Yesterday morning – Tuesday 9th May 2011 – Paramount Pictures Australia held a special function for the upcoming J.J Abrams directed/ Steven Spielberg produced blockbuster: ‘Super 8’. They showed us (Media and online bloggers) a selection of unfinished sequences from the film. And even though the visual FX, sound mix and editing were unfinished; the footage still looked incredible. The vibe after the presentation was so enthusiastic that I doubt the film is going to disappoint.
Warning: there are very MINOR SPOILERS in the article. If you have seen the trailer – then you’ve seen more of the plot then revealed here.
UPDATE: There seems to be a little confusion over how many scenes were showed. Some Journalists have written two, others have written three. I have written three. The scene that takes place in the Diner; seems to lead into the train station sequence – which is why some people have grouped the footage into two. But the location and characters completely changed – thus its a new scene. Anyway, just had to do some housekeeping. Also the creature WAS NOT shown completely, but eagle eyed viewers would have been able to catch a tiny glimpse of it through the window glass during the final scene. At least I thought so.
Anyway, Enjoy the article!
Paramount introduced the footage by announcing that director J.J Abrams, producer Bryan Burke, Actress Elle Fanning and other members of the cast will be attending the Sydney Premiere in early June. They then mentioned that Abrams has been incredibly secretive (as usual) and today would be the first time even they have seen footage from the movie.
We weren’t allowed to take any cameras or recording devices into the theater, but I brought along my notepad and was able to jot down quite a bit of what occurred.
When the lights went down we we’re treated to a recorded message from J.J Abrams. Who was (I’m not sure if it was live) presenting the footage to an audience in what looked like Cannes (Update: It was actually in New York). He started his introduction by talking about how the film began: saying he had a loose idea about a “Alien that crashes near area 51 and winds up in suburban Ohio.” And that before bringing the idea to Spielberg it was nothing but “a crop of characters with no story.”
And as the footage we were about to see would be but a smattering of scenes from the first half of the movie – Abrams provided some context; telling us the first information about the characters: “Joe is the main kid, he’s lost his mother; he comes from a broken home…and then there’s Charles from across the street. He’s the one who makes the (Super 8mm) movie; so all he cares about is production value.”
Rumors were that the film would focus on family/children issues based on the Spielberg influence. The trailer made it look like an homage to Spielberg, but it feels exactly like an 80’s Spielberg movie – well at least through the lens of J.J Abrams. It’s hard to explain, but if you look at the basic storyline of ‘Super 8’ you can understand it easier:
There’s Charles: the production value obsessed. He is contrasted to the heartfelt, emotionally based Joe. I got the impression that the film is this very personal exploration of both Spielberg and Abrams own childhoods: with Spielberg being the production value obsessed Charles, and Abrams being the heartfelt one…but even just typing makes me realize that you could interchange both the film-makers and the (or their?) characters…
Either way, the two film-makers both shot with Super 8mm in their youth – just like the kids in the movie – and both of them just plain love cinema and the power it has. After seeing the footage today I no longer question whether or not the movie is a Spielberg homage, or an original Abrams film…I just think it’s a complete shared project: with the goal being this massive love letter to their youth and to the cinema they love so much.
Anyway enough blabbering, since the trailer we knew it was about kids going out to make a movie on super 8 camera and unwittingly capturing an alien of some kind on 8mm film.
By now I hope you have checked out the trailer (if you haven’t: go do it now! – It’s at the bottom of this page if you haven’t seen it)…nothing that we saw today showed anything beyond the first act, and it doesn’t really show any more huge details of the plot other than what the trailer does.
But if you would prefer to go into the film cold; then before I get into the scenes I’ll just say that the footage looked incredible, filled with action, suspense, great characterization/writing and of course style. Even before today; it was my most looked forward to movie of 2011, and now I’m pretty much salivating for it! I’m a huge fan of everything Abrams has done, particularly ‘Lost’ and ‘Star Trek’ – and Spielberg is my favorite director ever (‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ being my favorite film) – How can ‘Super 8’ go wrong really?
Anyway, if you continue on reading beware of SPOILERS for the first act of ‘Super 8’.
You have been warned!
Abrams introduced three clips to us. The first was a quick quiet scene in a diner. The second was an epic 15 minute long set piece involving the kids filming a scene at a train station, surviving an epic train crash (see trailer) and the aftermath of the accident. The third was another quick scene in a petrol station. Abrams made sure to let us know that the footage was “not the final cut, (there’s) no mix. It’s too long. Unfinished visual effects.” And then finished by saying he hopes we enjoy the clips.
Here’s what we saw. Typed up from my badly scribbled notes I took in the dark. So most of the on screen dialogue is loosely paraphrased and what have you.
