Saturday, June 25, 2011

Super 7 2/3

We parents, we just can't catch a break.

Last night was the first time my wife and I went to the movies together since we saw The Town in October, and it still got screwed up.

I say "it got screwed up" rather than "I screwed it up" because I swear I saw the time as 7:30 for our showing of Super 8 at the theater at the Howard Hughes Center. I swear.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My dad and his wife are in town to see their grandson, and we knew that would be an opportunity to get out to the movies. In fact, it was during their visit last year that we went to see The Town. Other family members have visited in the meantime, but trips to the theater for my wife and I have not transpired. Maybe we didn't force them, or maybe we just didn't think the particular family members who were visiting would want to selflessly babysit while we took in a major motion picture.

But my dad and his wife specifically expressed an interest in being as helpful as they could be, so we had no qualms sticking them with a sleeping baby (who didn't stir once) last night as we went to Super 8. Besides, they were looking forward to watching our DVD of The Lives of Others -- which they ended up loving.

So we left the house a little after 6:30 for a 7:30 movie. The theater is about an eight-minute drive from our house, but it has a parking structure, so that takes a couple extra minutes. Then it's a couple minutes to walk up to the ticket counter. We were going to buy our tickets first, then partake in one of the many eateries in the Howard Hughes Center for our dinner.

Only when we got in line for the tickets, we saw that despite playing on three screens, none of the showings of Super 8 was starting at 7:30 as expected. There was one that had started about 15 minutes earlier, and one starting at 8:30. The only one we could make was at 7, and on IMAX, meaning a couple extra bucks per ticket.

Starting ten minutes from now.

I couldn't believe it. I remembered thinking that the 7:30 show was at this theater. I knew I'd been right. I even started to go on my blackberry to check, to see if I got it confused with another theater, before realizing that this would be an extremely poor use of time in our current predicament. Either I'd been wrong or they'd changed the times, but either way, we were stuck with the situation we were facing.

Well, there went dinner. Or did it? My wife was starving, having had to deal with my parents all day while I was at work and never having gotten her snack. The options were either to get our dinner at the theater snack bar, or go to a different movie. (I noted that Midnight in Paris was playing at 7:30, and momentarily thought of suggesting it, given that I'd made one failed attempt to see it already and a second attempt that I aborted before it even got to that point.)

But Super 8 had us both pumped, so we made the hasty decision to buy the IMAX tickets and live with what was at the concession stand. We knew they sold personal pizzas at this theater, and even if they were not great personal pizzas, they met the necessary criteria to qualify as dinner.

Except they didn't sell personal pizzas, not anymore. One of several recent improvements at this theater was apparently to improve the pizzas out of existence. Now the only thing that even fit in a food group you would consider for dinner was a hot dog. I eat hot dogs at the ballpark, but not at the theater -- my wife never eats them.

Now it was 6:54, and suddenly we were heading back up the escalator to get slices of pizza at the pizza place across the way. This had disaster written all over it. My heart sank as the $17.25 IMAX tickets weighed heavily in my pocket.

What followed was a master class in food-gathering efficiency. Despite a gaggle of kids and two confused-looking mothers ahead of us in line at the pizza place, we were up pretty quickly and getting our slices cooked in the oven. I was imagining myself wolfing down two slices of pizza in about a minute-and-a-half -- I might not enjoy it but I could do it -- but I didn't see my wife doing the same. But when the woman behind the counter learned of our movie predicament, she asked if we wanted them wrapped in aluminum foil. Suddenly a plan sprouted to smuggle our pizza into the movie theater in my wife's purse. She has a decent-sized purse, but it still sounded a little far-fetched to me. I thought it would be better for me to remove my outer shirt as if I'd grown tired of wearing it, and use that to shroud the slices. But before I could properly voice my idea, I was being assigned to go get us drinks at the movie theater, where she would meet me.

I half-expected not to see her down there, that she might get turned away by the ticket taker either for obvious pizza smuggling or for emanating the smells of pepperoni and cheese, but in no time she was there by my side. We each filled up our drinks at the self-serve stations they'd set up (another recent improvement). It was only 7:03 or 7:04, miraculously, so I even doubled back to pick up a box of candy for us to enjoy later on. Thank goodness the theater was dead on this Thursday night in late June.

So we got to the IMAX theater no later than 7:05 by my watch -- a watch that is a minute or so fast, if anything. I expected we'd be in the second trailer, maybe third at worst.

Nope. Super 8 was already underway.

And this is why I'm calling this post "Super 7 2/3" -- we missed at least a little bit of it. I need you, dear reader who's seen Super 8, to tell me what we missed. Of course, to do that, I need to tell you where we came in. As we filed to our seats, Joe (Joel Courtney) and Charles (Riley Griffiths) are in Charles' room, talking about shooting Charles' movie. Joe has a Super 8 magazine in his hand.

