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Did Super 8 . . . Super Suck?!
June 15, 2011 7:10 PM   Subscribe

In an essay about the end of J. J. Abrams' film Super 8 (caution: spoilers!), Devin Faraci writes, "[It] would work if just clipped out and used to sell flowers or something; technically it’s well made, but narratively it’s disastrously bad and lazy. That, more or less, sums up the entire film."

In contrast, io9's Annalee Newitz says the film, "is the only young adult film I've seen in ages . . . that lives up to the promise of the last decade's extraordinary explosion in science fiction novels for young adults" and Danny Bowes, writing for tor.com, calls the film simply "mint."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi (116 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
technically it’s well made, but narratively it’s disastrously bad and lazy. That, more or less, sums up the entire film.

I watched it through the eyes of my 12 year old self, and I thought it was great. The ending was not as strong as it could have been, but whenever I go back and critique The Goonies, Stand by Me, or E.T. with my 37 year old eyes, I find plot holes big enough to drive a semi through. As it stands, it was awesomely nostalgic.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:20 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nostalgia is stupid.
posted by basicchannel at 7:21 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


A J.J. Abrams movie? Plotted with nonsensically incoherent tear-jerking cliches rather than a well-written organic narrative? You don't say.
posted by RogerB at 7:22 PM on June 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


whenever I go back and critique The Goonies, Stand by Me, or E.T. with my 37 year old eyes, I find plot holes big enough to drive a semi through. As it stands, it was awesomely nostalgic.

I actually argued with my husband after the film that Stand by Me (or It, which I'd also put in a box with the other, more kiddie-ish movies in a way) because King is so much more frank about the dark, adult nature of childhood.

I was surprised, though, how Super 8 didn't come together in the way I anticipated--ways that I was having trouble articulating until I read this review (which is what good criticism can do, I think).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:23 PM on June 15, 2011


Is different because King, rather.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:24 PM on June 15, 2011


I enjoyed Super 8 well enough while I watched it -- it reminded me a lot of Close Encounters -- but I think Faraci makes a lot of good points, particularly the intriguing possibility of focusing more on the female lead and her common ground with the monster.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2011


I thought it was exactly the movie Spielberg would have made in 1979 with a billion dollars and a Stephen King script.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:29 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed Super 8 well enough while I watched it -- it reminded me a lot of Close Encounters

That's pretty high praise in my book, actually. Close Encounters is a completely magical piece of cinema for me. It's actually the only IMDb review I've written. There's something about the emotional journey of that film which completely submerges me. It's just about the only film I know which, if I can watch it completely uninterrupted and distracted, will guaranteed take me to the exact same place it took me the first time I saw it in the theater as a kid. It's an experience of utter devastation and revelation and joy and sorrow and final consumption. It transcends language and I find I crave it even all these years later.

However, I get the impression that Super 8 really isn't all that?
posted by hippybear at 7:30 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I watched it through the eyes of my 12 year old self, and I thought it was great.

Too bad your 12-year-old self has such bad standards or is so little inclined to critical reflection, I guess.

The general sort of argument that it's ok if some work is poorly made, or doesn't make much sense on minimal examination, or suffers from what flaw soever, so long as its audience is supposed to be sufficiently uncritical, is one that, in general, I despise. You can make a movie for 12-year-olds that hangs together, so it's not as if "pre-teen movie" is a genre that demands sloppiness, so why excuse sloppiness in a sloppy film just because you think the average 12-year-old (or you as a 12-year-old) wouldn't notice or care? (Would such a person not care even if it were pointed out? Lord knows I miss plenty of stuff on first viewings or first readings; if those things are later pointed out to me I recognize them as flaws and reëvaluate the work in question. I don't just say, "ah, but this movie is for people who don't notice those things", or whatever. Even as a youth!)
posted by kenko at 7:31 PM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


However, I get the impression that Super 8 really isn't all that?

It was fun, but it got some things just plain wrong, I thought, particularly in its saccharine treatment of both childhood abuse and childhood romance.

Even My Girl had a chaste kiss.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter's own Linda Holmes liked it quite a bit.
posted by psoas at 7:37 PM on June 15, 2011


It definitely isn't all that, hippybear. It's a great kids' movie but it's no Close Encounters. I was rather disappointed with the ending but the kids are great in it. Elle Fanning was spellbindingly good.
posted by dobbs at 7:41 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw it this weekend and felt much the same way. Big parts of it did not come together to me. I'm usually forgiving of bad science, but ill-conceived motivation with regards to the science just means writers not fully realizing characters. Overall, a number of bits of the film were wonderful (the train deal, Elle Fanning in zombie makeup, some of the backstory), but the film neither tried to pay anything off nor explicitly left anything hanging. Much of the setup seemed simply abandoned.

I haven't seen The Goonies (sin, I know), but, lacking that, I would throw out The Monster Squad as a rather solid template that could have been at least nodded to without just wallowing in opportunities for nostalgia.
posted by adipocere at 7:43 PM on June 15, 2011


NEWSFLASH: Movie critics disagree! Gene Siskel spins in grave, breaking off his zombie thumbs!
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:44 PM on June 15, 2011


SPOILER: Bruce Willis' character is actually dead.

Wait. Did he die in the boxing match? Because that would mean that either Vince isn't actually dead or that someone other than Butch killed him, right? I'm so confused.
posted by The World Famous at 7:49 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


After careful study, I'd like to share a conclusion: it's not a documentary, it's a friggin' monster movie. If you found it lacking, make a better one.


Refuse to click on link so as to not participate in the magic blogging formula:

1. Pick something popular.
2. Write a diatribe about its prosaic triteness and how the sheeple will watch -anything- these days.
3. Propose alternate plotlines, twists and tangents which, extended to feature-length, guarantee your movie a long life as the least-watched movie in the Netflix streaming library.
4. Profit?
posted by lon_star at 7:49 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


After careful study, I'd like to share a conclusion: it's not a documentary, it's a friggin' monster movie.

Right. So, because it's not a documentary, the writers, director, and producer had total control over the story.
posted by The World Famous at 7:52 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's an interesting essay. I was trying to figure out why Super 8 didn't work for me - was it the movie, or am I just a curmudgeon?

(Answer: both)
posted by betweenthebars at 7:53 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Super 8 is fine.

Really. It's fine. It's not a horrifying cinematic skidmark and it's not the movie which will finally fill you with the sense of wonder you've been missing for most of your adult life. It's just fine, and if you want to go see it you'll probably enjoy it, and if you don't want to go see it, you won't be missing out on anything tremendous.

It is a perfectly serviceable use of however much time you spend watching it, and you will not leave the theater any different than when you came in, and then that is that. You probably won't buy the DVD or anything.

I realize that this is not a ringing endorsement of the movie, but it's not excoriating damnation, either, and that is because Super 8 deserves neither as it is just kind of fine.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:57 PM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


However, I get the impression that Super 8 really isn't all that?

it really isn't. I had such hopes fir it, walked wanting to like it, but in the end it's incredibly weak. It's a wanna be ET with less heart, character and plot. It's sugary slop, served to lazy and western kids, delusioned with their own importance and place in the world.

However, the end credits are very good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


So it's not Cloverfield: The Beginnining is what I'm picking up.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:05 PM on June 15, 2011


hippybear: However, I get the impression that Super 8 really isn't all that?
I loved Close Encounters too.

Maybe I should have said that the first two-thirds or so of Super 8 reminded me of Close Encounters. There's a similar theme of a ragtag bunch of amateurs feeling strangely compelled to learn more about mysterious events that they feel have changed their lives, in the face of a government cover-up. There's the same thrill as they piece the mystery together little by little. Until they find a magic box full of answers.

Super 8 doesn't have anything to compare with the amazing Devil's Tower climax of Close Encounters, and Super 8's ending seems a muddled and unsatisfying for reasons that Faraci elucidates really well, I think.

And like the latest iteration of Star Trek, Super 8 is full of ridiculous lens flares. Horizontal lines of blue glare that stretch across the whole screen, because of a light-source that isn't even in the scene. I laughed when I realized, as the credits rolled, that both had been directed by the same guy.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:09 PM on June 15, 2011


I haven't seen Super 8, but I wouldn't be surprised if the ending was sort of disappointing or a non-sequitor - it's a trend I've noticed in a lot of recent movies. I think the last movie I saw which had a better ending that beginning was Terminator 3.
posted by muddgirl at 8:09 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unfiltered Lens has a similar review, focusing more on Abrams' rather obvious and clumsy attempt at re-creating that late 70s / early 80s Spielberg magic. He knows the words but not the music. On the surface it appears to have all the proper elements, but there is nothing underneath.
posted by Potsy at 8:11 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to say that the place where Super 8 ended reminded me quite a bit of Close Encounters. That is, without the short film during the credits, it ends without appreciable resolution except for one of the immediate situation. What happens to the town? To the other kids? Does anyone hear about the alien, etc.?

Also, the alien's plot arc was pretty much identical to the alien's in District 9. That was weird.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2011


Quick assessment: Movie moved fine and had nice performances from the kid actors, but had no idea what to do with itself at the end. In that regard it's very much in line with the speculative fiction storytelling in films and TV here in the 21st Century: There's a real problem sticking the dismount.
posted by jscalzi at 8:16 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


What really annoyed me was how massive the alien was, yet how quickly it moved. Totally unreal.

Him saving the girl? Trite. Dad suddenly forgiving the other guy? Trite. 2D military bad guy? Trite and cliched. The movie was like eating bad Mexican food: you know exactly what's gonna happen and it's gonna be shitty.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Movie moved fine and had nice performances from the kid actors, but had no idea what to do with itself at the end.

Yeah. I'm going to avoid spoiling anything but I will say that the movie doesn't end so much as it stops. And the way in which it stops is all of a piece with its overwhelming adequacy.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:23 PM on June 15, 2011


Any lens flares? Those are the sign of a great film.
posted by Renoroc at 8:24 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen it...without getting too spoilery: is there a reason it's a period piece? Is it set in 1979 either for a practical reason--for example, the plot would fall apart if the Internet or cell phones existed--or for a more esoteric reason, like it attempts to capture a certain quality of the era that, if transposed to the modern age, would be diminished?

(Yeah, I realize the movie is called Super 8, and a great deal of the movie is about filming in Super 8...)

It's silly, but it's an odd pet peeve of mine: I don't like it when works of art--like the otherwise excellent Squid And The Whale--take place during the era of the creator's childhood for no other reason than the piece is autobiographical and this era is when the events happened to the creator.

I could be wrong, and please correct me if I am, but it seems like something even more grating is at work here: Abrams wanted to make an homage to Spielberg's 70s and 80s so...he set it in 1979! I hope that's not true, it's such a failure of imagination and, really, just plain dumb. It's like something Harry Knowles would do if they let him direct a movie.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:30 PM on June 15, 2011


To clarify: I meant because Knowles is primarily a fan and not an artist, and would presumably create films with a fan's slavish devotion to the object of their fandom. I wasn't calling him dumb. Not there, anyway.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:41 PM on June 15, 2011


Too bad your 12-year-old self has such bad standards or is so little inclined to critical reflection, I guess. ... The general sort of argument that it's ok if some work is poorly made

Nah, I said it's okay to enjoy something even if it's not perfect, because good films that we've all enjoyed are not perfect. There are virtues that exist above plot holes at times (even the critically examines ones!), and I'll enjoy those without apology. But your critiques aren't without merit.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:46 PM on June 15, 2011


When I walked out of the theater I said to myself that "This looked like a Speilberg film, but smelled like an Abrams flick." I'm pretty sure that the main jest of setting the film in 1979 was to attempt to capture the nostalgic feeling of a Speilberg film, and to me that was a lot of the problem with the film. The tacked on bits of nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. When I thought about it more, I realized that all that tacked on stuff almost overshadowed the REAL nostalgia, the homages to amateur film making. When I actually saw through to that, I started to like the film a lot more. The filming of a low budget zombie flick, zombie make-up, blowing up a model train for cheap special effects, getting the cute neighbor girl to star in your cheap horror flick, it made really wish I'd tried to shoot my own cheap horror flick when I was a kid.
posted by FireballForever at 8:49 PM on June 15, 2011


Too bad your 12-year-old self has such bad standards or is so little inclined to critical reflection, I guess.
What??? Kenko, now that's just rude! My 13 year old and I both thoroughly enjoyed the movie - so did Roger Ebert and 84% of "top critics." Not everyone's going to like it, but we did; we liked it a lot.
posted by kbar1 at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2011


I wouldn't say disastrously bad, but I would say the film doesn't work primarily because it's simply 80s nostalgia with an 80s monster with a 2011 audience that doesn't understand 80's angst. (self-link.) The monster has to mean something, and in the 80s monsters were very specifically Cold War related metaphors that today can't help but fall flat.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:51 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was fun though, and fun is good too.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:51 PM on June 15, 2011


Actually there are a lot of those, the horizontal stripey kind. A couple of people have mentioned those in passing. Are those an Abrams cliche? I didn't really watch Lost.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:53 PM on June 15, 2011


You can make a movie for 12-year-olds that hangs together, so it's not as if "pre-teen movie" is a genre that demands sloppiness, so why excuse sloppiness in a sloppy film just because you think the average 12-year-old (or you as a 12-year-old) wouldn't notice or care?

