super-8

But there are only 4 of them!

The following contains minor spoilers for Super 8.

Aliens are the new zombies. That’s not to suggest that there’s necessarily anything new about them (doubly so when it comes to Super 8, but we’ll get to that). But they seem to be the latest genre staple to get a shot in the arm since everyman and his dog, and Brad Pitt appear to be making films about the un-dead. And as with zombies, we’re seeing the charge from innovative filmmakers making the most of reduced budgets and summer blockbusters following behind with less offensive fare.

Super 8 slavishly follows the Spielberg template to such an extent that you can’t help but wonder if the Berg received the script and thought that someone was taking the piss. Then again, maybe he moved offices and forgot to tell anyone? Although he put his name to Transformers, so maybe he really doesn’t care. Either way, the film’s Spielberg-ness, which is undoubtedly the film’s strength – at least from a marketing perspective, and probably the reason it was made in the first place, is also its major weakness.

The basic premise of Super 8 – beyond the fairly innocuous storyline about a bunch of kids making a film – that a giant alien is going around a small town robbing cars and eating people doesn’t really gel with the formula established in Close Encounters and ET. Sure, each of those films had its darker aspects, with Richard Dreyfuss undergoing a mental breakdown and Elliott’s broken family, respectively, but as dark as they got, neither film featured the aliens abducting and eating their family members. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself but the fact the lead character is supposed to develop a sympathetic bond with the creature, which causes his eventual emotional catharsis, seems illogical at best, and pretty silly at worst.

In fact, with these conflicting aspects you can’t help but wonder who the film is made for. If the aim was the make it for today’s kids then why didn’t they set it in the present? The fact they’d probably end up making an alien happy-slapping film on their smart-phones notwithstanding. The real clue is in the title; if it were made for kids it wouldn’t it be called something else? Something that doesn’t raise questions like ‘when did the other 7 come out?’ or ‘where were all the superheroes?’

It’s telling that JJ Abrams decided to call the film Super 8. As mentioned, the story of children making their own zombie film on a super 8 camera really doesn’t have much relevance to the film’s plot. In fact it’s clearly more important to JJ Abrams on a personal level than it is in service to the script he wrote. In many ways this makes Super 8 is a really expensive fan film, with Abrams attempting an Amblin-era Spielberg film that features his own hallmarks: lens-flare, an alien that looks like a giant crab monster sucking lemons and a now-tokenistic marketing campaign that drip-feeds information to create mystery.

The recent Attack the Block seems like the next logical step from the Amblin films of yesteryear, and I argue is far more worthy of picking up the mantle. Sure, on surface level, the tale of a bunch of chavs fighting some hairy wolf-gorilla aliens bears little relation to most things, especially ET and its ilk. But, like ET, it’s also an examination of contemporary family dynamics and how they are impacted by the arrival of visitors from space. It just so happens that for many the modern family is so broken that kids are raising themselves.

Despite a fairly unique premise, Attack the Block is definitely beholden to the films of yesterday; it just knows how to tip its baseball cap without drowning in a pool of nostalgia. It looks backward but moves things forward. And is all the better for it.

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