On Saturday, some friends and I went to see J.J. Abrams' newest movie: Super 8. It is easily one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. That being said, it's one of those movies that you can't say what it's about without giving away the plot. So in trying to avoid spoilers, I'll say that Super 8, in its most basic sense, is similar to the movie "The Sandlot." But a sci-fi version.
In writing and directing Super 8, Abrams included everything that makes for a great movie: great dialogue & plot development, humor, big (but not over the top) special effects, emotion, and characters you want to root for. At its core though, Super 8 is just a superb story. J.J. Abrams has a knack for doing this, and to me, he is one of the best storytellers in Hollywood.
It's because he is a master at using mystery.
Abrams is completely willing to not tell you everything up front, he's OK with you being in the dark for awhile. This is evident in how Super 8 starts. Each new character or story element introduced in the first 10 minutes immediately causes you to ask a ton of questions - none of which I can list here because I don't want to give anything away. But once the big crash happens (oh well, I said one thing), you just keep wondering, and asking, and you keep waiting for it all to come together.
Abrams once gave a TED talk where he shared the story behind his beloved Mystery Box. You'll have to watch the whole video to get the gist of it, but what he shares is that "mystery is the catalyst for imagination." Mystery is what brings heart and depth to a story; not knowing everything keeps you engaged, wondering, and wanting more. It can be frustrating at times, but it's a good frustration. I want to know - and I'll keep coming back and I'll keep thinking about it till I do know, or at least until I know more than when I first started.
I love it. I love a movie where I have no clue what is going on at the beginning, just as long as it all makes sense at the end. A movie can seem completely discombobulated throughout, but if the storyteller did that for a reason, and he skillfully pulls all the pieces together into a climactic conclusion - it was worth my money. Abrams is a master at this. So is M. Night Shyamalan (well, from The Sixth Sense through The Lady in the Water he was. He also wrote Devil, and regardless of critique's opinions, that was also good).
Mystery is OK when it is being crafted in the hands of master storyteller. If the storyteller doesn't know what he's doing, the story will be horrible. Lame. The parts won't fit together. You'll feel cheated. But when the storyteller knows what he's doing - it's beautiful.
Not everyone will like Super 8. My friend Josh didn't when we went Saturday. For the reason I loved it, he didn't. The mystery element was engaging for me, frustrating to him. Take that into consideration if you go to see it.
This mystery thing is huge and ingrained in every aspect of our lives. It makes for a great movie, but it is also part of what makes us human.
But that will be left for a later blog post. =)