Super 8 is J.J. Abrams at his best, taking a concept well worn and familiar, wrapping it up in a beautifully photographed dressing, and making it his own. He did it with Cloverfield, he did it against all odds with Star Trek, and he has done it again, although this time with heart, a great set of kids, and Steven Spielberg.
Yes, Spielberg was merely a producer, someone who carries a name with enough weight to solidify it’s position on the poster and in the trailers alongside Abrams. He’s in here though, Abrams bringing back the ’80s adolescent coming of age story, apt comparisons to The Goonies rightfully in tow.
No one put kids on film like Spileberg, and apparently with Super 8, the torch has been passed. Abrams gets the most from this young cast, giving them the snappy dialogue to spout off as their town crumbles around them, while they off and run with it. They grow up like all of us, just under extraordinary circumstances.
Sometimes Super 8 plays with the familiar, Lillian, Ohio besieged by a number of strange occurrences, beginning with an out-of-control visual effect-laden train wreck that reaches new heights of physics desecration. Citizens are snatched up, the dogs take off, and the power begins to flicker. It’s the creature feature, but only in time, those brief snippets saddled between moments of superior exposition and playful banter.
The creature becomes secondary to the characters as it always is in many of the genre greats. If you want to toy with it a little and give the film some teeth, the monster here is almost a manifestation of what these kids are dealing with. Alice (Elle Fanning) has a guilt-ridden, alcoholic father. Joel (Joe Lamb) is mourning the passing of his mother. Charles (Riley Griffiths) comes from a home of pure chaos. They are all looking for an out, someway to leave, and that’s all the monsters wants too. Getting there is the problem, and for the kids, it’s about stepping up, dealing with things, and experiencing life.
At times, Super 8 is unimaginably stupid, sure, that train wreck sequence somehow deciding a pick up truck can derail a 50+ car train, and let the driver live through it. Never mind that said driver becomes utterly meaningless to the plot, the minimalist information provided by the character easily distributed via other means. Still, the film begins working its magic and charm, the type of stuff that seems all too forgotten in this era of overblown visuals effects, and J.J. Abrams wins again. But seriously, there’s no way the guy should have survived.
J.J. Abrams affinity for lens flares continues in this one, Star Trek apparently not flare-y enough. It’s not aggressive to shut down this stunner of a disc though, a one, two, three, four, and five punch of hi-def beauty. Since so much of Super 8 is drenched in darkness, black levels become the be all, end all of of the visual spectrum, rarely losing their tightly wound grip on the images.
As much as its obsessed with lens flares, the film is also strictly focused on keeping teal at the forefront of the palette, an annoyance given the inviting warmth and viciously bold primaries when the film isn’t being monochromatic. The theatrical presentation was much the same, the focus on keeping the film looking popularly modern when it’s clearly meant to be a throwback is absurd. Go figure.
Still, there’s plenty of vigor tossed around, Paramount’s AVC encode pursuing natural involvement from the grain structure. It’s never infringing on the piece, merely adding additional texture to a movie full of it. Medium shots are lively, and close-ups intense. Even the kids are shot with a stern focus and sharpness, the transition to Blu-ray seemingly posing little challenge.
There’s truly little wrong with this disc visually, a true contender for one of the year’s best live action efforts. Even squinting to find flubs will only reveal a slight layer of ringing in the opening scenes, and some minimal aliasing on certain pans of the houses. The flicker caused by the latter is hardly a detriment, and is so easily dealt with in the later chapters, you’ll probably forget it was even there.
This year has become almost a broken record with regards to the term “demo scene.” Sitting in the theater and marveling at both the ridiculousness of the train crash and wonder of its sound design, few words felt more appropriate than, “This will be the greatest Blu-ray ever.” Shocking no one, such on the fly comments have come true.
Pages could be written about what the audio does right, from its brilliantly calibrated balance between the physics bending crash and dialogue to the enormity of the bass. The moment feels huge without having to see it, and scattered debris just drops in precisely where it should. Sound mixing is credited to Chris Strollo, and the enthusiasts following such audio bliss should be praising his name. Assuming the Blu-ray and this TrueHD 7.1 affair were tweaked further by someone else, it’s worth it to imaginary praise them too, along with anyone else who had a hand in this.
The whole movie isn’t about one scene though, the sound design a constant presence. Action scenes feel almost too easy to pick up and metaphorically hug, from the bus assault at 1:21:57, or the military assault on the town. Tanks fire, guns pop in the distance, and engines roar while panning through the soundfield.
It’s the little stuff this disc does that make it such a spectacle. There’s a melodically beautiful score to consider, presented with the utmost fidelity right up to and above par for modern filmmaking. There’s the pre-attack tension, the alien being rummaging through trees, tearing apart machinery, or otherwise sneaking up in a way to lighten up the rears for effect. This is the type of disc you play repeatedly, and not just to watch the movie, but listen to it.
Extras? There’s plenty to soak in here too. A commentary from J.J. Abrams, producer Bryan Burk, and cinematographr Larry Fong makes for wonderful discussion. Eight featurettes are brilliantly produced with an actual sense of style while dishing out information, nearing the 100-minute mark total. Deconstructing the Train Crash is a winding interactive feature that details all aspects of the scene, from its initial paper mention to the post-production. While a bit clumsy to load piece by piece, the depth is worth it.
Fourteen deleted scenes push 13-minutes, items that fail to add much other than exposition better explained in the final product. BD-Live and D-Box support (which must be superb) are Paramount’s final offerings.