The first scene features the main kid Joe having dinner with his father in a 70’s diner. The father hands him a brochure for sports/baseball camp. “You’ll like it, I know I did” he says. Joe responds by saying “Dad, I’m 14!” and the father, upset at the reaction throws: “Well, You shouldn’t be running around with monsters and zombie make-up. You will like it there.” Joe holds the pamphlet in one hand and the camera pans down to show an unusual necklace that he holds. Based on the scene it seems this necklace was his late mothers.
That was the first scene, and it helped to illustrate the themes of the movie and how they would be conveyed. It was subtle and simple, saying just enough with so little.
2. Train set piece.
The next sequence was very long, but it felt so damn quick! It began in Joe’s bedroom – where he is painting a model figurine, we can also see ‘Star Wars’ figures – he’s a lonely kid, and its clear he yearns for something bigger. He’s a dreamer – it seems he gets involved in moviemaking because his friends do it; he fits in with them and it allows him to dream for real. His walkie talkie goes off and it’s neighbor/filmmaker Charles: “Hey It’s Charles. Don’t forget the make up!”.
It cuts to the gang of 13-15 year olds sitting by a hill singing along to ‘My Sherona’. The 70’s period detail really shone here with the clothing, radio, film equipment; and what I particularly found so awesome: red rope licorice. Suddenly Elle Fanning (I can’t remember her character’s name, sorry) shows up; she’s stolen her sisters car for the night; and all the kids hop in. She’s rebellious, and a little unsure as to why she is here hanging out with these guys.
She reacts poorly to Joe: “I can’t be driving around in a stolen car with the son of the town deputy”. After Charles argues for him, they all get in. Charles frets about the film the whole time, saying things like “This is going to be great!” and also asks Elle Fanning’s character: “Are you ready for your crying scene?” to which she hilariously deadpans: “No.”
They arrive at the train station platform and begin setting up the scene. It involves a father (one of the boys acting) and a wife (Elle Fanning) arguing before leaving on a train.
Charles tells Joe to put the make up on Elle (it’s a nice touch that Joe; the model painter is also the make up artist – very true to child logic and also great characterization). While it’s being applied the two kids share this really great moment, and you can see a glimpse of that in the trailer. She tells Joe something like “My dad works at the mill” but it’s obviously referring to a scene we didn’t get to see.
CHARLES’s Direction: “You have to reassure her! Um do you know what ‘reassure’ means?”. Charles seems like a bit of comic relief, but he also seems to have a great passion and confidence. He keeps insisting on adding “Production value” and at one point in the scene; one of the kids is lighting fireworks to add ‘value’. Charles yells: “Hey asshole! Can you stop blowing shit up!?” and it got great laughs from all of us. And just before yelling action, and right after giving the actors the motivation he says “Can you save the real performance for the filming!”
They perform the scene for the first time. And in this amazing moment Elle Fanning’s character gets completely in the moment; letting her real emotions control her performance. The dialogue features: “You do have a choice – we all do – I never asked you to give up!” and the way it’s performed indicates that she is really talking about her own family situation. It may read over the top – but It’s so well handled and subtle, and also exceptionally performed by Fanning. It was my favorite scene of the whole showing…
Of course until a train pulls into the horizon; causing Charles to race them into re-setting the scene so the train can pass in the background. They roll just in time, but Joe sees a ute come roaring onto the tracks: It collides head on into the train and BAM! It’s mayhem for the next five minutes. The camera drops to the ground and continues to film…
Abrams shoots the action impeccably – It reminded me of the pilot of ‘Lost’ in which Jack wakes up to discover the plane wreck. Abrams is no longer televisual, it’s full blown cinematic at this point. He’s developed his eye and style over ‘Mission Impossible 3’ and ‘Star Trek’ and now it just all seems effortless. There is one long take in the sequence that inspired ooohs and awes from the all of us.
The sequence is flashy yes, but surprisingly CGI lite. While the train was CGI (and the FX were unfinished), they did still build a huge wreckage set that reminded me of the ‘crashed plane in suburbia’ set Spielberg built for ‘War Of The Worlds’.
Anyway you’ll see the scene soon enough. It’s fantastic! After the mess the kids regroup and find each other. They initially mistake a pool of blood for a death, but it turns out to be Joe’s fake blood make up. One kid says “I think I’m having a heartache…and I have a scrape!”.
They find a huge carriage ripped apart. Inside it they find hundreds of these little metal, rubix cube looking objects. “They’re like metal and there’s millions of them!”. Joe pockets one. After they calm down conversation turns to what happened: “It wasn’t an accident” one of them says; “There was a truck driving on the tracks!”. They turn to see the truck wrecked in front of them. A man is slumped over the wheel. Suddenly Elle exclaims: “Oh my God! I know that truck!”.
They get closer and closer “Oh my God is that him?” turns out it’s one of the science professors from the school: Dr. Woodward. They see he is holding a map on the U.S, and has marked a red line across it indicating the train line. He wakes up alive, and seems dazed, and slightly mad. He looks towards Charles and asks “Who are you son?”
“It’s me!” Charles says. “Your year ten Student!?”
