‘Super 8’ lacks originality, suspense

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By Jasmine Maharisi, Editor-in-Chief

“Super 8,” the new sci-fi thriller directed by J.J. Abrams, has a lot going for it. It’s set in the ‘70s, a decade ripe for funky styles and awesome music. The plot features a conspiracy involving the U.S. Air Force and a whistle-blowing scientist. And Elle Fanning, Dakota’s darling younger sister, stars as a moody teenager who’s victim to circumstances beyond her control.

It follows the formula too: lots of explosions, eardrum-bursting sounds, a love story, a teenager grieving, a group of friends à la “Stand by Me” and a cop who’s left to save an entire town (and possibly the world) from extinction.  

Unfortunately, it lacks originality. Big time.

It goes like this: a group of teens (Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, Elle Fanning) kick-off the summer of ‘79 by working on their movie, a detective/horror/zombie flick shot on 8mm film. While “on location” at an abandoned building near the town’s train tracks, the crew witnesses a train derailment and as the confused and terrified group runs for cover, the film continues reeling, capturing the magnificent disaster in its entirety.

As it turns out, the train was carrying some heavy-duty, top-secret cargo, and the leak was large enough to cause the U.S. Air Force to promptly secure the area in an effort to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, a chain of extraterrestrial events wreak havoc on the town, causing inexplicable disappearances (including a mass exodus of family dogs, later found in nearby counties) that leave everyone on edge.

That’s about the gist of it.

While some critics have praised the movie, saying it’s made of the same Spielberg substance that made 80s movies so incredible (E.T., Goonies), I was less than impressed. The main reason Spielberg’s films worked three decades ago was because they were fresh and new, with plot lines and characters portrayed in ways we’d never seen before. I’m sorry, but a persecuted alien telepathically communicating with a group of teens isn’t new in 2011. In fact, there isn’t much new anymore except the art of storytelling, a concept Hollywood just can’t seem to grasp.

Don’t get me wrong; Abrams’ movie isn’t a complete waste of time. Its excessive action (just the train’s derailment, subsequent explosions and teens fleeing and screaming takes more than five minutes of the film) makes good, all-American entertainment. And the $50 million in production costs will not go unnoticed, especially considering how many vehicles were smashed and tossed about like toys across the screen.

Let’s not forget the acting either. The last time I saw Elle Fanning, she was playing Stephen Dorff’s lively 11-year-old daughter in Sofia Coppola’s fable “Somewhere.” In “Super 8,” Fanning is the daughter of the town bad boy, whose drinking problem is responsible for – as we find out later – the irrepairable fate of others. Like Dakota, Elle’s subtly becomes her, making her a graceful, yet believable character.

Another talent viewers would be wise to watch out for is the awkward Cary, played by 14-year-old Ryan Lee (“Trick or Treat,” “Shorts”). While he doesn’t have nearly as many lines as he should, the potty-mouth youngster – and probably the reason for the PG-13 rating – got more than a few hearty chuckles from the theater audience.

Although “Super 8” struck me as unbelievable and sensationalized, it apparently has its audience. The movie raked in more than $37 million on its opening weekend. But if you prefer a solid film with some serious substance, I give you this advice: wait until it’s available on Netflix.

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