So did we miss a cool opening set piece? A great title sequence? A funny joke? Or just a really great piece of nostalgia?

I hate missing the start of a movie, so please help me out here.


As for the 7 2/3 we did see, I was absolutely loving it for about 6 2/3 or 7 of that. It was at this point that I realized a lot of things that had been set up were not going to pay off in satisfying ways.

The biggest problem with the film, as I see it, is this: The fact that they were making a super 8 movie at the time of the train crash -- and captured actual footage of the alien -- ends up having almost no bearing on the plot. My wife and I discussed afterward that if you're going to call the movie Super 8 and devote so much time to the making of their film, the film should really relate to the monster in a tangible way. Like, they had to show their evidence of the monster to get someone to believe them, or their footage made them a special target of the military. In fact, they only become a special target of the military because they break into the science teacher's trailer and start looking at his old films. And yeah, that one kid (the least developed one) does show the deputy (Kyle Chandler) their footage in order to convince him, but the deputy's own belief in the monster ultimately has nothing to do with how the story plays out.

And this was just one payoff that didn't happen. How about the relationship between the deputy and the drunken no-good (Ron Eldard) who was supposed to be working the shift at the factory where the deputy's wife was killed? They team up to go find their children, but then they just drive up and there they are. They don't have to do anything, they don't have to trust each other during a key moment that requires a leap of faith. And what about the rules of the alien himself? We know he's an empathic being, because the science teacher has communed with him and learned that he just wants to rebuild his ship and go home. So why does he keep wreaking havoc and killing purportedly innocent people after he's been freed? Why does he kill some people straight away and leave others to eat later? And why does one quick interaction with Joe at the end convince him that he's able to complete the rebuilding of his ship at that very moment and lift off toward the heavens?

So even if only 6 1/3 or 6 2/3 of Super 8 were really super, those super parts were pretty super. I loved the period look and details, which certainly did remind me of Goonies first and foremost, E.T. in a more tangential way (then again, I've seen Goonies many more times than E.T.). The camerawork was all exceptional, moving in ways that really brought you into the action. The kids looked terrific, just like kids out of 1980, not like the 21st century pre-teens that they actually are. I also thought the town had a real dynamism, with its hilly landscape that really enveloped you in the time and place.

The acting was generally good as well, but I want to specifically praise Elle Fanning, whose work impresses me more and more all the time. Particularly in that scene where she's watching the old footage of Joe's mother, and tells him her father was too drunk to go to his shift that day, she reminded me of how much better she is than her (currently) more famous sister Dakota. Even as blown away as we all were by Dakota Fanning when she first came on the scene, I now see Dakota's work as more of a "performance," while Elle seems to really be acting -- which is to say that you don't see her acting. She just acts, and she always knocks it out of the park. In fact, her disappearance for a large portion of the latter half of the movie was part of the 1 2/3 that disappointed me. (If you are still following what I'm trying to do with my little number gimmick.)

A definite thumbs up for me -- a fairly enthusiastic thumbs up. But I can't discount the narrative missteps I've listed above, which only scratch the surface -- there are plenty of other things I could pick at. So in summation: acting, effects, feel, nostalgia -- all brilliant. Story? Needs some work on the structure side.

And in case you forgot the question I asked halfway through this post, let me know what we missed in those first one to three minutes when we were filling up our drinks. Maybe that filled all the holes I've mentioned ... probably not, but maybe.


Dan O. said...

Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. Good Review!

Don Handsome said...

here's what you missed: a Spielbergian opening shot of the factory changing their "days without an accident" sign to 1 day, and then Ron Eldard crashing the funeral for the main kid's mom.

Great review, though I'm closer to reviewing this as Super 5 or so. I really like the kids plot, but the alien one looses me in many ways – some of which you’ve described in your review.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks Don. That's quite a bit more than I thought. How did my movie start so ridiculously on time? Who ever heard of a movie starting only 2-3 minutes after the time on the ticket? It's usually closer to 20.

Dan, that's very much true. I definitely got involved in the characters. They may not have been equally fleshed out, but I did feel like they had dimension necessary for me to care whether they got squashed by a giant alien.

Monty Burns said...

I wrote a whole long response that apparently was deleted.
Summing up: I agree with you. The kids didn't do enough to move the plot along, they just happened to be watching it happen.
Elle Fanning was great, so was the main kid.

Vancetastic said...

D'oh, hate it when that happens. Agreed. Passively observing a plot is not a very exciting thing for your protagonists to be doing.