You may recall that last summer I ran a highly controversial, top-secret transcript of an Iron Man 2 meeting. The whole thing turned out to be bullshit, but I have it on good authority that the packet I received in the mail yesterday is the real deal. Once again, my source is anonymous, and the details are pretty juicy. Having returned from a screening of Super 8 just a few hours ago, I have no reason to believe that the following is fake.
2/18/11 Transcript of “Make Super 8 Super Great” meeting, Paramount Pictures, Los Angeles, CA.
Beth Bishop, Senior Story Consultant, Paramount I.M.P.O.R.T.A.N.C.E. Committee
Steven Spielberg, Executive Producer, Super 8
J.J. Abrams, Director/Writer, Super 8
Kat Seussen, Templeton-Young Professional Errands
Beth Bishop: Thanks for coming, guys. Sorry for the short notice, but the Executive Committee felt we should talk about this sooner rather than later.
Steven Spielberg: Talk about what?
J.J. Abrams: Didn't you read the meeting invite, Steve? They hate the movie. They wanna bury it!
BB: No, J.J. No one hates the movie. But there are some very big concerns here that we'd like to discuss going into the twelfth edit.
JJA: It's the lens flares, right? Well, you can tell Marty and Jack to go fuck themselves, and to stay off Internet chat rooms while they're at it!
BB: The lens flares were brought up as a potential problem, but I don't want to get off on a bad foot here. Let's back up and talk story. Everyone appreciates how big a fan you are of Steven's, and we think it's really cool that you wanted to pay homage to those films of his that made you want to be a director. But some people feel you've gone too far.
JJA: What does that even mean? How do you go too far in bringing the magic and delight of nostalgia to all of America?
BB: Nostalgia is okay, as long as it's not the only thing a movie has going for it. We all think you did an amazing job bringing 1979 small-town Ohio to life. But how hard is that to do, really, when you've got Paramount bank-rolling your picture? No, it comes back to the story you're trying to tell, and we're frankly disappointed in your weak material.
JJA: Weak material? Steve, can you believe this shit?
JJA: Lady, I spent six days writing this screenplay--half of which I was crying in my attic, rifling through comic books, old movies, and quarter-built monster models. Super 8 is about that. It's about growing up a freak, a free-spirited artistic soul whose only expressive outlet is the magic of cinema.
BB: Yes, we've established the fact that everything in the movie is authentically period. But I'm talking about the plot. I'm going to tread lightly here, because I've read about your sensitivity to this subject, but is it possible--possible--that you were so wounded from the critical failure of Lost's final season that you decided to play your next project completely safe?
JJA: Fuck you.
BB: I'm being serious here. Super 8 is the most conventional sci-fi movie any of us have seen in at least a decade. There is literally nothing surprising in it, except for the moment when the main character's dad sneaks out of military custody by disarming his machine-gun-wielding escort and stealing his clothes. But if the audience laughs at that part the way the suits did, our opening weekend is sunk.
JJA: Oh, come on! That part's just supposed to be fun!
BB: One board member called it, "a cheap gag in lieu of creativity". Another said it was, "the moment I checked out of the movie entirely."
JJA: Steven, that bit was good, right?
SS: You betcha.
BB: We feel it betrays a lot of the honesty of the movie's first third. I mean, there's a lot of strong stuff in the beginning, with the family ripped apart by the mom's death, and the dad having to come to grips with a son he doesn't really know. Even that's really derivative Disney nonsense on some level, but the actors really make the moments believable. It's the alien storyline that sinks the film.
JJA: What do you mean?
BB: Honestly, we expected more out of you than Cloverfield Meets E.T. Think about it, an alien crash-lands on Earth; is pursued by unscrupulous government agents; bonds with a group of lovable kids; and then flies home. Sure, you trick the audience into thinking there's something more around each corner, but at the end of the day, this is a decades-old story with so-so special effects.
JJA: "So-so special effects"? Give me one example of something that's unconvincing in this movie!
BB: The opening train wreck.
JJA: You're kidding me, right? We spent a quarter of our budget on that scene, and brought in thirty of the brightest effects whizzes on the planet to pull it off!