Woodward pulls out a gun and launches into a little monologue that should be in the next trailer:
“They will kill you. Do not speak of this. Or else you and your parents will die.”
A bunch of torchlights appear off in the horizon ala ‘E.T’.
Woodward shouts: “GO!”
The military storm the crash site. The kids run and quickly grab their gear, with Charles doubling back for the camera. They jump in the car and rush off. The military come into view, we meet a soldier whose name is ‘NELEC’; he bends down a picks up something…it’s the 8mm cardboard Kodak film boxes! DUH DAH DUM!
In the car the kids freak out over what they saw:
“Oh Shit! The Focus Ring fell off!”
“We’re not saying anything to anyone!”
“NO ONE is ever going to know!”
They pull over and Joe is the last to exit. Ellie says to him: “I never should have done this!”
The scene cuts to Joe in his bathtub holding the metal rubix cube. The scene ended here.
It was so well executed; setting up the characters and story so wonderfully. It really couldn’t have been better! And that was the second scene.
- -3: Gas Station
The third and final scene we saw helped to set up the local community a little – as well as the creature itself. Now this is the most spoiler-ish piece; and I would recommend that you don’t read further: I just reveal the nature of the alien, and if you aren’t interested then don’t blame me -I warned you!
A sheriff pulls up at a gas station to fill up. He goes inside and meets the teenager: Breen; who is working behind the counter, also with earphones in. When he sees the Sheriff he takes the music out.
“What’s that?” The Sheriff asks.
“One of those new walkman’s, care to try it?”
“No thanks…it’s hard to imagine a world where people have stereos in their cars let alone in their pockets (I mangled that line – as I didn’t look at the paper when writing- my words here mostly appear as scribble- but the sentiment is the same). The Sheriff adds: “Just here to fill up my tank.” And he leaves. Breen puts the music back in.
Outside, the Sheriff hears a bang coming from the nearby woods. Suddenly a huge crashing sound is heard and a dumpster comes flying past his head, we hear the groans and tentacles of the alien coming towards him. It’s hear that you can could hear the unmistakable rasp of tentacles. If anyone has ever seen a Lovecraft inspired movie they now what I mean. Then we are in the point of view of the alien as it rushes towards the sheriff.
In this brilliant moment, Abrams cuts to inside the petrol station with Breen unaware of what’s happening because of the music. With the police car being repeatedly picked up and crashed into the ground just outside the window. Now it’s a moment we’ve all seen before (‘Mars Attacks comes to mind), but I hadn’t seen it done like this. Wait till you see the framing and how much that adds to it. It’s a great moment.
The light starts flickering on and off, and Breen goes outside. He see’s the wreckage of the cop car. And then notices something off camera…he screams! We cut to a wide shot and….see the creature. Well not really. What we do see is the MOBIL (A reference to ‘Lost’) petrol logo on a rotating billboard that just obscures the monster.
In what appears to be – it’s HEAVILY OBSCURED by the sign, and the shot is 2 seconds long – tentacles sneaking around. They may or may not be there, the shot was too quick. But we at least got a sense of the scale. The creature is so big that it fills the entire interior of the petrol station. So from based on what we see; the alien is at least as big as the train carriage it came from, if not bigger (I don’t know how this would work – but it may be possible there are multiple aliens – the creature at the petrol station just appeared too big (bearing in mind we really couldn’t see anything) to fit inside that small(er) carriage.
The scene ends here with the alien tearing things up! And that was the end of the footage. Everyone in attendance just let out this collective AWWWW. The footage shown today was just incredible and ‘Super 8’ looks set to be one of the big hits of 2011 (but come on, we knew that already!).
So in wrap up I gathered these things:
- The movie isn’t just Abrams aping Spielberg. It’s the two working together to create something unique. It isn’t a movie about films – its about the love of films.
- The alien isn’t friendly. I don’t want to say it’s evil – as in the Abrams produced ‘Cloverfield’ the creature was just misunderstood – but all things considered it definitely is dangerous and hostile.
- With the tentacles and sounds the creature made: I got a very H.P Lovecraft vibe. Anything Lovecraft is welcome!
- The movie seems to have little adult presence – I hope the movie focuses on the kids, and we see mostly see everything through their perspective: like what Spielberg did with ‘E.T.’
- It’s extremely gorgeous to look at (and yes there are a crap load of lens flares – but I love those Abrams trademarks). There was a temp soundtrack (I overhead someone saying it came from ‘Predator’ but I couldn’t be sure). And even though the FX weren’t finished; it still looked very polished. It’s going to look phenomenal.
- It’s very character based and yet still has great action.
So there you have it. If the rest of the movie is as good as the footage we were shown today then it’s going to be a very very wonderful film.
Special thanks to Paramount Pictures Australia for allowing me to attend today’s event.
Thanks guys for reading this!
‘Super 8’ is released worldwide on June 9th 2011.
Here’s the trailer if you have missed it: