Midnight Movie

Caught up with JJ Abrams’ SUPER 8.

(JJ Abrams movies may be what rental is for.)

But I’m favourably disposed to him, really. And actually glad I saw his STAR TREK on the big screen, where the audience reaction was delightful. I’ll totally see the sequel.

Peter O’Toole cameo (left).

Abrams channels the Spielberg of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and ET well, but I disliked the faux-camera-flare and missed the grain. And also, Spielberg has been heavily absorbed by US filmmakers already, so there’s recognition without the shock when it’s done more self-consciously, as in “this is a retro statement” rather than “this is what we consider the acme of American cinema” which is the kind of attitude I get from those MUMMY films…

The story is fine, though I wished it were weirder: real UFO stories are WEIRD. The period feel didn’t really come alive for me, and oddly, the Super-8 film element wasn’t important to the story. Some kids are making a zombie film when they accidentally film a train accident in which a crashed alien, held prisoner for years by the government, escapes. But the accidental filming part isn’t really a big plot point, when you get to it. A shame, since it shouldn’t have been hard to get a BLOW UP thing going on.

Hey, it’s Glynn Turman — from JD’S REVENGE! — as whistleblowing science teacher Mr Woodward (easy Watergate reference). As we know from Breaking Bad, science teachers are bad-ass.

As the spectacle and crisis mounts, the film goes for emotion but doesn’t quite nail it, despite Elle Fanning being particularly good. I think this is because we don’t quite know how to feel about the big alien — he’s more sinned against than sinning but he does kill a lot of innocent people. And eat them. Even in Act III. There’s something nice about the film’s desire to make us consider things from an enemy alien’s point of view, and ask how these hostiles got to be so hostile — good liberal allegory work there — but it’s inimical to the simplicity Spielbergian emotion seems to require. And Abrams still has a weakness for gestural emotion, where characters throw away or let go things that they’ve grown out of. Never actually convinces or moves us. Gloria Stuart chucking that diamond away in TITANIC has a lot to answer for.

But as the extraterrestrial shit hits the fan and Spielbergian classicism melds with Abrams’ more chaotic, modern feel, one positive thing is that the funny lines play funnier amid the frenzy, so it’s a pretty good time. Just not, somehow, satisfying.

But the Super-8 film-within-the film is great ~



14 Responses to “Midnight Movie”

  1. Talking about weird UFO stories, I quite like Fire In The Sky for staying like a low key TV movie for three quarters of its length until it gives the nightmarish alien probing scene at the very end!

    My favourite of all UFO movies has to be the scene in God Told Me To, where an elderly Sylvia Sidney, found in a nursing home, relates a story of alien abduction, probing with flashing lights and being impregnated with the next Messiah!

    Its incredibly ludicrous but perhaps illustrates better than any other piece of work the trouble that Mary must have had explaining her miracle pregnancy to Joseph! :

    “Well I was walking out one day then suddenly I was flying and hearing voices. I think it must have been aliens. You don’t believe me? OK, OK, we’ll tell everyone that it was an angel from God then if it’ll help your ego! Sheesh, it’s not as if anyone will remember how I got pregnant in a few years time”

  2. The best J.J. Abrams movie is the one he produced but did not direct: Cloverfield

  3. Yes, I liked Cloverfield a lot too. This felt like a companion piece except it doesn’t take the found-footage angle very far at all.

    God Told Me To is wondrously bananas throughout — one of the best set-ups ever, and if it doesn’t resolve perfectly it at least keeps pitching curves.

    Somehow, in Close Encounters the fact that nothing the apparently benign aliens does makes sense is never really a problem, or that obvious. But why did they steal that kid?

  4. Cloverfield was an interesting film (not intended to be faecetious but my favourite part was the end credits with the lovely orchestra theme that felt like a homage to Godzilla!), but unfortunately couldn’t live up to the intense speculation about the film raised by the teasers. It certainly feels as if it says more about the feeling of living in the 9/11 era than Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center though.

    My main issue with Cloverfield is that the action is so intense (and intensively planned out) that there are no ‘down time’ moments that would add to the believability of the found footage situation – I just get the sense that the cast have to run to the next set to be perfectly safe, or like in a computer game moving from one location to the next is the cue to then trigger off the next piece of action. The biggest example pehaps being simply ushered to the next room after witnessing the explosive death of Marlena.

    Talking both of teasers and computer games, Super 8 continued an Abrams trend of interesting hype for a film, this time with an interactive teaser attached to Potral 2 :

  5. Oh, the Cloverfield end credits stomp is definitely a rephrasing of Godzilla’s signature tune!

    Abrams hasn’t yet found a way to answer the intriguing puzzles he sets up in a way that really satisfies. Reminds me of Olivier Assayas’ great line, “American movies often start with interesting ideas but then wind up with a fight in a warehouse.”

