Anyone familiar with director Abrams’ re-visioning of Star Trek should, by now, be annoyingly familiar with his cloying love of lens flare. He’s even admitted in interviews to going overboard with the gimmick. So it’s all the more surprising that in Super 8 – his collaboration with Steven Spielberg, who served as producer – that the icon who gave us Jaws and Close Encounters didn’t crack the whip and reign in flare boy.
How much does Abrams love lens flare? Well, If you want to get totally plastered before the first reel spins out, invite friends over for a Star Trek drinking game where everybody takes a shot whenever there’s lens flare. Super 8 isn’t much different except that unlike Star Trek, you might survive an alcohol overdose until the final act, but all that’s saying is that Abrams has learned to pace himself, from a drinking game perspective. Seriously, there are entire sequences that break the “fourth wall” by having so much damn lens flare that I found myself wondering why the scenes weren’t re-shot. After all, Spielberg was cracking the whip here.
As for the story, without giving away copious spoilers, suffice to say it’s what anybody would achieve if they took both men’s most iconic films, ET in the case of Spielberg, and Cloverfield for Abrams, and had a team of rewriters blend the two together. You can read the plot synopsis online, but since you’re here, the story involves a small group of kids who, in the late 70s, are devoted to making a zombie film using the then cheap and popular Super 8 film stock. While filming a key scene, they witness the derailment of an Air Force train carrying mysterious cargo. The result of the spectacular crash is that a critter of uncertain intelligence and power is released into the countryside, with the US Army rolling in to contain the townsfolk and generally act as the baddies. Viewers familiar with Spielberg and Abrams’ sci-fi and monster flicks can fill in the blanks.
In spite of the hype and the pedigrees behind it, Super 8 isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a standout either. It’s basically like drinking a cocktail composed of the essence of Abrams and Spielberg. It goes down easy but leaves a lingering taste of “meh” in your mouth afterwards. When it comes to cocktails, however, my only lament is that I didn’t bring a flask of booze. It would have made the popcorn go down easier every time there was lens flare.