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I think I first realized that I had a problem with Steven Spielberg when I went to the theater to catch the director's cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It wasn't that I didn't like the movie. I did like it. I'd already seen the original theatrical release and I liked it very much. Only the director's cut didn't deliver more of those quirky, character-building moments that made the initial release so charming. In fact, those moments were greatly reduced. Much of everyman Roy Neary's (Richard Dreyfuss) manic mud & shrubbery construction scene was sacrificed to allow bloated passages of FX and "spectacle." Watching this 5-minute longer version that had 1/5th the panache of the original, was the first time I suspected something a little shocking: for all this obvious skill, Spielberg wasn't really clear on what made his films work.

It was enough to make me rethink those articles about how in Jaws Spielberg had been forced to revamp his ideas about the film by a malfunctioning mechanical shark. The resulting film was a brilliant bit of storytelling, far better than the pulpy novel on which the film was based, but maybe that wasn't by design. If Bruce the Shark hadn't been a leaky, misfiring embarrassment on film, just what kind of movie would the young director have cranked out?

I'm afraid the answer is something like Super 8.

This collaborative effort between E.T.-Indy-Jurassic Spielberg and Lost-Alias-Cloverfield J.J. Abrams has all the elements of a summer blockbuster. Which is the problem, really. It has all the elements of a summer blockbuster, and all the imagination of a paint by the numbers edition of the Last Supper.

Honestly, I don't mind that Spielberg likes to make movies aimed at 12 year-olds. I like kid's movies as much as or more than most kids. What I do mind is that Spielberg and Abrams have a low opinion of 12 year-olds. Every scene is telegraphed, every doubt erased, every heart string and tear jerked with 50 lb test line. I want to like these kids. Heck, growing up in the 70s myself I feel like I knew these kids, except that the kids I knew were more than a short list of well-established move tropes. Every one of these Goonie's wanna-bes feels like a bit player from some other film forced to step uncomfortably in front of the camera.

The movie is simply clumsy, from the staging of the action to the "reveal" of the thing we already know is out there. It's one of those movies that makes you wish there was more, that you missed something, that there's a twist yet to come, a deeper level to discover. Nope, that's it.

It's one thing to offer a summer movie that's nothing but a roller coaster ride, but this ride is one creaky old coaster where every turn is predictable and every emotion delivered in Super Obvious technicolor by people who don't trust their viewers to draw even the simplest conclusions for themselves.

Score: an extremely disappointing 5 out of 10.

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Comment Preferences

    •  agreed (8+ / 0-)

      The worst thing to ever hit Hollywood was the computer.

      They have traded plot, story line and character development for ridiculous, over the top computer generated SFX.

      You are right. Spielberg destroyed CETK with that pointless "inside the Christmas tree" look into the spaceship ending.

      Actually, I think Spielberg's best film is the made for TV movie Duel. All he had to work with on that one was a Dodge Dart and a rusty old oil tanker truck.

      •  Yep, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dallasdoc, Marie, SherwoodB
        Spielberg's best film is the made for TV movie Duel

        and it was all downhill from there.

        The most overrated, exploitative, opportunistic cheap director ever..

        I can't believe his mother thinks she should have her uterus bronzed. NOT>

        "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

        by eXtina on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 05:59:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed as well (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mark Sumner, eXtina, SherwoodB

          Subtlety has never been something Spielberg has ever shown the first clue about.  His movies have all the suspense of a familiar fairy tale, with considerably less mythic depth in most cases.

          His movies are usually like the very best dish on the Applebee's menu.  

          DC politicians don't realize they're corrupt for the same reason fish don't realize they're wet.

          by Dallasdoc on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 06:31:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  We saw this last night (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deward Hastings, SherwoodB

      I almost totally agree with what you've said here.

      The thing with Spielberg is that while his movies are well made, they're almost exactly what you'd expect going in.  There are very rarely any surprises, nor does he ever take any real risks.  

      Schindler's List is a good example.  Despite being a movie about the murder of 5 million people, there's nothing controversial about it at all.  The holocaust is depicted as a terrible tragedy, the Jews suffer horribly, and in the end, maybe the Germans weren't all bad and there was still some room for redemption and the human spirit.  

      That's not to say it's a bad movie, per se, but I can't believe that anyone walked out of the theater feeling like they'd reached a greater understanding of the meaning of the Holocaust.    

      As an aside, I fell pretty much the same way about Ken Burns.  For all their "production value", his documentaries are little more than paint-by-numbers retellings of high school textbook history.  Occasionally the material itself may transcend Burns's narrative, but not often.

      To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

      by sneakers563 on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 05:56:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Seeing Schindler's List, Saving Private (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Ryan and Amistad, I asked m self the question, why did I need to see these movies.

        Certainly well made, excellent performances, well crafted etc.

        Three things I was already convinced of: Nazis=bad, war=bad, slavery=bad.

        I like some more subtlety in my message movies...:)

        I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

        by SherwoodB on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 08:18:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I this was gonna be a NN diary n/t (0+ / 0-)

    "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"

    by gravlax on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 05:49:52 PM PDT

  •  Spielberg is not the only (5+ / 0-)

    Director who can ruin his own movie with a "director's cut".  My ire remain high at George Lucas for his continued modifications of the original Star Wars. The one I saw 17 times at the movie theater in the 70's as an awed teenage science fiction/fantasy fangirl.

