Super 8

We’ve all heard the advance word about how this film is supposedly a big sloppy blowjob to Steven Spielberg (here credited as a producer through his Amblin Entertainment company) and his early films like “Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” (something way too many critics are clamoring as if they were the first to figure it out). How refreshing to see a blockbuster with an old-fashioned sense of wonder, they say… and what I wonder is what movie they were actually watching.

I mean, sure, it’s set in 1979 in a suburban town, the protagonists are kids not unlike the ones in “E.T.” or the Spielberg-produced “The Goonies” (or Stephen King stories like “It” and “The Body/Stand By Me”), and the sci-fi/horror elements are kept off-screen for quite a while. Because as one of the boys, a wannabe filmmaker shooting a Super 8 zombie flick with his buddies during summer vacation, says at some point, it intends to not just be about the thrills but to tell a story and to make the audience feel something.

Alas, after a promising first act, “Super 8” goes off the rails (no pun intended) when the kids witness a ridiculously over the top train crash which they miraculously walk away from unharmed. That is the beginning of a long, long series of scenes full of preposterous mayhem, with the small town where the action is set blowing up over and over while the kids and most everyone else never gets hurt.

Elle Fanning is pretty great, but the other child actors are uneven at best, if not downright awful in some cases. As for the grown-ups (parents, cops, soldiers), they’re all dull dull dull, and they keep behaving like idiots… Which might have more to do with the mediocre writing than with the skills of the cast.

For all its forced nostalgia and homages, “Super 8” is ultimately closer to “Cloverfield” than to anything Spielberg’s ever made. It’s an overblown B-movie creature feature that jerks us around for a while with a so-called mystery surrounding the nature of the threat facing the characters, with a payoff nowhere near as successful as the setup (or the marketing campaign, for that matter).

Hate to break it to you, Mr. Abrams, but you, sir, are no Spielberg. You know what? Forget about this overrated movie and its goddamn lens flares, and just watch the music video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”. In 5 minutes, Spike Jonze totally outdoes “Super 8” in every way as far as early Spielberg pastiches go (can’t wait to see the full 30 minute version).