Super 8, 2011.
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Caitriona Balfe, and Zach Mills.
Super 8 is J.J. Abrams’ cinematic love letter to those halcyon Lucas/Spielberg films of the 70s and 80s. (Spielberg even produced it.) It’s out now in 4K UltraHD Blu-ray with a superb image transfer but no new bonus features, although a code for a digital copy is included too.
As a Gen Xer born in 1970, I was squarely in the demo, as they say, for the output of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg during the 1970s and 80s, including the films they didn’t direct but produced. Like many kids of that era, I was also fascinated with UFO reports and stories of creatures like Bigfoot, which was fed by the pop culture of that era. Looking back, I can imagine the Boomers who ran film and TV studios back then saying to each other, “These stupid kids like a lot of weird crap, but keep giving them more because it makes us money!”
Director/producer J.J. Abrams was in that demo too, so he decided to create a kind of cinematic love letter to that era in the form of Super 8, with a producing assist from Spielberg. Released in 2011, Super 8 tells the story of a group of kids in 1979 who witness a horrific train accident while filming a zombie movie. The train was carrying a cargo of strange cubes, along with a creature that escapes to unleash havoc on the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio.
If you’re familiar with the films that inspired Abrams, it’s not hard to imagine where the story goes from there: The military shows up to try to take control of the situation and the kids become amateur detectives, using the cover of their movie project to try to learn what’s really happening in their town. However, unlike most films of the Lucas/Spielberg variety, Super 8 has a much darker tinge to it – there’s no E.T.-like bonding between the kids and the creature, for example. (Yes, there is a moment like that, but I’m talking about how the relationship between E.T. and the kids is such a big part of that movie.)
But there is plenty of lens flare, which has become a J.J. Abrams trademark to such an extent that he seems to feel that nearly every scene needs a purply-blue streak across at least one of the shots. Sometimes the streak extends across the kids’ faces in a dramatic moment, which doesn’t make much sense to me. I really wish he would tone that down.
The story also doesn’t quite hang together as well as it should, which seems to be another Abrams hallmark. I know he loves his mystery boxes, but he has a tendency to use them to such an extent that it’s not hard to start wondering, for example, why the creature doesn’t just take action to leave Earth as soon as it escapes. Also, how does someone drive a truck head-on into a train, resulting in a fiery explosion, but survive? And why does that character seem important to the story only to disappear?
Unfortunately, none of the 14 deleted scenes that run about 13 minutes total shed any light on that. They’re not really scenes anyway – they’re mostly minor character moments, some of which you could argue should have stayed in the film, but none of which would have fixed the issues I raised.
Those deleted scenes were ported over from the 2011 Blu-ray release, along with the rest of that edition’s bonus features, for this new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Paramount. Before I get into them, though, I’ll note that the 4K picture quality on this disc is superb. This is a movie with a lot of dark scenes, both at night and underground, and that’s where 2K Blu-ray can sometimes struggle. It’s also where a solid 4K transfer can shine, and Super 8 performs admirably here, with deep black levels and stunning clarity in the close-ups.
Moving on to the rest of the bonus features, nothing new was created for this edition, so keep that in mind if you’re considering an upgrade from the Blu-ray. There’s no second Blu-ray disc, unlike a lot of 4K releases these days, but there is a code for a digital copy of the film. Here’s what rounds out the platter:
- Audio commentary with J.J. Abrams, producer Bryan Burk, and cinematographer Larry Fong: Steven Spielberg doesn’t do commentaries, so it’s not a surprise he didn’t show up here, and Abrams acknowledges that in this track. Group commentaries can be hit or miss, but this one is a pretty good discussion of the film from the inspiration for it to various aspects of the production. There’s a good mix of technical details and general behind-the-scenes stuff in here.
- Featurettes (98 minutes): This is a group of eight featurettes that, like the commentary track, cover the making of Super 8 from start to finish. There’s a little bit of repeated stuff from the commentary, but most of it is new material. Abrams, Burk, and Fong reappear here, along with other members of the cast and crew and even a couple surprise guests, such as legendary visual effects guy Dennis Muren. It’s a good all-around documentary, and there’s a handy “Play All” function that I appreciate. I wish the days of feature-length documentaries would come back, but I suppose eight bullet points look better on the packaging than one.
- Deconstructing the Train Crash: This is an interactive map that uses video clips and text, including script excerpts, to show how that dramatic early scene came to life. I didn’t mention this in my review of the film, but I thought the train crash went on much longer than it needed to, and sometimes it was hard to tell where the train was in relation to the characters. If you feel the same way I do, this bonus feature helps alleviate some of that confusion, but it shouldn’t be necessary viewing to figure that out.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★