Tonight in New York City Paramount Pictures CEO and Chairman Brad Grey gave a presentation of his company’s 2011 slate, most notably featuring 22 minutes of new footage from their summer blockbuster Super 8, introduced by writer/director J.J. Abrams himself. Before we get into that, we saw a teaser for Craig Brewer‘s Footloose remake which featured some well-choreographed dirty dancing and an angry Dennis Quaid. While I’m not looking forward to the film, it doesn’t look as cheesy and unnecessary as one may expect.
Outside of Super 8, the highlight of the night was the first footage from Brad Bird‘s Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol. Made up of little dialogue, it is a gritty barrage of Tom Cruise kicking ass before we transition into the big spectacle. Shot in IMAX camera (a la portions of The Dark Knight), we see Jeremy Renner looking out a broken window to Tom Cruise, who is hanging down from Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Renner yells “you’re not gonna make it!” and Cruise responds “no shit” as he attempts the plunge to safety. Under Bird’s direction this kind of playful dialogue mixed with the kinetic action hints Ghost Protocol will be a worthy successor to Abrams’ third film. Expect the teaser to arrive this summer. Now, let’s move on to the big event.
Introducing his highly anticipated blockbuster, J.J. Abrams started off by saying/joking he’d “rather be in the editing room” finishing the thing. He went through how he hatched the story, originally conceived as two separate films. Abrams had the idea of kids in the 1970s/80s filming on their Super 8 camera and then the idea of the train-wreck and something from Area 51 being unleashed. After smashing the two together with Spielberg’s stamp of approval, and unsuccessfully looking for writers, Abrams decided to take on scripting duties himself. He aimed to craft an “autobiographical experience” that also had what audiences wanted.
He set up the footage stating we would be seeing 22 minutes, which begins 10-11 minutes into the film. Then, we’d jump to a single scene further in the film. He warned us it is not the final cut, that it is too long, the mix and color correcting isn’t finished, and we have a temp score. After questioning why he should even show it to us in the first place, he relented, the lights dimmed and our new look at Super 8 began.
I don’t want to go into spoilers, even though we barely saw anything that could be construed as such, so I’ll attempt to keep it brief. There is a set-up between a father (Kyle Chandler) and his son Joe (Joel Courtney). He wants to send Joe to a summer baseball camp, in order to distract him from his friends obsessed with making movies. The Abrams touch is there, including extravagant lighting design, but this a much more subdued style of filmmaking. There isn’t the constantly moving camera as seen in Star Trek. Like the 70s and 80s films he is embracing, Abrams is able to keep it still and patient during dialogue scenes. After some honest and convincing interactions with Joe and his filmmaking friends, they are off to the desolate train station to film a nighttime scene for their amateur zombie film.
We’ll get to the heart-stopping train collision in a second, but I was more impressed with what we see directly before it. Abrams said he chose this kids, who are mostly non-actors, because they reminded him of the film-loving geek he was growing up. It couldn’t have been more perfect casting. As they set up the scene, exchange after exchange reminded me exactly how I acted as a kid goofing around with a camera. There is a certain moment with Elle Fanning‘s character that is some of the most brilliant character development you’re likely to see this year. Before we know it, the train begins to approach and the inevitable crash occurs.
What results is a whirlwind exercise in perfect blockbuster entertainment. Mentioned above, Abrams has built these characters up enough that we care about their safety. In true fashion for the filmmaker, everything gets cranked to eleven as train cars explode and shrapnel falls in every direction. Every moment is as exhilarating as the last, seeing this group of kids dodge flying objects. There are some slight distractions due to unfinished FX and the background matte, but that will likely all get stitched up. We get more context that was mysterious in the trailer, including the bloodied man saying “go!” and a MacGuffin that is sure to have big implications for the rest of the film.
In the second part of the footage, we get to see the convenience store/gas station scene briefly hinted at in the trailer. Due to Abrams’ insistence on not spoiling anything we saw, I can only say the glimpse at what the Area 51 creature may be only got me further intrigued with the mystery of Super 8. In a summer filled with big-budget rehashes, sequels and comic book heroes, this relatively modest blockbuster has the strong possibility to blow them all away. Alex Billington from FirstShowing.net and I also recorded a video blog of our reactions, which you can see below.
Super 8 hits theaters June 10th, 2011.
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