Nostalgia--specifically nostalgia for the films of Steven Spielberg and the whole genre of kid-oriented action movies from the 1980s--drove much of the pre-release excitement for Super 8, which opens in theaters today. And while a movie that incorporates eight direct references to Spielberg into six minutes of footage wouldn't seem to have any trouble evoking memories of bygone summer movie season, some critics are saying director J.J. Abrams doesn't know the movies of his childhood as well as he might think. (Note: no spoilers below. We're trying to go in fresh, too.)
- Spielberg produced Super 8 and it shows, says the New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier. Abrams apes his mentor's "emotion and execution," (good), but also his "practiced naivete." (Bad.) "What's missing," he writes, "is a crucial sense of connection to itself. " It's a flaw the movie can't overcome, and "the result is an almost-great valentine to the genre milestones Gen X grew up with." The opening of Lou Lemenick's New York Post review could just as easily have been the pitch for the project. "Put 'The Goonies,' 'E.T.,' 'Close Encounters' and 'War of the Worlds' in that blender from 'Gremlins'--and transport the mixture back to 1979 in the 'Back to the Future' DeLorean — and you get J.J. Abrams' 'Super 8.' "
- At the Toronto Star, critic Peter Howell was turned off by the contrivance of the entire pastiche. "Abrams fashions Super 8 in such a calculating manner, with every element weighed both for maximum nostalgia value and ironic hipster cred, that it has an artificial feel to it," writes Howell. "It's like a birthday cake made of spun glass. Say what you will about Spielberg, but the man has never been anything but honest in his devotion to the aw-shucks pursuits of his mostly imagined Americana." He also accuses Abrams of botching key period details. (The film is set in 1979.) Says Howell, "Abrams is surprisingly sloppy about the language of his pint-sized protagonists. They call each other 'douche' and 'dude,' something '70s teens certainly weren't doing, unless they were time travellers from the 21st century."
- Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times goes so far as to suggest the film's fond memories mask the self-absorption of the two filmmakers. "It must have been satisfying for both individuals to relive their youthful 8mm moviemaking days, and to create the kind of story they would have loved to have told back in the day," Turan concedes. "But none of that necessarily creates value for an audience." It's tough not to notice "how little there is to be excited about" if you're sitting in the audience.
- Roger Ebert, for his part, loved the movie, and presented a compelling defense for a project that attempts to evoke nostalgia "not for a time but for a style of filmmaking, when shell-shocked young audiences were told a story and not pounded over the head with aggressive action. Abrams treats early adolescence with tenderness and affection. He uses his camera to accumulate emotion. He has the rural town locations right."