This Week in Movies By Pete Hammond “Super 8”

By Pete Hammond Although it had the fanboy friendly names of director J.J Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg attached, Paramount’s Super 8 was not expected to match the heights of many of the summer blockbusters like Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or X Men: First Class due to the title’s lack of pre-sold name recognition. After all summer is all about superheroes, prequels, sequels and remakes and what kid going to the multi-plex these days would even know that Super 8 refers to film stock from the movie’s early 80’s time period and not some new comic book hero from Marvel? Add to that the filmmakers’ old fashioned philosophy that the less shown in the trailer, the better, meaning there was no footage of the marquee alien-like monster who appears so prominently in the film’s final third. For that reason pre-release box office tracking was soft and execs were not expecting much beyond a dream number of about $30 million. But the movie overperformed ending up with $35.4 when actual figures came in on Monday and $36.4 when the IMAX Thursday “sneak twitter” openings are factored in. With no stars to sell it and a story that , at least for its first two thirds, concentrates on the relationships of a number of kids involved in making a Super 8 movie, this film found an audience through increasing word of mouth as the weekend progressed. It had a significant bump from Friday to Saturday and earned a B+ Cinemascore rating which means that audiences were responding and which bodes well for subsequent weeks despite fierce competition on the horizon.

The movie works largely because of a terrific young cast including the miraculous Elle Fanning and debuting lead Joel Courtney. What is really is though is J.J. Abram’s homage to Spielberg’s early films , particularly 1982’s E.T.The Extra Terrestrial. It may be the first homage to a man who actually is the PRODUCER of the film giving him that very homage! Certainly it’s not a copycat of early Steve but it has enough of that flavor to work on many levels. At the film’s westwood premiere Abrams told me emotion plays a key part in making the whole enterprise work. What makes its initial success so satisfying is that Paramount backed the director and producer on their insistence in not giving away key plot elements especially involving the alien. Even after the premiere Abrams was asking me not to reveal one certain character trait about the bond between Courtney and the alien near the film’s finale. This is almost unheard of in today’s movie marketing. Studios put all the good stuff in the trailers leaving little to the imagination. It wasn’t always this way. Alfred Hitchcock made a whole career showing virtually NOTHING is his trailers (except himself with his wry warnings of imminent terror in store for for the audience). Certainly that lack of information didn’t hurt Hitch’s movies one bit and maybe just increased the audience appetite for them. Spielberg has always been an advocate of not showing too much. Even after a film is long gone from theatres and on DVD he refuses to do commentaries saying it takes away too much from the experience of actually seeing the film. He’s right. The success of Super 8 validates his philosophy of less-is-more. What’s wrong with letting moviegoers actually discover stuff themselves without the help of Hollywood’s out-of –control marketing machine, a problem only exacberated now by all the online chatter trying to unveil every little detail of movies long before anyone has a chance to even see them!

The weekend’s other wide release , Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, certainly would have benefitted by Spielberg’s less-is-more philosophy. The MORE I saw of this thing in trailers and tv spots the LESS I wanted to see it. But see it I did and here’s an example of a movie that delivered exactly what I thought. Crap. Sure the demographic is young girls and with a B+ Cinemascore rating they seemed to like the contrived mayhem on screen. Fortunately there weren’t many who showed up as the film only grabbed about $6 million for the weekend, an abysmal result for a very annoying kidpic. Based on a popular series of children’s books, Judy Moody centers on a whiney, and yes MOODY, kid looking to chalk up a number of “thrills” over the course of the summer. Unfortunately for the audience the thrills are not on screen.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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