Because there are some stories that just can't be told if you don't allow some sloppiness in the execution, and some of those stories are the kinds of stories that 12 year olds love.

Sometimes you just can't make a story that works perfectly, but it's worth telling anyway, and still worth watching.
posted by empath at 8:55 PM on June 15, 2011


I wanna play the Lunger.
posted by clavdivs at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2011


Well, Kenko was kind of rude, but I faved his comment anyway because I personally found it acerbically amusing... Since I've been told too many times, about movies I've disliked, that I'd enjoy them better if I would "stop thinking so much." Uh, thanks... I guess?

I found Devin Faraci's review pretty interesting, and I found his critique compelling and believable. I think I'll not see "Super 8".... Not to get too personal here or anything, but my mom died when I was young, and it seems that the way Abrams handles this issue in the movie would colossally piss me off.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 9:22 PM on June 15, 2011


I think too mutch and thought the film was just fine.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:19 PM on June 15, 2011


The general sort of argument that it's ok if some work is poorly made, or doesn't make much sense on minimal examination, or suffers from what flaw soever, so long as its audience is supposed to be sufficiently uncritical, is one that, in general, I despise.

Hee hee! This sounds like me four years ago. I gave this attitude up along with taking Ayn Rand seriously and being in high school, but I still have a good counterresponse.

kenko, why do you give a shit? What's the point in despising a movie like this? It is what it is. Unless you're a film critic or an aspiring filmmaker, you have literally no responsibility to actively dislike this film. And unless you're charging Super 8 with teaching kids not to critically examine things or whatever other Important Value you think people who like this film are disregarding, it's not actively hurting people who like it, other than maybe that they get to say they liked a film that you had difficulty appreciating.

When I watch something I try and give it exactly as much leeway as it needs for me to be able to enjoy it. Sometimes I fail, and can't help but dislike it. (It took me three years to get myself in the right state of mind to watch the pilot episode of Firefly without turning it off in melodramatic revulsion, but this weekend it finally clicked for me.) What's the point in my sitting and stewing and feeling critical of something? It doesn't make me a smarter person to dislike things; I know that I can find reasons to dislike them if I feel like it — and I could similarly find faults in most of the things I love if I was looking. If I'm going to watch something, why not make every effort to enjoy it?

And if you can't enjoy something lightheartedly and guiltfree, what's the point of being there? Leave. I walk out of concerts occasionally when I dislike them. There's nothing wrong with that. But once you leave, there's no point in dwelling over your dislike. Again, unless you're honing your mind in preparations for creating some great work of art that permits no distractions, or unless you're trying to become a talented, meaningful critic, you gain nothing from such intolerant negativity, and the people around you gain nothing from it but maybe a spoilt day. Certainly I've made a lot of people's days worse by inserting myself and my criticisms into them.

Again, I say this as probably the most talented finder-of-flaws-in-things that I know. I'm telling you, Wannabe Negative Nancy, that it's not worth it, that you gain literally nothing from trying to hold an "objective critical assessment" of things in your brain. Nobody gives a shit about your valuations and revaluations. Except for you. And if you're going to do something for yourself, you might as well find happiness in doing it.

And, dude, cut the eë thing out. You are not the New Yorker.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:19 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was very impressed with it. I thought it handled issues of abuse and awkward youthful romance quite well, it handles the world of no-budget filmmaking superbly, and the monster is entirely politically relevant - it's a proxy for terrorism and the paranoid ways that people react to the imaginary other. I plan on going to see it again, and possibly more. It's a very smart movie, both intellectually and emotionally, and one that manages to say a great deal without belaboring its points.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also a film critic, and thought this film was fine.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:37 PM on June 15, 2011


As someone who lives in Astoria, Oregon, I'd just like to say my condolences go out
to the locals of the town where Super 8 was filmed, as you'll now have to deal with
being known as the town where Super 8 was filmed, maaaan!
posted by gcbv at 10:40 PM on June 15, 2011


I thought it handled issues of abuse and awkward youthful romance quite well

Did the resolution of Alice's abuse plotlines satisfy you, anigbrowl? Because they bothered me. It was like the implied violence of her drunk father no longer mattered by the end. It felt very swept under the rug, for a hug and a cheap resolution. It felt . . . I don't know. It didn't feel respectful of the type of trauma girls like Alice face. It was odd. My husband didn't even think she seemed particularly abused. Maybe I was reading into it. But the terror with which she faces her dad, the fear. That felt real to me, and was never really addressed at all.

Hee hee! This sounds like me four years ago. I gave this attitude up along with taking Ayn Rand seriously and being in high school, but I still have a good counterresponse.

I don't know, Rory. I think there's something to be said for not talking down to children. We can give them fun, fluffy stuff, and refuse to look at that stuff critically, but we can also give them stuff that's honest and excellent and withstands criticism that's still fun, too. You can do both.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:40 PM on June 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


St. Paul is where they filmed Jingle All the Way, and they're just fine, although they prefer you niot bring up the film. Or Drop Dread Fred.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2011


I think too mutch, and I think St. Paul is just fine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:42 PM on June 15, 2011


Again, I say this as probably the most talented finder-of-flaws-in-things that I know. I'm telling you, Wannabe Negative Nancy, that it's not worth it, that you gain literally nothing from trying to hold an "objective critical assessment" of things in your brain. Nobody gives a shit about your valuations and revaluations. Except for you. And if you're going to do something for yourself, you might as well find happiness in doing it.

Personally, I talk critically about art--even fluffy art--because I care deeply about the integrity of stories, because it makes it easier for me to tell stories well, because it's a good way to think about our values as a society, because I enjoy it, because it enriches the things that I enjoy and helps me to understand why I don't enjoy other things. While you don't have to be a dick about not liking things, it's okay not to like things, too, and to talk about it, to engage in dialogue. It's a good thing to think and think critically and to engage in critical dialogue and I'm pretty sad to see all of this kinda cliched anti-reviewer rhetoric on metafilter, as much as I didn't expect everyone to enjoy the original article.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 PM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm kinda sad to see you policing your own thread, and criticizing other posters for not responding as you prefer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 PM on June 15, 2011


I . . . was actually responding to what Rory was saying about whether or not we should look critically at things or just enjoy them. But, er, sorry if it seemed that way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2011


My review.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Too bad your 12-year-old self has such bad standards or is so little inclined to critical reflection

When I was 12, the four movies I saw that year that blew me away were Poseidon Adventure (original version), Dirty Harry, French Connection, and Billy Jack.

