Saturday, June 18, 2011

Super 8: more homework than movie

A rare non-linguistics post: Saw Super 8. Critics are spot on: it's a movie that shows how to construct a coherent narrative like they used to make. It is simple, straight forward. It makes contemporary movies like Transformers, Thor, and Pirates seem amateurish and sad. It's like a tutorial in narrative film-making.

Unfortunately, it's like a tutorial in narrative film-making ... more like homework than enjoyment. I felt like I should be taking notes. Like there'd be a quiz at the end.

One reason this is so is simple modern history. 30 years ago, good narrative films were strictly the domain of Hollywood. TV was the domain of kitsch and schmaltz. But since the 1990s, TV (largely due to HBO, and more recently Showtime, TNT, AMC...) has taken over the mantel of prime story teller. We know from good narratives. We know from good structure. We know from good plot. We know from good formula (we loved Law and Order for 20 years, after all).

So now, in 2011, the ET/Goonies routine rings a bit hollow. Like movie-plot-by-the-book; paint-by-numbers film making. Sure, it's more coherent than Thor (a truly gawdawful film), but Breaking Bad and Mad Men are still way better, and they don't cost me $11 and a special trip. Don't even get me started on how much better the revived Doctor Who is than this Hollywood trash.

1 comment:

Etyman said...

I suspect it's no coincidence that this movie also came out just before Fathers Day. My daughter (20-year-old Psych student) took me for a treat and at the crucial moment when the two fathers took the hands of their two kids, we simultaneously turned and made the Fathers Day comment.

Despite its obvious parallels to "ET" and "The Goonies," I felt that it was a very good movie where the special effects were not used as an excuse for poor story-telling. Of course, if a story retells a theme, it will appear formulaic because it's a surface structure gloss on a deep structure truth. Heck, the original Star Wars trilogy is like an exercise in myths-redux but that doesn't take away from the wonderful expression of those myths.

Still, I take you point about the notion of how "films-by-numbers" can be a poor way of providing entertainment, but the trick is to be able to retell a story without just repeating it.