As Mark Twain pointed out, history doesn’t repeat itself… but it does rhyme. So the release of J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 — a mysterious film about a mysterious something that mysteriously attacks a group of average-joe Americans — can’t help but remind us of the last time Abrams produced a mysterious film about a mysterious attack, etc etc. Abrams didn’t direct 2008’s Cloverfield, but the film’s marketing campaign bears all the hallmarks of Abrams’ buzz-generating mystery-box methodology. The trailer for Cloverfield debuted before Transformers, and trying to figure out just what, exactly, the film was about became something of an internet pastime in the ensuing six months. (Remember when we all thought it was a Voltron movie?) Cloverfield had a huge opening weekend in January 2008, but ticket sales dropped precipitously once people actually saw the movie. It’s a key entry in the history of hyped-up mystery movies: No one really knew what Cloverfield was, but everyone was excited to find out — and then almost everyone was disappointed. I actually tend to think that Cloverfield gets a bad rap (and for what it’s worth, EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum gave it a B+), but since it’s always healthy to be just a little skeptical about everything, it’s worth asking: Will Super 8 be a similar hype-vs-reality letdown for moviegoers? Or, put another way, will we all soon be suffering from another Cloverfield hangover?
I’m betting not. For one thing, one of the main reasons people seemed disappointed with Cloverfield was purely aesthetic: I don’t think anyone anticipated that the whole movie was going to be shot like a drunken home video. So, along with all the good reviews Super 8 is getting, you can rest assured that it won’t give you motion sickness. But there’s a bigger issue at work here, and it’s a doozy. I haven’t seen Super 8, so I still don’t know if the mysterious train-escaping force is a monster, an alien, a robot, a smoke monster, a bargain-brand smoke monster, or perhaps an alien monster robot who commands an army of smoke monsters. Much as I like Cloverfield, even I have to admit that the monster at the center of it was pretty, well, lame. (In some ways, it almost resembled the American version of Godzilla, which is not anything anyone ever wants to resemble.)
So, will the mysterious whatever-it-is in Super 8 be similar disappointing? Maybe…but here again, Super 8 has one key difference from its overhyped sibling. The human cast of Cloverfield was almost purposefully unmemorable — Lisa Schwarzbaum referred to them as “attractive, indistinguishable young people” — whereas Super 8 centers on a group of American kids. I’m betting that the latter will prove more enjoyable to watch for the average viewer, if only because we’re all secretly yearning for another Goonies.
PopWatchers, are you worried that Super 8 will disappoint you, Cloverfield-style? For that matter, anyone else out there think Cloverfield is secretly kind of good? Don’t be afraid! The haters can’t hurt you, except with their words.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich