Did I Just See Super 8 in Super 8?

Can an Asian copy beat the original? Pretty close...

By , Columnist
I was reminded recently that I've lived so out of the (American) way for so long that I may not see things with the same lens that most Americans do anymore - and if my recent screening of J.J. Abram's film Super 8 is any measure, I do see things with a different lens; if not a Super 8 lens, at least an 8mm handi-cam lens.

There are three ways to see a hit film where I live:

1. You simply go to a big new multiplex, pluck down about $5, grab your popcorn and sit down in your business class THX/Surround Sound enabled seat and enjoy the film. Super 8 is on screen now in state-of-the-art local cinemas.

2. You can buy the DVD from rolling bicycle salesmen who troll the streets nightly with all the DVDs in their basket for $1 each. 

3. Or, you go to your local coffee shop, buy a coffee, and see the film in their private cinema, seating about 20, for free with an 18-foot screen and surround sound as well.

I opted for #3 last night and had a lovely evening watching a first-run film, with a chocolate mint Frappuccino for company. The coffee shop across the street, called Bobby Brewers, is a Starbucks wannabee that succeeds largely on the basis of providing a Starbucks circa 1995 atmosphere with a product selection that is not bad at at. My tall blended ice coffee drink, called a Choc-Mint-Blitz, but not a real Frappuccino, sold for about two dollars/fifty, was delicious and I was ready to settle into my comfy, two-person loveseat for the latest big summer blockbuster with a nice screen and excellent sound. 

That was, until the film started. Knowing a bit about the film and having read The New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott's recounting of all the small references to other Spielberg productions, I was ready for '79, ready for lens-flared shots, and even ready for schlocky Spielberg-y sentimental childhood musings. But past five minutes into the film I was not ready to continue in the grainy, poorly-lit environment that was unfolding before me. And the sound wasn't great either.

The first clue was that the cars were all scrunched into what made them look like dwarf versions of the real thing - 1/2 length muscle cars and Oldsmobiles. I was watching a film of a film that had been shot off a widescreen cinema and then condensed to fit the more narrow confines of a standard TV - not the pan and scan technique used in some conversions, but just a shoot-and-scrunch version with rather large obnoxious Vietnamese subtitles. (Funny, when a character says, "What the fuck?" the subtitle translates it as "WTF?")

But WTF, it was free, and the same copy the bicycle guys and thousands of other shops were selling around town. I was simply watching what most of the other people were watching - unless of course, they just downloaded a torrent for free.

For the film, a story where a whole other story unfolds before a group of teenagers making a Super 8 zombie flick, it builds a maze of suicide train derailing conspiracy theorists with incompetent military intervention, white diamond-shaped Rubik's Cube-shaped thingies that turn into monsters, and eventually a transformer-like spaceship that blows the top off a small town water tower and takes off to presumably another planet in a final scene harkening back to War Of The Worlds, except nobody dies. There's even a flying Camaro as the aliens also have the power to throw cars by electro-kinesis (I made that up, electro-kinesis). Have I spoiled anything for anybody yet?

And because it's a family-friendly big summer blockbuster, there is no sex. So see Super 8 at your own financial risk. Now, one could say I risked very little so I got very little, but considering what I might have paid in an American city for the full cinematic splendor of the thing, I'd say I got a pretty good deal for something that had little conceptual backbone and two big names attached to it. Super? Not really, but there were at least eight plot drivers that didn't make a damn bit of sense or Spielbergian wonder for me in the end. Even copies copy the bad parts.

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David has spent most of his career in advertising. That alone should call his writing skills into question. David currently writes the Wild Wild East Dailies from Saigon but has trouble seeing the forest for the trees because it's a jungle out there.

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