Sunday, June 5, 2011

Will "Super 8" Be The Summer Movie?

I commented in an earlier post that, while I'm mildly interested in the J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg Super 8, I feared that it was going to be too much like the Spielberg films of the '70s and'80s—you know, featuring endless shots of people staring in awe at the spaceship/cute alien/ectoplasm, etc. Well, it turns out that's exactly what it is. Variously described as Abrams' love letter to Spielberg's early films and The Goonies meets Cloverfield, Super 8 is jumping on the nostalgia bandwagon big-time.

I witnessed the birth of the blockbuster. I saw Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. theatrically when they were originally released. I enjoyed Jaws, with its vicious shark attacks and pop-up scares, but the other two just dripped with too much of that Spielberg "childlike wonder" treacle for me to stomach. That, to me, is Super 8's Achilles heel. Some people love that schmaltz, but it makes others gag.

It's certainly being marketed to bring in the audiences from three important tiers. You've got the original Spielberg generation—those who originally saw Jaws, Close Encounters and E.T. in theaters and wax nostalgic about the good old summer days. You've got the home video generation—the twenty-to-thirty-somethings who discovered them on cable and VHS, along with other kid favorites like the aforementioned Goonies, Gremlins, Explorers and Poltergeist. Finally, you've got today's generation who learned about those films in utero, andjust to be sureSuper 8's trailer seems to have enough contemporary-looking Transformers-style crashing and smashing to get their attention.

To top it all off, it's really on its own when it opens Friday. You might count Judy Moody and Her Whatever Summer as competition, but I sure wouldn't, despite the drawing power of Jaleel White.

A major challenge Super 8 faces (besides the schmaltz factor) in becoming the summer's big blockbuster is staying power. These days, hit movies top the box office for a week...maybe two. The Spielberg smashes of yore had legs that wouldn't quit and just ran on and on and on. Jaws, widely considered to be the very first summer blockbuster, played for months and enjoyed frequent revivals in the days before pay cable and home video. Super 8 will easily make back its production budget and P&A, but a true summer blockbuster must earn many times its budget to get that crown.

Green Lantern and Mr. Popper's Penguins are lurking June 17th to knock Super 8 off the top of the charts, but I don't really think either one has the necessary oomph, although Lantern is much more of a threat than Penguins. Even the middling Thor made $170 million domestically while—well, let's face it...Jim Carrey's marquee value is pretty much over. All that remains is for him to do a pathetic sequel to The Mask.

Positive word of mouth is vital to achieving blockbuster status, and early user reviews on IMDB are enthusiastic except for one thing—their reaction to the ending ranged from mild disappointment to outright hostility. It may be pushing the Spielberg warm-and-fuzzy angle a bit too hard, and if viewers hate the ending, they're not going to see it again...and social media makes it completely impossible for studios to "hide" details of their releases.

In my opinion, the jury is still out. There's lots of anticipation and it has a fairly solid 84% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but if the ending is that much a problem, it remains to be seen how long it can stay on top.

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