For better or worse, JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg's Super 8 (2011) is a complete throwback to movies that 30 or 40-somethings and their kids grew up watching. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The Iron Giant. Stand By Me. The Goonies. Jurassic Park. The collage of homages and visual cues may remind you of other films, yet Super 8 still has its own sense of style. Our story revolves around Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), his widower dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler) and a circle of film-loving friends. The kids are working on a zombie movie to enter in an upcoming Super 8 film festival...and with the addition of the talented young Alice (Elle Fanning), Joe's circle of friends has grown by one. While shooting a crucial nighttime scene near a local train station, our band of heroes inadvertently captures a horrific train crash on film. It may not have been an accident.
Once the military swarms into their humble town of Lilian, Ohio, our young heroes try to keep their secret under wraps. This proves to be tough, however: not only is Joe's dad in charge since the sheriff left, but strange things start happening all over town. Dogs run away en masse. Appliances go haywire. Metal objects start disappearing. Eventually, people start disappearing too...and once our heroes realize that the military's involvement is suspicious as well, they decide to do some digging.
Super 8 gets off to a great start and keeps the momentum going. Our band of amateur filmmakers is immensely likable; they are, as one crew member points out during a production documentary, "just beginning to notice girls, but still dorky". The early "train derailment" sequence is mighty impressive, but make no mistake about it: Super 8 isn't all action and suspense. More often than not, it follows Joe's crumbling family life after his mom dies in a factory accident...and eventually, his interest in the talented young Alice. The characters are memorable and performances are excellent; so much so that I often forgot a dangerous creature was lurking about. Even so, Super 8 maintains a strong sense of mystery, while the obvious love-letter to budding young filmmakers serves as an interesting backdrop.
The film only runs into trouble during the third act, when it briefly falls victim to a few "kids save the day" clichés. The ending can also feel a bit awkward at first; it's remarkably tame compared to the rather violent outbursts that precede it. Even so, this monster-movie-slash-family-drama pushes the right buttons more often than not, and it really has the ability to floor new viewers on several occasions. Luckily, Paramount's solid Blu-Ray release plays to Super 8's strengths, pairing a reference-quality technical presentation with an entertaining collection of bonus features. All things considered, this is a well-rounded package with a solid amount of replay value. It's definitely a hard PG-13 at times, but families should still get a kick out of Super 8. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
Make no mistake about it: Super 8 is a great-looking film on Blu-Ray. This 1080p transfer presents the film in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, preserving a natural amount of grain when applicable and maintaining a high level of image detail from start to finish. Textures and background details are superb, the stylized color palette holds up nicely and digital problems don't seem to be an issue at all. Black levels are especially strong during a handful of nighttime sequences, rounding out the visual presentation with flying colors. Overall, this is truly a five-star effort that fans should appreciate.
Luckily, the audio presentation is just as satisfying: Super 8 roars to life with the help of a stunning Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, which is also available in French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby 5.1 dubs. Surrounds and subwoofers will be tested quite frequently, especially during early sequences like the train derailment. Dialogue and the film's score are crisp and well-defined, creating a wide soundstage that gets the job done perfectly. Directional effects are convincing, even during the film's more somber moments. Simply put, it's a rock-solid presentation that you'll be eager to show off. Optional English, SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are included during the main feature and extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, this two-disc set is housed in a dual-hubbed Blu-Ray case with a Digital Copy insert and attractive poster-themed cover artwork. The slipcover's color scheme and layout kinda-sorta resemble Kodak's vintage Super 8 film packaging
, if you squint a little. Menus are smooth and easy to navigate, even if they don't capture the film's atmosphere very well. The 112-minute main feature has been divided into just under two dozen chapters and this Blu-Ray is locked for Region "A" players only.
Plenty to dig through here, leading off with an Audio Commentary
featuring director JJ Abrams, co-producer Bryan Burk and DP Larry Fong. This feature-length track gets off to a shaky start but picks up steam quickly enough, and our trio even attempts to get the commentary-phobic Steven Spielberg involved at one point. There is, of course, some overlap with the rest of the bonus features here, but there's a lot of ground covered and most of it is pretty darn interesting. Give it a listen!
Next up are over 90 minutes' worth of Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes which present a nice balance of fluffy entertainment and slightly more serious fare. In order, we get "The Dream Behind Super 8" (16 minutes), "The Search for New Faces" (18 minutes), "Meet Joel Courtney" (15 minutes), "Rediscovering Steel Town" (18 minutes), "The Visitor Lives" (12 minutes), "Scoring Super 8" (5 minutes), "Do You Believe in Magic?" (4 minutes) and "The 8mm Revolution" (8 minutes). Covering everything from casting, production, visual effects, card tricks and a brief history of home movies---including footage of crew members' amateur 8mm projects---this is a great collection of featurettes that are all worth watching at least once. A handy "Play All" option is included, or you can pick and choose your favorites.
We also get "Deconstructing the Train Crash", which includes a storyboards, interviews and other tidbits related to the film's impressive derailment sequence. The interactive presentation is clumsy and a more basic index would've helped, but there's a nice amount of content here if you're patient.
A selection of Deleted Scenes includes "Inside the 7-11", "Joe Gets in Trouble", "The Army / Navy Store", "Saying Goodnight", "Joe and Cary Discover the Coffins" and more (14 clips, 13 minutes total). These are presented without optional commentary but context is often included, which certainly helps. For the most part, these clips include minor character moments and were rightfully trimmed.
Last but not least, we also get featureless DVD and Digital Copies, the latter of which is redeemed via passcode. All other bonus features are presented in 1080p and include the same optional subtitles and captions as the main feature. Shame we don't get any trailers or promotional galleries, though.
Super 8 sometimes feels more like a collage of earlier films than anything new and different, but the killer special effects, strong visuals, foreboding atmosphere and winning performances put it firmly over the top. J.J. Abrams' loving tribute to the technology of his youth provides a perfect backdrop to this character-driven adventure, and our likable gang of pint-sized heroes makes the ride that much more enjoyable. Paramount's Blu-Ray package does it right the first time, pairing a reference-quality technical presentation with a generous assortment of quality bonus features. Any way you slice it, Super 8 is a terrific package that fans of all ages should enjoy digging through. Highly Recommended.
NOTE: The above images were obtained from the included DVD edition and do not represent this Blu-Ray's visual quality.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design and works at a local gallery. In his free time he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.