Now, some almost forty years later, I can with some level of confidence say that French Connection is a f***ing masterpiece, Dirty Harry remains fresh albeit rather fascistic in its not so subtle politics, Poseidon Adventure is dumb, corny and absurd, and Billy Jack is so embarrassing in its deranged hippie-dippy earnestness (with violence) that it's also probably some kind of masterpiece.

So what did they all have in common for me back then? Shit happened, and lots of it. In French Connection it was visceral, violent real life cop stuff. In Dirty Harry, it was a more stylized (eroticised?) violence, including some torture. Definitely cool. In Poseidon Adventure, it was an ocean liner falling over (and so on). In Billy Jack, it was hippies versus straights and a hero with kickass kung fu moves (and some tit shots).

What could 12 year old I not have cared less about? Whether the various, plots, themes, meanings etc cohered. I just wanted kicks, action, crashes, torture, tits.

Bottom line: any 12 year old who is inclined to critical reflection is not to be trusted.
posted by philip-random at 11:04 PM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


(Again, I didn't expect everyone would agree with the article, and I just thought it was unusually well-written criticism that Mefites might enjoy reading. I don't care if people liked the movie or not. Apart from all of that, I think discussing whether or not we should discuss things critically at all is interesting, and worth discussing. I'm always disappointed in arguments that people should not expect quality, or not discuss expectations of quality, because they're weird and silencing. What kenko said has some merit in a broad sense, though I wouldn't have phrased it that way--should we expect children to have low expectations? Is that, like, an insult to children, or does it imply that we can't do more interesting things with our stories that we also show to 12-year-olds? I find all of that stuff interesting to talk about, and I disagree with Rory about that, specifically, was what I was trying to say--I wasn't trying to steer the discussion. In fact, I thought that was what we were already talking about.

Sorry, really, if it seemed that way. Blah. I'm tired.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:09 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having different expectations is not the same thing as having low expectations.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:15 PM on June 15, 2011


Bottom line: any 12 year old who is inclined to critical reflection is not to be trusted.

... but that doesn't mean you can't make a movie that stands up to critical reflection and also engage and entertain a 12 year old.

thought completed. back to the Vancouver riots, which are on TV right now and definitely appealing to my inner 18 year old
posted by philip-random at 11:23 PM on June 15, 2011


I was a twelve year old who probably couldn't be trusted--I'd watch crappy TV (like, say, Sliders) but run to usenet to complain when I thought the writing went off the rails. I wasn't especially sophisticated in my thinking, but consistency with characters was really important to me in particular.

I was also a little nerd, though. And didn't care that much about tits or explosions.

(Though the explosions in Super 8 were awesome.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:25 PM on June 15, 2011


FTA: But there’s very little justified in the second half of Super 8. The title, in fact, is arbitrary. Yes, the kids are shooting a movie on Super 8, and yes they do capture the monster on Super 8 film… but that’s not actually a plot point of any value. By the time they develop the film and show it to the adults it doesn’t really matter what’s on the footage.

Hello!?!? The author totally misses the point. The title isn't arbitrary; it's the crypt word for the entire subtext of the movie, i.e. Abrams/Spielberg have written a love letter about their childhood experience of making films.

Similarly in response to kenko, Super 8 is not at all a bad movie for kids to see. Despite its flaws, it is filled with notions that are accessible, and either educational or appealing to that age group. In 8th grade language arts class, I had the task of directing half the class in a play production. I was inexperienced, and this movie would have been an inspiration and nontrivial influence had I seen it then.

There's a couple more things I'd say regarding kenko's interesting comments, but I'll just list the key ideas and agents: 1) artistic perfectionism, 2) the consumers opportunity cost, 3) Hollywood industry v.s. ivory tower standards.
posted by polymodus at 11:41 PM on June 15, 2011


Forgot to say one thing—as an adult, however, I really wish I had spent time doing something else with that afternoon watching Super 8. I didn't like the story progression and the monster/alien wasn't cool enough. Oh well.
posted by polymodus at 11:43 PM on June 15, 2011


"[It] would work if just clipped out and used to sell flowers or something; technically it’s well made, but narratively it’s disastrously bad and lazy. That, more or less, sums up the entire film."

Dear god. I've never seen so many pauses and commas in a single statement. These two sentences were technically NOT well made. The construction is disastrously bad and lazy!
posted by greenhornet at 12:09 AM on June 16, 2011


That thing people do do where they look back on old movies and go, "when you think about it, they sucked too!!1" No. Wrong.

The original three Star Wars are great movies. E.T. is a great movie. Stand by Me is a timeless, great movie. The first Indiana Jones is an all-time classic.

If you can't tell the difference between those and the Star Wars prequels, or a goddamn JJ Abrams movie, I don't know why you watch movies.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:32 AM on June 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Try reading the OP's intro and when you see "Super 8" substitute the Nicholas Cage thriller "8MM". You will be confused and slightly unnerved thinking you very much missed everything that was going on in that film. That's how I was until I realized we were talking about a fun, family friendly sci-fi romp and not a thriller based in the world of BDSM and snuff films.
posted by bionic.junkie at 12:57 AM on June 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


PhoB: I didn't feel at all like you were calling me out! I agree with you completely that it's possible for a kid's movie to have integrity and quality. And if I'm going to make kid's movies, I'm going to want them to be as good as possible. Or if I'm lucky enough one day to usurp Astro Zombie's position as undead columnist, I'll try and be properly critical of everything I see.

I mean, I'm critical of things now too, and I like to think that I can get into a fine creative fury over things I dislike, especially on the Internet when I have a chance to revise away any lines that are nasty rather than critical. I've tried hard in the last 3 years never to say "If you like Firefly you have worse taste in television than I do", but at the same time I've had hilarious conversations wherein people tried to convince me of the show's merits and I countered with amused little jabs at the show. In between proper rigorous discussion, of course.

My problem with kenko's little rant wasn't that he was being critical, but that he was being pompous and self-righteous about his criticism. His wasn't criticism-for-criticism, it was criticism-for-"objective"-rightness. Which I felt like being critical of, especially after I saw his New Yorker-umlaut (which strikes me also as the kind of thing I'd have done at 16, when I felt it made me important).

PS: you're one of the people I get into arguments with more than anybody on MetaFilter, and with the exception of the one time that I got nasty and you rightly called me out on it, I really enjoy when we get into disagreements, especially because you're frequently right. :-)
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:11 AM on June 16, 2011


FWIW, 12-year-old Rory liked Pixar, but he didn't love them, and I suspect he wouldn't have been hugely enchanted by Miyazaki films (and even today, each Miyazaki film I see I love but I never go on to watch his other films — I think I've still only seen three by him, and Totoro's sitting on my computer collecting dust), but I would watch Strange Brew starring Bob and Doug McKenzie twice a day if my parents weren't immediately sick of it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:17 AM on June 16, 2011


Lost was so jaw-droppingly vapid that it's instilled a sour prejudice in me. With the (admittedly passable) Star Trek as an exception (because I love the Trek like you love a grandparent, I may even forgive it its Enterprise trespasses), I don't think I'll ever pay to see anything by him.
posted by Mooseli at 5:33 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any lens flares? Those are the sign of a great film.