  6. I really like JJ Abram’s work, but feel like he does better with the television series format, which gives him more time to get wonderfully detailed moments and performances. Even when they don’t all pan out all the time…(did he ever really explain the smoke monster in LOST?) he puts everything he’s got, into them. With the exception of Star Trek, which actually felt, to me, like the first episode of a fabulous reboot of the series, his movies all seem to be having too much fun with the possibilites and the expanded budgets, and not being able to focus as much on the small things that make his tv work so engrossing…which he would have gotten to, if, the finished project wasn’t so short! Two hours is not enough for him to get there.

    I loved the parts in Super Eight when he was focusing on the kids and their lives, but except for THE BEST TRAIN WRECK OF ALL TIME, the bits with the alien left me very cold, didn’t care at all. If I had had access to a remote while in the theater, I’d have loved to fast forward to the “good parts.” And it isn’t because I don’t like sci fi films with the traditonal alien threat to all humanity theme; one of my favorite guilty pleasures is to watch major landmarks explode every July 4th with Will Smith and Co. And in an E.T. vein, “Paul” with Simon Pegg, is one of my favorite films of the last few years. Just goes to prove you don’t have to have a mega budget and masses of special effects to have a wonderful extraterestrial evening out. Looking forward to JJ’s Star Trel sequel, though. Think Shatner will make it in this one? Bet he’s kicking himself for turning JJ down the first time.

  7. I think The Shat has intimated that it would be nice to be invited on board for the sequel.

    My favourite thing about the first movie was the humour, and how they used Kirk’s unreconstructed dickishness from the 60s show as a real character trait, without quite turning him into Zap Brannigan. I’m very keen to see what they come up with next.

  8. “Gestural emotion” — perhaps this might be traced back to Gary Cooper and his badge at the end of HIGH NOON?

  9. That might be the first big discarding, yes. But that one wasn’t so heavily symbolic, oddly enough, since GC was literally quitting his job…

  10. I haven’t seen Super 8 but, I must confess, I am no fan of Abrams’s Star Trek. I could go on at some length about what I didn’t like but I’ll confine myself to two complaints.

    First, the plot isn’t just full of holes, it’s practically all holes. I almost want to say that the most egregious sin is how movie-Spock decides all of a sudden to kick movie-Kirk completely off the ship (seriously, wouldn’t a real commander just throw him into a cell?) and onto a planet where only the most ridiculous plot contrivance allows movie-Kirk to survive for more than five minutes (again, would a real commander actually condemn a crewmember to almost certain death for mere insubordination?) Anyhow this precipitant action leads not merely to the convenient discovery of Simon Pegg but also to the ludicrous scene with “Spock Prime”.

    The reason I say “almost” above is because the expositional scene with Spock Prime reveals the biggest plot hole of all: why does Eric Bana, maddened by the destruction of Romulus, go back in time just to take elaborate revenge on Spock? If you’ve got time travel and you’re pissed that your homeworld got blown up, wouldn’t it be nice to, you know, warn somebody ahead of time and maybe prevent it altogether? Instead Bana, and the movie, treat the destruction of Romulus as an accomplished fact. At least “Doctor Who” has the decency to mumble some rubbish about “fixed points in time” or whatnot.

    Second, more importantly…One thing I love about the original “Star Trek” is how it drops little hints throughout about the past careers of Capt. Kirk and the others. Without the clumsiness of outright exposition you get the sense over time that Capt. Kirk is a man with a long career who had to work his way up through the ranks; he’s comparatively young but still seasoned by experience. Abrams’s Star Trek instead gives us overgrown teenagers who nevertheless somehow get command of the flagship of the Federation fleet. Kirk goes straight from disgraced cadet to commander of a vessel? What the hell? He never seems like he merits it. He can’t even cheat in an intelligent way–surely the real Capt. Kirk would have the sense to pretend as though defeating the Kobayashi Maru scenario was difficult instead of munching carelessly on an apple?

    Call me old-fashioned but I’d like to a return to a time when a crew of professional men facing a crisis were shown to be, well, professional–experienced, seasoned, maybe a bit boring.

  11. That’d be good too…

    Not disputing your points — Abrams tends to generate mystery/drama first and worry about making sense of it afterwards — I guess the point of the film was to show the characters when they were starting out and hadn’t yet evolved into the cool professionals we know them as. Of course, there’s still a line to be walked with that, otherwise they look like chumps…

  12. Glynn Turman is often the first one to die in Spielberg-produced (but not directed) action-comedy-horror films.

    Agreed that PAUL is a winner, as is last year’s other Nick Frost alien comedy, ATTACK THE BLOCK.

  13. Haven’t seen Paul yet but ATB was very good — it actually took an interest in depicting part of society onscreen, but didn’t feel the need to punish the audience for taking an interest.

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