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Jason Wallis ‘Super 8’ falls well short of vintage Steven Spielberg

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, June 17, 2011 11:41 am

Steven Spielberg has been producing films for more than 30 years now, and it is becoming increasingly unclear what, exactly, the Spielberg production credit means at this point. In 1982, with “Poltergeist,” it meant that he essentially ghost-directed the film, by all credible accounts. Decades and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the man seems to be slapping his name on anything he can get his hands on, with little to no concern for the actual quality of the production. (“Eagle Eye,” anyone? I thought not.)

Spielberg‘s latest offering, “Super 8,” then represents an interesting case. Here is a film that is fashioned from the Spielberg model, from the themes of childhood innocence right down to the director’s trademark photography techniques. Director J.J. Abrams (the television power player who has attempted to make the leap to the big screen, with limited success, with “Mission: Impossible III” and “Star Trek”) has aped Spielberg so well that, sans credits, one could conceivably mistake “Super 8” as being directed by the master himself — that is, if you’re only looking at the surface.

“Super 8” looks, sounds and acts like a Spielberg film, but it doesn’t feel like one — any more than the dozens of other sub-par productions he has lent his name to over the decades. The story — concerning a group of movie-obsessed preteens in the early 1980s who inadvertently film a train derailment that sets a killer alien loose on their small town — has the makings of vintage Spielberg, but Abrams consistently fails to evoke any sense of genuine awe or wonder. The film goes through the motions (a precocious kid here, a dead parent there, with a little preteen romance and an exploding head thrown in for good measure), but it’s all Spielberg-inspired glitz and gloss, with no real personality to hold the thing together.

“Super 8” is another one of “those” films that we’ve been seeing a lot of this summer — films that are by turns entertaining and tiresome, with enough positive attributes to be worth a look if you’re bored but not enough going for it to be truly worth a recommendation.

“Super 8” is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and mild drug use.

A word on ratings

Right now, I am not addressing the vast majority of my readers — good, rational, God-fearing people that you are — but rather those few who voiced some … interesting views last week in the Letters to the Editor talkback. What started as a misinterpretation of a comment I made regarding the apparent cross-generational appeal and potential box-office success of the new “Hangover” movie quickly descended into a hilarious but insane discussion of parental discretion (or the lack thereof) and the ethical obligation of movies to “lift up society,” whatever that even means. As a result, I thought it prudent to clarify a couple things, and explain why I have decided to reinstitute my policy of listing “objectionable” content at the end of my reviews.

First point: I am not your mommy. My role as the local movie guru is to tell you, the reader, what’s what in the world of film. I do this by tackling a wide range of films from a semi-critical perspective that is still rooted in the adage that a movie is under no obligation to do anything but engage the viewer on an intellectual and/or visceral level. I am concerned with plot, performance and filmmaking technique. I am not ScreenIt.com, and it is not my intention to hold your hand and advise you on whether or not a given film is suitable for family viewing. I don’t know what your standards are, and to offer parenting advice would be presumptuous and rude.

That said, I would think that if a reasonably intelligent, mature, responsible parent read one of my reviews and saw that I made reference to, say, hardcore drug use and transsexual hookers, they would come to the logical conclusion that said film is inappropriate for young viewers, without me having to explicitly say so. (I’m reminded now of the irate letter I received a few years back from a grandmother who read my four-star review of “Borat!” and decided it would be a good idea to take a bunch of kids on Thanksgiving, assuming that “four stars” automatically meant “fun for the whole family.” Reading is fundamental, guys.)

Still, to protect the stupid, I have decided to once again start listing the reasons why a given film received a particular rating. Trying to shoe-horn in specific comments about the appropriateness of movies would simply be bad reviewing (imagine if I paused in the middle of, say, my “Blue Valentine” critique to reiterate that the film is not suitable for young viewers and plead, “Will somebody please think of the children?!”). But I suppose, as a safeguard, it couldn’t hurt to repeat the MPAA spiel at end of my columns. You know, for society and all.

(It appears that I’ve run out of space to delve into a discussion of why not all movies have an obligation to “lift up society.” To be continued next week.)

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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