “going home” alien storyline of District 9. I felt the true gem of the film was the story around the idea of the kids making a zombie movie for a student film festival. Now that is a great story. But that originality gave way to the jam-packed, action filled idea of explosions, death, and survival of any supernatural film and story.
If I were to stretch and dive deeper into the meaning of this film I could argue that Abrams is making this same statement. That Hollywood has lost the art of true film…that digital action movies with the fast paced cutting and camera movement has surmounted the beauty and rawness of film. The Super 8 camera was lost quickly in the film. The Super 8 film and footage was soon forgotten. In many ways there was a clear progression of this. The movie began wonderfully. With the story of Joe’s mother dying and the idea of creating a zombie moving. Kids escaping home to put together this movie without their parents approval speaks at the minds and hearts of many film buffs and movie makers whose parents want them to get a “real” job that makes money. It is these early scenes of the kids making the movie that are the greatness of film. Creativity, art, passion, and skill are what make a movie into a film. In many of the Super 8 film reel scene the digital over takes the Super 8 film. When Alice and Joe watch the home video of Joe’s mother and him as a baby the digital shots cut up and break the flow the best part of the movie. The dialogue is great and compliments the footage, but the digital shots take away from the emotion and power of the footage. Abrams couldn’t let the footage be shown for more than 10 seconds before there was a cut to Joe and Alice. The sound of the projector was going but he couldn’t let the grittyness of the footage speak for itself. Furthermore, when the kids are in the middle school looking at their former teachers materials, the footage is place in the background, obstructed by a blurry chair and other objects, a constant reminder of the digital camera.
Here’s where someone grasping at straws can say this is art. Maybe it is Abrams’ commentary on the idea of the digital replacing the film. Maybe it is Abrams saying that in the 21st century we have lost the power and comfort of film reels and actual film…that has to be developed and strung through a machine before you can see the playback. We are addicted to the quickness and speed of the 21st century. We have lost patience. And our movie reflect that. Maybe Abrams created this movie and faded out the power of the Super 8 camera to make this statement. Or maybe I am stretching here and looking too deeply into this action movie.
It is probably nothing more than a movie that epitomizes Hollywood and the idea that the camera is now the true motivator of suspense and build up of tension. That the close up is still the signature of Hollywood which calls for only decent looking people to be on camera. But the movie was titled Super 8…after a character and motif that was quickly lost to the demands of the 21st century expectations of the audience and of the men in Hollywood. So, maybe Abrams was saying something here. Maybe we should go back “home” away from the digital and CGI and return to the Super 8 and others filmic methods of capturing moments, preserving and commemorating those who are lost, and creating art and enjoyment.
To the Super 8:
“Honey, I love you.”
“I love you too..”
I end with my empty glasses now in the sink. My water bottle now full and a friend sitting across from me. With technology ironically making this post extremely difficult to finish. I am now longing to return to the days of typewriters and chalkboards.
’til next time,