Hey Star Trek! Responds To Super 8
(Preface by Captain Pyke: We are thrilled to have "Hey Star Trek!" visiting us here at Subspace Communique! Jerad Formby has been a good friend to the site almost since its inception and we're honored that he would post another fantastic edition of his popular series here. While Jerad has been having some unresolved technical issues posting on Trekcast.com, we're excited to be the surrogate home for "Hey Star Trek!" Hopefully all the problems will be sorted out soon, but Until then, enjoy!)
Meanwhile, back at the lab, it seems Star Trek director J.J. Abrams has put together a new movie designed to help us all remember what it was like to see a movie in the 1980s. It’s obvious that he wants to take us back to a simpler era where movies held for all of us a sense of wonder and a youthful sense of fear.
He’s framed his story around young people who make movies as a hobby so that there is no confusing that this major motion picture is a valentine written and shipped to all of us thirty years ago. This movie, by design, would have played at the emerging cineplexes of old –on a screen right next to E.T. or Gremlins or The Goonies..
He even took it upon himself to film the movie as if it were made in that era. The film doesn’t suffer from frequent cutting and MTV pacing. It’s presented in sweeping panoramas of good ol’ small town kids in their good ol’ small town, flirting with their coming of age stories.
And it’s even a little scary. To ensure that the scares were as 1980s-authentic as possible, Mr. Abrams even observed the old Jaws adage. You know the one we mean.
The brilliance of Jaws is that they didn’t have to show the shark. It was so scary that they didn’t have to show the shark. That sentiment has been said often amongst film critics and even filmmakers. It’s often spouted by us outside of these offices and has even been repeated enough to have become a sort of folklore.
Even we here in the offices have often mused that it’s a good thing that the shark didn’t work in Jaws because forcing Spielberg to improvise made the work better and probably even scarier.
Well, we screened Super 8 and have determined that the “truth” celebrated about Jaws should actually be equated to an Old Wives Tale.
That means this epic myth about Jaws is completely untrue.
JJ Abrams sets out as a director to bring us all back to a simpler time with his new movie. He wants us to remember what we loved about all those movies we grew up on back in the 1980s. He even set the movie right before the 80s to ensure an authentic experience.
He’s decided to give us a good, old-fashioned monster movie that kids can see. He’s also decided to apply the tried-and-true myth that not showing the monster makes movies scarier because…
…because the audience is imagining something scarier than anything a creature shop can make (or render).
That would seem to be the logical conclusion to this Jaws-sentiment..
We suggest to all of you, brothers and sisters, this old adage has worn out its usefulness and needs to be kicked to the curb. We submit to you with humble hearts that it was never true to begin with.
This is the truth about Jaws:
Yup. It seems that stuff is really, really scary because we have an idea of what is going on under the water. When someone says the word “shark” something happens in your brain. An understanding of just what the hell that is.
That means that David Fincher’s Seven actually operates because its director knows that each of us has a “working knowledge” to exploit. We know what a knife is. We know what lady parts are… etc… etc…
So what happens in your brain when someone says the word “hand”? Outside of Se7en? Does a hand scare you? Or do you ponder why it should? How strong is the hand? How big? Is it an ugly hand?
That feeling in your brain right now? The one that happened as soon as you read our innocently offered questions? That feeling is a lot like watching Super 8, where most of the evidence we get of a monster involves a hand.
A hand is simply not enough to go on. Yes, the hand does mighty damage. Sure, the hand leaves ample evidence that there’s something very large and very angry. But, just as the creature leaves wreckage behind, it starts leaving viewers behind.
Wondering just what the heck it looked like did a lot to bring us right out of our theater seats. We began wondering when the beast would finally be revealed. Appearance after appearance happened and each left us with the same cold… hand.
This is very dangerous when a filmmaker is trying to weave an emotional spell. Once we start intellectualizing the work projected before us, we become more and more aware of other things missing from the film.
This is the sad truth about Super 8. It becomes a brain teaser and not a heart-tugger. It’s supposed to be this emotionally sweeping epic that will make all of us older nerds think back to when movies really, really wowed us.
It’s more in love with how cool the idea is than it is worried that it could be perceived as lesser 80’s fair… stuff like Explorers, or Project X, or Flight of the Navigator. We find it disturbing that Bad Robot assumed their idea was so badass that it automatically deserved a slot alongside the greats.
As if creating such monumental work was as easy as uploading something from your mobile.
The idea of an eighties blockbuster today is sublime in theory, but by withholding the monster until the final scenes, it was too difficult for us to accept the rest of the story. Because we couldn’t wait to include the monster in the spectacle, a lot of the wonderful world of Super 8 became subjects for dissection in Elliot’s frog lab back in 1982.
Bits of exposition that should have been taken in on a distant, almost subliminal level waved giant flags because our brains were so actively engaged. We sometimes wondered when we’d see the monster, we’d sometimes wonder if we missed the monster in that blur, and we’d sometimes wonder why the movie kept holding back the goods.
The brilliant performances of the youngsters just had air let out of them, as another scene of monster attacks did nothing to impact their lives. Flirting between them had no nostalgic allure. Scenes about arguing over who likes who and who liked who first felt less than they should have. Angst between the estranged father and his kid all became as noticeable as nails on a chalkboard.
Rote by rote dramatic beats seemed to be checked off of a strange list (compiled by this movie’s influences). As it was happening, we prayed the monster would come into the party and force us to forget that we were watching a movie –after all, isn’t that what this movie’s parents did without noticeable effort?.
It’s one of those things where the idea is better than the result. Some ideas are carried out with such enthusiasm, it seems, that nobody cares if the end product ever eclipses the idea.
We left the theater cursing the fact that we wasted most of the movie wondering about that monster. It really cursed the experience for us. In the moments after leaving the cinema, we thought back on those movies Abrams wanted to emulate.
Joe Dante held back the look of Gizmo for a few scenes, but he knew we had to see him sooner than later. When Gizmo’s babies became monsters, he didn’t keep us guessing until the town was overrun.
He had the wisdom of knowing that something new to the public needs to be demonstrated so that we audience monkeys will be trained to respond appropriately. We see Gizmo cuddle, we like Gizmo. We see Gremlin ripping mom apart, we fear Gremlin. Yes, the director of Gremlins didn’t follow the Jaws Rule –even when the Jaws Rule was still fresh!
Richard Donner held Sloth back just long enough. If he had waited until the Goonies were on the pirate ship, it might have changed our entire experience while watching it.
We know the Jaws Rule came about because of the limitations of the shark, Spielberg simply didn’t want anyone to see how fake his shark was, so he used the shark as little as possible.
Same goes for Ridley Scott’s Alien. He didn’t show the monster all that much, because he wasn’t happy with the man-in-a-suit monster that he had ended up with.
That’s right, honey! He did show us something of the alien that was scary and, dare we say, incredibly unique to that particular creature! He showed us that little baby alien and our brains had a horrifying shape to work with… and once the blank was filled in? A lot of us had guessed pretty close to what the real monster looked like.
So if Spielberg and Ridley Scott held back because they were embarrassed for their poor mechanical monsters, why would anybody else hold back nowadays (when a filmmaker can at least be assured that that their monster will actually work)?
It occurs to us that a good litmus test for any future monster makers is to sit back and wonder if an eight year old can draw the monster. If an eight year old can sketch your critter and you know exactly what it is (and you can tell if it’s the Cloverfield thing or not), you might have a good monster.
If not, your monster might be as ambiguous as Facebook.