Super 8 Blu-ray ReviewNovember 03, 2011
The saying "they don't make them like they used to" gets a fresh sharpie through it with Super 8, a nostalgic journey into the heyday of director/producer Steven Spielberg with some modern CGI effects to keep the film from feeling too dated for younger generations. It is old school entertainment from top to bottom, with the visual style carried right through to the Blu-ray menus.
Super 8 is the near-perfect Spielberg homage, which is ironic considering writer/director J.J. Abrams collaborated with him on the story. Spielberg, in turn, served as the sole producer. It is as much a Spielberg production as a tip of the hat to the legend's storied career.
Though advertised on television as primarily a "monster on the loose" movie after a pair of brilliantly mysterious trailers utilizing the music from Cocoon, the story of Super 8 sheds the horse blinders that saddle other films where something dangerous and mysterious is running around in the dead of night. Children with little to no acting experience - not seasoned veterans - drive a journey of self-discovery and mending broken families. It's the result of Abrams admittedly combining once separate ideas for a suspenseful monster movie and a coming-of-age family drama into a single vision.
Spielberg used to direct and produce films like this such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and Goonies. The plot of Super 8 about a government train crashing, a monster escaping, and kids getting entangled in a government cover up fits right in with those adventure classics from the 1970s and 80s.
Abrams' direction with throwback lens flares, the 70s muted color cinematography by Larry Fong (Watchmen, Lost), and nostalgic score by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Lost) all help lend to the film's time period. If not for the scattered use of CGI, you might swear Super 8 is a product of the 1970s and not a look back at it.
Viewers expecting big nonstop monster thrills from Super 8 might come away disappointed. The monster, like his brethren from films decades ago, is mostly mysterious and uncovered slowly. After he's fully and clearly visible, there's little left to occur in the film other than for it to end.
Super 8's closing shots, like the films that inspired Abrams, are as beautiful as they are predictable. In consulting with Spielberg, I'm sure Abrams wouldn't have had it any other way.
It's easy to shower praise on any of the young cast members who must not only act under the direction of J.J. Abrams with Steven Spielberg sometimes looking on, but so do within a time period none of them were alive to witness firsthand. Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso and especially Elle Fanning melt into their roles as if they've been acting since birth. They are the film's anchor, and keep it firmly in place whether delivering exposition or running for their lives. Any one of them has a bright acting career ahead of them if they so choose to go down that path.
I wasn't quite the age of the kids in Super 8 during the late 1970s, but I'm close enough to where I feel like Super 8 was made partially for me and my generation. It speaks to the adventurous spirit of youth from those times that inspired a new generation of filmmakers, and with a little luck, may inspire another generation to come.
A large portion of Super 8 takes place at night leaving ample room for transfer issues. Black crush could have become a major issue if the bitrate was compromised or the transfer not clean.
Instead, the 1080p 2.35:1 transfer is exactly as I remember it theatrically. The blacks are excellently rendered, even during the train crash sequence where there's tons of information on the screen at once. Some of the more colorful daytime backgrounds breakdown a little, but they are a lot less intrusive than black crush would have been.
There is a sheen of film grain across the Blu-ray transfer that helps keep the vintage feel alive. Speaking of vintage, every time the yellow sports car is on screen, whether day or not, it sticks out like a sore thumb - as it should.
Paramount bumped up the audio mix to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, and one need look no further than the train crash to feel its impact. Actually, it's felt just before as the kids run around on the train platform to prepare for their movie shoot. Every footstep extends the LFE and punches through the surround channels. And then the train arrives, all hell breaks loose, and an audio demo moment is born.
Clean audio is the norm throughout Super 8 on Blu-ray. It's surprisingly well-balanced with dialogue crisp and surround use cohesive with the main channels rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.
Beyond the Feature
The Super 8 Blu-ray package is being marketed as an "ultimate two-disc edition" when in reality the second disc is only the DVD version and a digital copy. The bright yellow packaging, however, is inspired by the old Kodak Super 8 branding and will pop on a media shelf. All of the bonus features are in HD, run over two hours in total length, and are included on the Blu-ray Disc with the feature film.
Within those two-plus hours of supplements is absolutely no fluff. I was prepared to tell you which extras should be targeted, but they're honestly all must-see. The commentary with Abrams, Fong, and cinematographer Bryan Burk is a good starting place with Abrams making a joke about how some people have called Super 8 a rip-off of E.T. It then goes on to be highly entertaining and informative, including directing you to a specific must-see bonus feature that I failed to do. There's no Spielberg, but that's fine as each of these guys share a common connection that brought them together on the project: they all made movies growing up using Super 8 cameras.
Everything you want to know about Super 8 is covered in the featurettes, from Abrams' inspiration to make his "dream film" right on through production. It's all presented in a natural way that at no time tries to market the film. J.J. more than makes his presence felt.
Final Deleted Scene
The lack of Spielberg is a bummer, but understandable considering the man's insanely busy schedule. Maybe Joel Courtney won a bet to be the only child actor to get his own featurette.
The lack of those amazing trailers with James Horner's Cocoon theme, however, is a letdown. But if I had to choose between those trailers and the goods Paramount has ultimately offered, I'd take the latter in a heartbeat.
Super 8 on Blu-ray would be a "super" purchase for the imaginative, nostalgic and fun J.J. Abrams film alone. The stellar high definition presentation and worthwhile bonus features are akin to getting a mysterious monster on top of an already solid film premise.
- Dan Bradley
Shop for Super 8 on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (November 22, 2011 release date)
Look for more on Super 8's Blu-ray debut in the days ahead of its release, including the addition of my D-BOX Motion Code review.
Browse all Amazon.com Blu-ray pre-orders