Blu-ray Review: Super 8

Super 8 Blu-raySTUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams | CAST: Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 11/22/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, scene deconstruction, deleted scenes, digital copy
SPECS: PG-13 | 111 min. | Science fiction adventure | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby TrueHD 7.1 | English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Following his big screen smashes Mission Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek (2009), acknowledged TV deity J.J. Abrams delivers his first original motion picture, Super 8. And it’s good. Not great, but really good.

Written and directed by Abrams, the film’s story follows a group of kids in a small Ohio town (the kind of town that would be in a 1980s-era movie by Steven Spielberg (Jaws), funnily enough, Super 8’s producer). While making a zombie movie with the titular film stock, the group witnesses a disastrous train crash caused when a truck pulls in front of the train. The gang quickly deduces that the crash was more than just an accident and there was something on that train that’s prompting an immediate investigation and cover-up by the government and military. The truth could very well be lurking somewhere in their town…

Super 8 movie scene

A train crash unleashes a sense of wonder in Super 8.

Super 8 provides quite an adventure for the suburban kids (a cast of unknowns save for Somewhere‘s Elle Fanning) and their parents, led by Kyle Chandler (TV’s Friday Night Lights) as a widowed town deputy. There’s a sense of excitement, of a glow, as the kids discover more and more about the mystery and are on the verge of experiencing something wonderful (or at least fascinating). It’s that feeling that’s generated by Spielberg’s E.T. or Close Encounters or the earlier ones that he produced, like Gremlins or The Goonies or even the Back to the Future series.

The feeling apparently made quite an impression on Abrams, but he only occasionally achieves his leaps for those wide-eyed heights. When the truth is revealed, in what can be described as Abrams’ “Close Encounter” moment, it isn’t the wide-eyed, revelatory dénouement and subsequent climax that I felt I had been set up.

Part of that is due to the cast of kids, who are all fine but simply not as fun or resourceful as Spielberg’s kids. I was waiting for their filmmaking skills to come into stronger play, but Abrams never really goes in that direction after they’ve watched their “accidental” footage. (Come on, the E.T. kids and Temple of Doom’s Ke Huy Quan got the job done and they were also fun to watch.)

The image of Super 8 on high-definition Blu-ray is outstanding. The full, textured colors have a warmth that gave the film a theatrical feel as it played in my living room. The blues, particularly that of an ethereal, glowing light that mysteriously creeps around the moview, were particularly effective.

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track finishes neck-and-neck with the visual quality. It gets its best workout during the extended train derailment and crash sequence, a scene that involves all manner of industrial, natural, human and even alien sounds.

And speaking of the train crash, it gets its own supplement in the Blu-ray’s generous collection of bonus features. “Deconstructing the Train Crash” is an interactive point-and-click feature that examines the creation of the sequence from a handful of different aspects.

Bonus-wise, there are also eight featurettes (ranging in length from five to 20 minutes) and all of them are solid, with three jumping out from the pack. The first, “The Dream Behind Super 8,” finds Abrams discussing his childhood and early love of the movies and how that passion fueled the creation of the film.

Next is a short on composer Michael Giacchino, whose 15-year career began with him scoring videogames, then TV productions and documentaries and now, big-time Hollywood movies. He also scored 50/50 and the upcoming John Carter.

Finally, “The 8mm Revolution” is a fun piece that looks at the history of the format and its influence on today’s filmmakers, many of whom made Super 8 films in their backyards when they were kids.

The commentary track features Abrams, producer Bryan Burk and director of photography Larry Fong, and it’s an informative and energetic affair covering all aspects of the movie, with a focus on the actual filmmaking. The numerous visual effects and producer Spielberg’s involvement are also discussed and, of course, the proper respect is given.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.