    Unlimited budgets and blockbuster expectations messes with these folks minds...

    Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up...East Wing Rules

    by Pithy Cherub on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 05:53:04 PM PDT

    •  Good movies are still being made (0+ / 0-)

      You just seldom find them in commercial theaters.

      Before investing your time and $$$ check out the Rotten Tomatoes website. It has reviews from all  the major reviewers and a percent ranking determined by all the reviews.

      The best real movies are usually either independent films or are foreign. Most don't have big ad budgets and are not well known. You have to search for them.

      Two movies that spoke to me

      Best of Youth...
      is a wonderful epic Italian  film about a family set against the events in Italy from the 1960's to 2000. It is 6 hours long and you could go for another 6. I have seen it three times.

      City of God (Cidade de Deus) is a Brazilian film that is a true story about children of the slums.  Almost all the actors are non professionals who were then residents of the slums.  The violence in the movie is not there for show, but for purpose. The chicken chase scene at the beginning and end of the movie is flat out brilliant. The chicken gets away as does one character in the story. I have lost track how many times I have seen it.

      "Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." The Little Prince

      by Jane Lew on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 09:42:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I wonder how old you are... (3+ / 0-)

    I'm finding as I crest 40 that nothing is really as cool as it used to be.  

    I'd rather watch a marathon of re-runs of M.A.S.H. than go to the movie theatre these days.

    The last movie I actually remember enjoying at the movie theatre was the Dead Poets Society.

    Today no movie can make any money if it every 20 seconds of dialogue isn't cut by something exploding.

    Reminds me of Vaudeville.  Nothing but a 21st century version of the 3 Stooges.

  •  Completely derivative -- (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eXtina, skohayes

    but the kids are good and it's funny, a quality missing in Spielberg's  movies, and even slightly political.

  •  Sadly, I must agree. (3+ / 0-)

    "Super 8" was pretty good, but it wasn't great. There were some well-assembled exciting scenes...but what connected them? Teen angst, and not much more.

    We took our 9-year-old daughter to see "Super 8" because we wanted to give her the kind of movie-going experience that we had as kids: surprising, unexpected, intense, and maybe emotional. "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Close Encounters," "Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark,"--THOSE were classic blockbusters that in different ways helped shape our childhoods. And most of them have Spielberg's name on them, so we figured that "Super 8" was an excellent candidate to knock the socks off our new movie-goer.

    After the movie, our daughter told us that she'd rather have seen the Judy Moody movie.

    I'm thinking she was right.

    As with the "Star Trek" reboot (which I liked, much as I didn't want to), Abrams can't seem to hit the right emotional notes with his characters. This movie needed the same resonance as "E.T.," but it falls far short.

    Is the problem that today's kids can't readily identify with priveledged California kids of 30 years ago? Was it the lack of a John Williams score? Was it that the last 30 minutes are so predictable? I don't know, but we--and others I've spoken to--were left feeling like something was missing.

    Despite all the sound, fury and hype, "Super 8" is just another big-budget summer yawn.

    There are two types of Republicans: millionaires and suckers.

    by Phil T Duck on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 06:16:54 PM PDT

    •  Question (0+ / 0-)

      Since you took your 9 year old - was it too scary for her? I thought i'd read it was quite scary. I have a 7 and a 10 year old, but the younger is less fearful than the older.

      •  The monster is no more scary (0+ / 0-)

        To kids than something they might see on TV or in a video game. As long as the kids understand that it's just a movie (and that's most kids past age 5, these days), they shouldn't have any trouble.

        Some scenes are incredibly loud, though. If your kids are ear-sensitive (mine is), some scenes might bother them (especially the train crash scene, which goes on a little too long).

        If it's something they really want to see, take them. It doesn't completely suck; it's just surprisingly "meh...".

        There are two types of Republicans: millionaires and suckers.

        by Phil T Duck on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 12:16:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Always One Scene Makes You Say "Oh God Damn It!" (5+ / 0-)

    It seems to be Spielberg (and Ron Howard) to put in one really gratuitous mawkish scene that doesn't let you forget this is a Spielberg movie - you're enjoying and then there's that scene that just makes you "Oh God damn it, Steven! What the fuck?"  You just want to drive over to his house and TP it with a couple reels from Fritz Lang.

    And I don't want to understand that - is he thumbing his nose at high brow critics? He seems to be saying "Suck it! I'll deliberately lower the tone of my own films."

    It's all so clear to me now. I'm the keeper of the cheese. And you're the lemon merchant. Get it? And he knows it.

    by bernardpliers on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 06:18:59 PM PDT

  •  My advice.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jon Says

    Go see an adult film, no not the xxx rates stuff but something aimed at adults. I am always amazed by grown ups gettomg all out of shape with a film, by your own words, that is aimed at 12 year olds.

  •  Spielberg is one of those directors... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...who can be absolutely brilliant...or an absolute dud.  He was, I thought, masterful in Poltergeist, and brilliant in Schindler's List.  The Color Purple was one of the best character studies I've ever seen.  And Always is one of my favorite films, despite its cheesiness, because of the way he treated the characters.  Munich, on the other hand, I hated more than I've ever cared to hate any film (with the possible exception of There Will Be Blood).

    If Super 8 fell somewhere between those two extremes, I'd likely be happy.  But I'll wait for it on Netflix.

    Stupid is as stupid elects.

    by TheOrchid on Wed Jun 15, 2011 at 09:34:20 PM PDT

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