Top 10 films of 2011: Super 8

What started off as a secret trailer before Iron Man 2 turned into one of 2011's best blockbusters. Caroline salutes Super 8...

Super 8

 

Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. It’s a democratic vote, which inevitably means that things end up in a slightly funny order that not one individual writer is likely to fully agree with. But it’s still a fine list. Here’s the latest entry…

8th place:Super 8

One of the things 2011 might be remembered for is its move towards the nostalgic, with remake news breaking on an almost daily basis and a penchant for harking back to past film trends, even during the summer blockbuster season.

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Super 8 certainly did the latter, as JJ Abrams paid tribute to the kind of science-fiction Spielberg made his own in the ’70s and ’80s, and it managed to capture the imaginations of whole heap of prospective movie devotees.

But Super 8 wasn’t made for the young and uninitiated, it was made for those same people who sat in awe when first experiencing Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. all those years ago.

Time will tell whether Abrams’ homage to the ’70s will be remembered alongside those coming of age sci-fi adventures of the past, but right now, looking back at the triumphs of 2011, it really should be. Don’t be fooled, though, this is the Star Trek director’s movie through-and-through, even if Spielberg’s name was just as big on its poster.

The first smart move the film made was to cast child actors, almost exclusively supporting the film’s increasingly frantic action, who could actually act. Would E.T. have been so compelling if Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore had failed to portray those pivotal emotional beats? The answer is probably no, and the cast of Super 8 are as good, if not better, than those capable child actors in taking the audience on the film’s journey.

Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning are great at inhabiting the central love story, and supporting actors Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Zach Mills all hold their own. Griffiths, especially, is the film’s stand-out performer, as his portrayal of hot-tempered director Charles harkens back to the ambitious director Abrams probably was during his childhood, and lends a certain integrity to the group of boys that might have been lacking otherwise.

These children are cruel to each other but love unconditionally, much like real friends might be seen to act.

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But there’s also some direct subversions of some of Spielberg’s main tropes that should silence those intent on calling Super 8 a simply derivative re-working. In Spielberg’s films, fathers are either absent, irresponsible or abusive, and woman provide the primary care for their children.

You saw it in E.T. as Elliott’s mother tried to protect her family from outside forces, and before in Close Encounters, when Roy chooses to leave his family in pursuit of a higher knowledge. In Super 8, Kyle Chandler’s patriarch is redeemed of most of his flaws by the film’s end, and mothers are completely absent from the film.

The name of the film is a tribute to an old style of filmmaking remembered so fondly by the directors of the time. The format is where most of today’s auteurs began, and in this way Super 8 provides a pre-emptive tribute to filmmaking before Scorsese’s Hugo or The Artist could arrive. The film never relinquishes its polished Hollywood sheen for the sake of nostalgia, though, and the lens flares and various Abrams quirks often threaten to engulf the frame. This is 70s sci-fi as re-imagined with a modern-day blockbuster mentality, but just about holds on to the fondness and affection for the medium the director presumably started off with.

But it’s also an action film, and the train crash set-piece that gets the ball rolling is absolutely magnificent. Watching in the cinema, I can’t recall anything this year that tops it, and it still manages to combine character with stunning visuals, never putting explosive eye-candy ahead of those characters we’re rooting for.

The alien itself is actually a wasted opportunity, a shame when it really should have been the cherry on top of the film’s great ideas, but it’s a small flaw in a film that juggles most of its ballswith inspiring confidence.

Super 8 has received some criticism simply because it isn’t perfect, but few films ever are. What it achieves as a thrilling cinematic experience which covers a demographic that ranges from young children to nostalgic adults keen to relive that childhood movie magic, is nothing short of amazing. The encroaching soullessness of modern summer blockbusters has been discussed at length and, even if Super 8 had to go back into the archives to find that hard to define essence, it harkens back to a time when movies had a spirit and charm that inspired us to love the movies.

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