BB: Okay, but when you spend five minutes blowing up a train and filming fiery debris rocketing out at six characters who are running for their lives, it helps if everyone and everything look like they're occupying the same physical space. I counted at least four instances where flying hunks of metal would have decapitated or maimed the actors had this scene been filmed live. But not only do all of the characters survive the crash, none of them are seriously injured. On top of that, they hop into a "borrowed" car that--by virtue of its proximity to the train station--should have been pulverized.
JJA: Didn't realize you were a physicist.
BB: I'm not, J.J. But I grew up in the late 70s. One of the reasons we remember the incredible stunts in movies from our youth is because they were done by real people putting themselves in real danger. The only recorded Super 8 injury is a carpal tunnel complaint filed by the Lead Compositor.
JJA: Sorry to break it to you, Beth, but this is the digital age. Kids don't wanna see models and makeup anymore. They're too savvy for that now. They wanna see shit that only a computer can give them.
BB: I suppose that goes double for your alien creature, too?
JJA: Of course! What, we're gonna have nine guys in a rubber suit chasing Elle Fanning down the street?
BB: No, but the alien is just another example of computer-graphics laziness run amok. This isn't just my sentiment; others at the screening expressed concern that your monster looks like someone grafted the head of the Cloverfield alien onto the body of General Grievous from the Star Wars prequels and dipped it in liquid shit. Pardon my French.
There's also the issue of practicality. The alien has massive claws for hands and yet is able to string up the people it captures in a cave underneath a power plant, and rig a series of small-to-medium-sized electrical appliances that it stole from all over town?
JJA: Well, I--
BB: And what about the scene at the end, where every piece of metal in town is sucked up in a giant magnetic field that wraps around the water tower? You make a big deal out of cars, guns and jewelry being drawn skyward. But in the crucial scene where Joe has to let go of his mother's necklace, you can clearly see a bicycle lying on the ground next to him, and a necklace resting firmly on another character's neck.
JJA: Ooooo! Look at the nit picker! It must be great to sit up here and critique art all day, instead of having to go out there and actually, y'know, make it.
BB: A truly committed artist makes sure their work is worthy of both their name and their audience's time. Wouldn't you say so, Steven?
SS: I guess.
JJA: You're saying Super 8 is a waste of peoples' time?
BB: In its current state, yes. But I think if you take out all the alien stuff and re-focus your efforts on telling a coming-of-age story about kids making a horror movie, then maybe you've got a shot. Heck, you could even keep the title.
As it stands, you've got a terrific young cast, a handful of pretty emotional scenes, and a sci-fi storyline that--if presented in a modern-day setting, without any of the nostalgic trappings--would be laughed out of theatres before the midnight screenings' first reel change.
Oh, and getting back to the lens flare thing. J.J. is there an eye condition we should know about? Seriously, there are so many light spots and streaks that I thought half the movie was melting.
JJA: It's called "realism", baby! You'd actually see those things if you were occupying the reality of the film.
BB: Sure, if I were filming that reality with a camera, but light doesn't bounce of the eyes like that. Marketing is considering providing free sunglasses to audience members just so they can kind of tell what's going on in some of the more egregious scenes.
JJA: I don't have to listen to this. Steven, let's go.
BB: Excuse me, we're not done here.
JJA: Yes. We are. Do you have any idea how little any of your studio notes matters? I'm J.J. Fucking Abrams. This is Steven Fucking Spielberg. We shit blockbusters. We'll make the studio's money back in the first week of release and turn a half-billion-dollar profit before the movie hits blu-ray.
We'll be a critical darling based solely on the feelings--the magic--our movie will evoke in people who pine for the good old days. So what if everyone's seen more exciting and original versions of this exact same story? Super 8 will be What's Playing between the X-Men prequel and fucking Green Lantern!
BB: So, you're not at all interested in making Super 8 the best possible movie it could be? You're okay with our releasing boring, derivative fluff that's only passable to middle-aged men-children, instead of trying to make a new, original classic?
JJA: Our release date is May tenth, honey. Originality happens in the fall.
BB: Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, J.J. I'm afraid the Executive Committee have decided to shelve the project until you're more agreeable to tightening it up.
JJA: Don't feel sorry for me, Beth. You see, I happen to have it on good authority that the eleventh and final edit of Super 8 will hit theatres right on time--thanks to a couple of late-night phone calls from my friend and mentor here. Now, if you'll excuse us, I've gotta sink my teeth into some rewrites on Ehren Kruger's 3-D Jaws remake.