Half-way through Super8 my wife turned to me and asked if it was made by the same guy that made Star Trek, because she kept seeing lense flares.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:41 AM on June 16, 2011


As much as I love thinking critically about art and talking about movies (including this one), what I personally had to say about this movie was an example of the fact that at some level, I feel an obligation to respect my own unexamined reactions, up to a point. Not to follow them slavishly, but to acknowledge that they exist. It doesn't mean you can't interrogate your initial reaction later, particularly if you discover that your baser instincts were being engaged, or that your lizard brain was being seduced by the promise of violence or mob rule or the subjugation of the other or whatever. And it doesn't mean you can't say, "Gee, it would have been nice if there had been more than one girl, or the one girl hadn't functioned here in quite the way she did, no matter how great the Elle Fanning performance is."

But my best friend and I went to see this movie, and we had the best time we've had at the movies in a really, really long time. I see plenty of movies; it has nothing to do with not knowing that there exist in the world movies that are more innovative. It certainly has nothing to do with being unable to reject sentimentality; I see plenty of sentimental hit-your-cry-buttons movies, and I hate many of them.

It is one of the functions of a movie like this to entertain, and we were massively entertained. We jumped at the scary parts, we laughed at the jokes, and when it was over, I almost stayed and watched it again. I really did. The easiest thing in the world to do would have been to come out of it and say, "Here are the ten things this movie borrows from other things that I recognized; therefore, I know my stuff and this movie is bad." And there are plenty of people who are very, very smart who had that reaction very, very genuinely.

Even though I don't always agree with him, Faraci is a smart guy and a terrific, fearless writer (if you've never read his [incredibly NSFW] "Breaking Dawn" piece, I don't know why you're sitting here instead of doing that), and I can't really argue with the fact that the ending of Super 8 is by far the weakest part. (I said on the car ride home, "I think we can agree that the last five to ten minutes of that movie are the least essential five to ten minutes.") But it didn't wash out the fantastic good time that I had for the rest of the entire film. Is it cinematic greatness? Probably not, because of the ending.

But I'm not going to stand here and say, "Well, the last ten minutes really could have been a lot better, so the first hour and a half didn't exist." I had a spectacularly good time. I can certainly list the flaws and agree with other people's lists of flaws, but for an hour and a half, I had a good time, and I think being honest about that is as much a part of critical integrity as anything else.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:49 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hee hee! This sounds like me four years ago. I gave this attitude up along with taking Ayn Rand seriously and being in high school, but I still have a good counterresponse.

There's nothing worst then someone who has had an epiphany about something and now looks down on those who think as he used to. Way to go there Rory, you've really grown.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 AM on June 16, 2011


Well, in fairness, once you outgrow Ayn Rand, you're better off.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:24 AM on June 16, 2011


Quiet, you undead lover of T2.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:26 AM on June 16, 2011


Quiet, you undead lover of T2 normal, rational human being with good taste.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:37 AM on June 16, 2011


All I could think when I saw Super 8 - and came out of the theater terribly disappointed, just so you know where this commented is headed - is that absolutely nothing that any of the "protagonists" did had any effect on the movie. The only person that effected any change on anything was the scientist in the white truck, and his actions were a pre-determined necessity to make the movie happen in the first place, so they don't really count.

The movie boiled down to "an alien escaped some humans and then went home." It could have followed any number of kids or adults or even all the dogs that left town and those new subjects would have made just as much of a difference - that is, none - as Joe & Co. did.

When your answer to that age-old question "What does the protagonist want?" is "I ... really don't know" then you're headed down a bad path.
posted by komara at 6:51 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I was watching, I kept on thinking one of the silent homages had to be an optimistic reply to Over the Edge (1979). I can see how crossing that with Cloverfield, a case of beer, and a few joints while reminiscing about the small-town parts of my upbringing could get me about 80%+ of storyline of this move.

Maybe it was all the floppy hair, the 13-year-old femme fatale, the oversized stereo headphones, bmx bikes, conflict with authority, semi-visible aliens, and the destructive-yet-uncertainly-hopeful ending.
posted by bafflegab at 6:52 AM on June 16, 2011


Oh, and one of the stronger morals seemed to be a heavy-handed reminder to us all that a Hungry Alien will take snacks for later, rather than eating your romantic interest immediately.
posted by bafflegab at 7:04 AM on June 16, 2011


I saw it... and I spent the next hour wondering which way you hold your thumb for "meh."
posted by Debaser626 at 7:54 AM on June 16, 2011


Lost was so jaw-droppingly vapid that it's instilled a sour prejudice in me. With the (admittedly passable) Star Trek as an exception (because I love the Trek like you love a grandparent, I may even forgive it its Enterprise trespasses), I don't think I'll ever pay to see anything by him.

JJ Abrams actually had very little to do with Lost beyond the first season. Though I don't know how much you're missing by skipping him generally, though I like Fringe lots.

And it doesn't mean you can't say, "Gee, it would have been nice if there had been more than one girl, or the one girl hadn't functioned here in quite the way she did, no matter how great the Elle Fanning performance is."

I had this expectation that she would stumble out of some sort of cave all zombified because of her psychic connection to the alien. I was excited about that--her performance was great, and it seemed like that would be an epic movie moment. Sometimes it's good when a movie upends your expectations--but in this case I keep thinking back to what I thought was going to happen and feeling wistful.

Ironically, I mostly enjoyed the movie okay, but it's almost wholly in its treatment of Alice that I get stuck. Where ya'll really okay with the way the story between her and her dad was resolved? Because he seemed so emotionally abusive, if not physically, and I couldn't shake the specter of that abuse.

But again, my husband didn't see that at all, still insists she wasn't--that the dad chases after her drunk in his car because he's "lonely." And I just get caught on what I feel is the fundamental dishonesty of that, though that might have been what Abrams intended.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 AM on June 16, 2011


I plopped down my money, sat there with a large tub of popcorn and diet soda, and allowed myself to enjoy the entire experience.

Was it a perfect film? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Did it entertain me? Absolutely.

Much has been made of the homages to Spielberg and his movies of the 70s/80s, but honestly, this is much ado about nothing. I'd heard so much about this, that before I saw the film I expected the whole thing to be some sort of giant amalgam of scenes from Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., etc. Sure, it's set in 79 or 80, features kids and has a sci-fi theme, but that's really where it ends.

It's just a movie, gang, and at the end of the day, if I got my $7.50 worth then that's really all I can ask for.

What surprises me more than anything else is that no one seems to be complaining about the fact that the Cloverfield alien and this alien look so similar.
posted by BrianJ at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2011


Where ya'll really okay with the way the story between her and her dad was resolved?

It didn't resolve, that's the problem. Her Dad was a drunk and emotionally manipulative in their day to day existence. That's not going to suddenly change. At most, he'll be like "Ok, the boy who's mother accidently died in my place and saved you from an alien life form can come over now. But you still better have my damn supper on the table and mind me girl!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2011


I respect the fact that some people want to enjoy a movie uncritically, but it's annoying to be reminded of it by every person who feels that way.

Enjoy the movie, and maybe avoid discussions which are explicitely about analyzing a movie.
posted by muddgirl at 8:16 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Enjoy the movie, and maybe avoid discussions which are explicitely about analyzing a movie.

I think two things can easily coexist at the same time, as Linda_Holmes pointed out. Life doesn't exist in a dichotomy between uncritical ignorance and hyper-objectivity. You can watch something through younger eyes while being critically aware of something's shortcomings. A good metaphor is human relationships. I can sing the praises of people in my life while being aware of their (sometimes significant) imperfections.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:35 AM on June 16, 2011


By the way, discussing whether one can appreciate the merits a movie despite its imperfections is a type of critique and analysis.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:38 AM on June 16, 2011


Life doesn't exist in a dichotomy between uncritical ignorance and hyper-objectivity.

Statements like
It's just a movie, gang, and at the end of the day, if I got my $7.50 worth then that's really all I can ask for.
imply to me that one way which I have fun with movies -- analyzing a movie for what worked, what didn't, etc. -- is less important than other ways which I can have fun with movies.

I think two things can easily coexist at the same time

I never argued that they don't. I'm simply stating that if someone is going to be dismissive of one way that we enjoy engaging with movies, then maybe they should save us some time and move along when the topic of the thread involves engaging with movies in that way.
posted by muddgirl at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2011


I saw it last weekend and oddly unimpressed. You could definitely feel Spielberg's prints all over the movie but in the end it was a remarkably vacuous homage to any number of "Transition to Adulthood" movies.

I thought the young female actress was really gifted but needed more to work with, and the overweight director kid was really solid but he was ultimately a secondary character, but most of the other performances were ultimately completely forgettable.

I'm not sure you can even say it was a postmodern version of ET or Stand By Me because other than a having a big huge "monster" it really didn't cover any new ground. It hinted at the monster being us but then backed off from that message.

In comparison to Stand By Me or even the TV Movie version of IT I think it really lacked in terms of narrative structure and flow and even the CGI stuff seemed really lacking. The train derailment was cool but over the top, kinda like a Bay movie, but the Military vs the Monster seemed lacking and even the Monster seemed pretty lazily designed.

It's like JJ Abrams kinda gets it but it's all filtered through a lens of being a kid during the Spielberg/Lucas 70s and 80s. It tries to capture the feel of those movies but doesn't really cover new ground or try to expand the genre. Abrams stuff can be very derivative and even when he covers new ground he seems too scattershot to really cover the concept well.
posted by vuron at 8:55 AM on June 16, 2011


I'm not trying to be a jerk, as I do see your point. But a statement like this:

It's just a movie, gang, and at the end of the day, if I got my $7.50 worth then that's really all I can ask for.

is really a type of critique that is no less rude or dismissing that some other responses that I've seen here that hated the movie. It's a statement regarding what is important in movies to that particular person that exists beyond a simple critical analysis of its technical or narrative aspects. Is it that you just prefer a certain type of engagement over movies in this case? Because the original post encourages people to take sides, based on whether one enjoyed the movie, and for whatever reasons. I don't see the boundaries you mention that should exclude this kind of discussion.

If you are talking about tone, though, I definitely agree; I don't like the dismissiveness that sometimes crops up in discussions like that that seems to be grounded in some hubris or something.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:01 AM on June 16, 2011


I would argue there is a difference between the following two statements:

A. "It's only a movie; discussions of its quality aren't worth having because quality in film is unimportant."

B. "One appropriate component of the quality of a film designed to be entertaining is whether or not it is, in fact, entertaining, and other flaws don't necessarily overwhelm that consideration."

"With due respect for entertainment value" isn't the same thing as "uncritically."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:02 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


is really a type of critique that is no less rude or dismissing that some other responses that I've seen here that hated the movie. It's a statement regarding what is important in movies to that particular person that exists beyond a simple critical analysis of its technical or narrative aspects. Is it that you just prefer a certain type of engagement over movies in this case? Because the original post encourages people to take sides, based on whether one enjoyed the movie, and for whatever reasons. I don't see the boundaries you mention that should exclude this kind of discussion.

I certainly didn't intend for my statement to be dismissive nor rude, SpacemanStix. It just surprises me that there is so much vitriol and consternation (not on your part, btw) over what is essentially a popcorn movie. I've seen less hatred and dissection of the Twilight films than I have over Super 8.

I'm a self-described film geek and there are occasions when I spend massively inordinate amounts of time obsessing over film minutiae, but I can also sit back and enjoy a film for what it is.
posted by BrianJ at 9:14 AM on June 16, 2011


I certainly didn't intend for my statement to be dismissive nor rude, SpacemanStix.

Oh, yeah, I could have expressed that a bit better about your quote. I was actually more concerned with dismissive attitudes coming from the other direction, but framed it in light of your quote, as it was the one used. That is, if your statement was dismissive of a critical analysis (which, in all honesty, was not very, unless you have a deliberately narrow definition of critical), then it really excludes other contributors, as well.

I totally agree with your last statement.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:30 AM on June 16, 2011


I've seen less hatred and dissection of the Twilight films than I have over Super 8.

Haven't seen Super 8 ... but the ads (which we've been seeing for a few months now starting with teasers) really seemed to promise something special. Not just a dumb summer monster movie but a movie that might have something powerful to say to us about being young, finding your passion, having a wild, mind-opening adventure ... and the kind of impression that makes on one's heart and soul.

To discover now that it's apparently just another sloppy Hollywood box-office-before-brains mess (despite the 82 percent rotten-tomatoes rating, which just means it's not as bad as most of the other sloppy summer messes) is really quite disappointing. So yeah, I can see the hate. Easily.
posted by philip-random at 9:47 AM on June 16, 2011


It just surprises me that there is so much vitriol and consternation (not on your part, btw) over what is essentially a popcorn movie.

Popcorn movies are fine and fun. Super 8 was fine and fun for a while, then just gradually descended into a steaming mess that didn't resolve its characters or story points, IMO.

Oddly enough I found Signs more entertaining and well done, even though it was silly on a lot of levels. But it resolved the conflict of the characters in a satisfying way, which Super 8 didn't.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2011


It didn't resolve, that's the problem. Her Dad was a drunk and emotionally manipulative in their day to day existence. That's not going to suddenly change. At most, he'll be like "Ok, the boy who's mother accidently died in my place and saved you from an alien life form can come over now. But you still better have my damn supper on the table and mind me girl!"

Glad I'm not the only one who felt that way, then. The one thing I'd disagree with in the original article was that she was handled poorly because she's a girl. Olivia Dunham on Fringe is proof positive that JJ Abrams can handle female characters well, even if many of them--Kate from Lost, Olivia, Alice in this film--are all sort of the same, IE tough girls abused by male relatives. Thing is, Kate and Olivia overcome that, often through violent retaliation. Wish there had been room in the movie to show Alice working to overcome her own abuse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2011


Wish there had been room in the movie to show Alice working to overcome her own abuse.

I wish the resolution between Joe and father had been believable. The scene where he and his dad argue and dad says he can't talk, the town needs him is really good and nails the conflict. Dad realizes his son needs him too and he wants to be there, but he doesn't know how, so he struggles and this finds it too hard and retreats into doing his duty.

When they reunite, dad says something like "I have you now or I got you" and hugs him. That sounds odd to me because that wasn't the conflict, it was the struggle between doing his duty or being there for his son. There's acknowledgment of that conflict and hence no resolution.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on June 16, 2011


Olivia Dunham on Fringe is proof positive that JJ Abrams can handle female characters well, even if many of them--Kate from Lost, Olivia, Alice in this film--are all sort of the same, IE tough girls abused by male relatives.

How much of those characters is actually determined by Abrams? Was he really all that involved in Lost?
posted by The World Famous at 10:41 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, he wrote the pilot, so he at least created the character of Kate. He was also a writer on much of the first season of Fringe, including the pilot--from the sound of it, he worked pretty extensively with the writing team on character creation for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 AM on June 16, 2011


I haven't seen the movie, but ISTM that they missed something in the whole psychic-link thing. As I understand it, when the monster touches you, you and it share the totality of your experience, right? Wouldn't that mean that a) the monster would know the experience of being killed by it, courtesy its victims, and 2) that the kids would know the experience of killing innocent people they knew from the town?

I bet someone -- maybe not JJ Abrams, though -- could make a really interesting movie based on this premise.
posted by Gelatin at 12:09 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...technically it’s well made, but narratively it’s disastrously bad and lazy. That, more or less, sums up the entire film."

That, more or less, sums up every movie I've been excited about over the past 20 years.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2011


To expand further on my statement about this being absolutely the movie Spielberg would have made in 1979 if he had had the cash, as I watched it, I could even see who the cast would have been then: for Jackson Lamb you need a reassuring cop type: maybe Claude Akins or Kent McCord. Louis Dainard calls for someone a little bit countercultural and unhinged. His daughter? Probably Diane Lane or possibly Jodie Foster.

Noah Emmerich's role is the hardest to recast, if only because, as Fametracker long ago observed, there is something oddly 70s about him. James Caan, maybe.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


To discover now that it's apparently just another sloppy Hollywood box-office-before-brains mess

Someone is going to say that about anything. Especially if they're jealous, which is something that happens a lot in the film world. This is why I avoid reading reviews for films I haven't seen yet. There's a market for reviewers telling their readers what they want to hear, just as there is for films that do the same thing. If you let other people make up your mind for you so easily, then why bother watching films at all? Just become a movie-critic buff instead, and save a fortune on theater tickets and DVD rentals.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:22 PM on June 16, 2011


It's not reviewers per say that have turned me off bothering to see Super 8. It's the single review that this FPP linked to and the degree to which much of the discussion in this thread has corroborated it. Specifically, it's the observation that regardless of how engaging the characters may be (and their situations), the movie ends up selling itself short with a clunky ending full of sloppily unresolved stuff. I'm so tired of this kind of shit from Hollywood so am thankful when I get warned off.
posted by philip-random at 2:52 PM on June 16, 2011


I guess that's in the eye of the beholder. I didn't find it clunky or sloppy, and while some questions went unresolved that's a net positive for me. I don't want every plot or character thread neatly brought back in a closed loop, because it doesn't allow me to speculate about the life the characters might have had outside the boundaries of the story. In fact, one of the things that I liked a great deal about the film was the relative lack of exposition, with the characters often alluding to matters outside the story which they clearly knew more about than I did. I only got a glimpse into their lives, and although I got to share a few intimate moments with them, I didn't actually get to know them all that well. which is rather like real life, and one of the understated themes of the film.

So, I think Devin Farachi is full of shit, and that his script analysis is way off the mark. My biases are that I've been an indie filmmaker for most of the last decade and have written both short and feature-length scripts, some pitched at about the same age range.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:49 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fringe is pretty excellent, actually. Abrams only wrote 6 episodes out of the 3 seasons which have aired so far, but he's pretty heavily involved with the concept of the show and certainly is one of the people who created the characters. He continues to be an executive producer for the series, so he at least has a bit of steering with how the series progresses.

It's pretty much the best series on television, IMO. Or at least, the best series I'm watching.
posted by hippybear at 4:02 PM on June 16, 2011


"...technically it’s well made, but narratively it’s disastrously bad and lazy. That, more or less, sums up the entire film."

That, more or less, sums up every movie I've been excited about over the past 20 years.


Well, I have two films you need to put on your list so you can break that bad pattern. The Usual Suspects and The Ghost Writer. Both made in the past 20 years, both incredibly well made and written and made for grown-ups with brains.

Those two are such stand-outs that much else pales in comparison.
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on June 16, 2011


I found The Ghost Writer very by-the-numbers, but that might be because it is constructed on some tropes that have been done to death in British film and TV. However, you should definitely dig up a criminally underrated little film from 1985 called Defense of the Realm, which coincidentally stars Gabriel Byrne. It is one the best realizations of this sub-genre.

Heh. Done to death.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2011


The Ghost Writer is so elegantly made. It assumes an audience which actually pays attention and isn't stupid. It's old-fashioned film making done at the peak of excellence in a modern style. Tropes are everywhere, but not everyone can make them as classy as they are presented in The Ghost Writer.
posted by hippybear at 4:49 PM on June 16, 2011


Well, I didn't hate it; it's just not that original-seeming if you grew up on the other side of the pond then a lot of the elements are familair. Conversely, I really enjoyed The American despite the shovel-thick nostalgia for 70's film style and its almost skeletal plot.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:46 PM on June 16, 2011


Sorry, I didn't know we were discussing original seeming movies. I thought we were discussing movies which weren't narratively disastrously bad and lazy which might have come out in the past 20 years.

There are no original movies. All the stories have been told. It's sad but true. I'm content to find a film, like the ones I mentioned, which are really well made and don't treat me like I'm an idiot.
posted by hippybear at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2011


All the stories have been told. It's sad but true.

People keep saying this and storytellers keep ignoring it and every so often someone does something nobody has ever seen or read before. For like, hundreds of years.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:34 PM on June 17, 2011


People keep saying this and storytellers keep ignoring it and every so often someone does something nobody has ever seen or read before. For like, hundreds of years.

Examples?
posted by hippybear at 4:47 PM on June 17, 2011


Examples?

Life of an American Fireman, Edwin Porter, 1902
Ulysses - James Joyce, 1922
Strike, Sergei Eisenstein, 1925
Napoléon, Abel Gance, 1927
Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner, 1929
Downfall of the Egotist Johann Fatzer, Berthold Brecht, 1930
Rose Hobart, Joseph Cornell, 1936
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939
Rope, Alfred Hitchcock, 1948
À bout de souffle, Jean-Luc Godard, 1960
Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux, Jean-Luc Godard, 1962
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles, 1967
Walden, Jonas Mekas, 1969
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Werner Herzog, 1972
Watchmen, Alan Moore, 1986
Time's Arrow: or The Nature of the Offence, Martin Amis, 1991
Blasted, Sarah Kane, 1995
Timecode, Mike Figgis, 2000
Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette, 2003

I mean, I could keep going, but I've already wasted 45 minutes of my life.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of those examples are of new stories. They're possibly of new ways stories are being told, but that's not the same thing. And really, not even that many of those stories are being told in new ways.

Rope? A single-room stageplay being filmed. Similar things had been presented live for centuries. The film simply mimics the live experience by disguising the physical limitations inherent in the medium.

Etc etc etc. I'm not going to go through all your examples. New presentation is not the same as new stories. And more than a few of your examples have nothing to do with movies, or even storytelling. Sgt Peppers? Seriously? THAT is not a story. Unless you're referring to the Bee Gees film, which I note you didn't actually use as your citation.

I'll say it again: there are no new stories; they've all already been told. And I'll raise my response/challenge again: if there are examples of new stories, I'd like to hear of them.

Now, I do admit that you have plenty of excellent examples in your list of quality tellings of old stories, and those are worth a lot in our world.
posted by hippybear at 6:59 PM on June 17, 2011


I'll say it again: there are no new stories; they've all already been told.

What the fuck does this even mean? Every possible permutation of the human condition and experience has not only occurred, but relayed with significant prominence as to be noted by society? Come on.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:08 PM on June 17, 2011


You've never heard of The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations?

I mean, there are other ways to break this down, too. There are the Three Plots, or the Seven Basic Plots (by our very own Jessamyn West), or the Twenty Plots...
posted by hippybear at 7:18 PM on June 17, 2011


And food scientists have abstracted flavor to a similar degree. I guess there's nothing in the world that hasn't been tasted!

I'm done with this conversation.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:20 PM on June 17, 2011


Don't forget to take your ball when you go home!
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on June 17, 2011


You've never heard of The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations?

Actually there's forty-eight. Forty-nine now after that riot the other night, something to do with youthful idiots going-off, then bragging about it, posting pictures of themselves online... and then the dragnet of the law slowly closes on them.

Yeah, I really hate the "there are no new stories" argument, because it really is unresolvable. Except to just say, it's wrong, fundamentally, because it puts theory ahead of art. And that's wrong, fundamentally. Not that it isn't tempting, of course, because to do so is to suggest that maybe art doesn't involve some inherent weird juju, maybe it's ... a science. But that's wrong. There is juju in all art, and the very definition of it being juju is that it's different every time. Thus new.

I would argue that there a roughly 6.5 billion dramatic situations ... and counting.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 PM on June 17, 2011


Yeah, sure. But the discussion here isn't about how each person is living their own individual existence. It's about the universality of stories which we tell each other. And you have to admit, out of those 6.5 billion dramatic situations, there is going to be an awful lot of them which contain the exact same elements and which contain the same story arc. You start lumping those which are similar into categories, and you begin to perceive that there really are only a limited number of stories, it's HOW they are told which are different.

Anyway, all this goes back to my recommendation of The Ghost Writer, and someone else saying it wasn't particularly original but that it was well told, and me saying that I look for well-told stories because there isn't really anything original anyway.

And so there we have it. Why did I say what I said? Because it's true. There are no original stories to be told. We can tell them in different ways, but we're lying to ourselves if we say they are original stories.

And so now back to Super 8. I haven't seen it yet, but from what I hear it's a pretty good homage to Stephen Spielberg. So we can ask ourselves... Is it a good enough homage to be original? Or is it just a respectful throwback, like Mel Brooks making Silent Movie?

Anyway, that riot the other night wasn't anything new. An out of control mob doing things they shouldn't in a public square and then later finding that they might get in trouble for their actions after the authorities investigate? Sounds like one of the oldest stories in the world. Only the details change.
posted by hippybear at 5:42 AM on June 18, 2011


the horse is art
the cart is theory

the story is the art (and thus by my definition, ALWAYS fresh)
the "there's only __ # of stories" is theory that runs counter to that art

You seem to be arguing that whatever's fresh in a "new" story must be in the craft (in its telling, not it substance), that in terms of the actual narrative substance (the driving dynamics that make the story), there's nothing new under the sun and hasn't been since ... probably before recorded history. Which is an interesting theory, one I've heard argued many times before.

I disagree, fundamentally. Because I happen to think the human animal is forever evolving, subtly for sure, but it's definitely happening. Because it must. Because our environment is constantly evolving, which means the specific nature of potential conflicts is also evolving. Which means new narratives, necessarily.

Yes, they're similar to something that has come before. I'm sure if I knew my Shakespeare or my Aristophanes inside out, I could find some kind of analog for JG Ballard's CRASH ... but no, not until the evolution of the automobile, from noisy contraption in 1900 to psycho-sexual extension of the human soul in the 1960s, could that story even have been imagined. And as for the riots the other night -- same thing. There's always been young men getting all wound up on weird, wild tribal energy and doing stupid shit. But not until say the past five years has there been the tech-means at hand for them to nakedly implicate themselves for all of their community to see. Crazy, fresh dramatic stuff ensues.
posted by philip-random at 9:54 AM on June 18, 2011


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