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Thursday, June 16, 2011 10:46 am

Super 8 undone by lack of originality

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If flattery is the most sincere form of praise, then director JJ Abrams nearly drowns his mentor Steven Spielberg in admiration with his latest, Super 8, an obvious pastiche of the cinematic master’s early films. With obvious allusions to Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, as well as many others, including the Abrams-produced vehicle Cloverfield, it’s hard to know where one director’s vision begins and the other’s ends. As a result, the movie’s undoing is its lack of originality, which is at its most obvious during its final act.

The scene of the action is Lillian, Ohio, a small town in the heartland where young Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) is busy making a zombie movie with his buddies for entry in a film festival. Chief among them is Joe (Joel Courtney) whose mother recently died in a work-related accident and the elusive Alice (Elle Fanning), who gives the production a much-needed dose of femininity and someone for all of the boys to moon over.

While filming one night at the local train station, they witness a horrific train crash as Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) a teacher from the local middle school rams his truck into the oncoming locomotive. That the good doctor survives is the first sign that Abrams’ script isn’t playing fair. The character is kept around to provide some necessary exposition that could have been more cleverly revealed. Be that as it may, the wreck is the first of many troubles about to descend on Lillian, Ohio. Soon dogs, electronics and people begin to disappear and there are signs that something not native to this earth might be lurking in the town’s shadows.

The special effects are quite good and the film’s first hour gets by on the charm of its young cast. However, Abrams resorts to one hoary cliché after another during the movie’s last 45 minutes and you can feel the air deflate from it. It doesn’t help that once we finally do see the monster in question, it’s a bit of a letdown and seems hardly worth the prolonged buildup. Not helping are the many unanswered questions that plague the story, as well as too many leaps in logic. Abrams uses smoke and mirrors quite well. What’s missing is a dash of originality.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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