Watching 'Super 8' feels like having a big bucket of 80s cinematic nostalgia dumped all over you. J.J. Abrams' mysterious summer blockbuster – which was promoted by cryptically sparse teaser trailers – ended up being an homage to the great 80s Spielberg films, and it really works. It was the most fun I had at the movie theater this summer. Even more enjoyable than the frantic, action-packed 'finale to the Harry Potter ' franchise. There was something about Abrams' movie that transported me back to a time where movies were all about childlike wonder and adventure. A genre in which Spielberg excelled.
'Super 8' hinges not so much on the action and suspense being built up throughout the movie, but on the performances from the young actors involved. At its nucleus, this is a movie about kids who love making movies. They just so happen to get caught up in a story with a monstrous alien taking over their small town. No matter how many special effects are involved, or the big names this movie is associated with, if the group of kids on display can't perform, then the movie doesn't work at all.
Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother to a horrible steel factory accident. He's lost and doesn't know what to do with himself. He seems like one of those kids who internalizes his emotions and anger. Even at his mother's funeral he only longingly gazes at the sky while holding her locket. No tears, just sadness. Courtney, a first-timer in the Hollywood business is the heart and soul of this movie. Maybe it's because he hasn't yet been sullied by years of working on movie after movie, but there's genuineness to his acting, a sort of innocence that is very rare in movies nowadays. The only other time I saw that kind of innocence was from the child actors in Terrance Malick's 'Tree of Life ,' and they were first-time actors as well. Joe finds a love interest in Alice (Elle Fanning). The two of them have as great a sense of chemistry as any adult actors out there.
Joe's friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is making a zombie movie to enter into the state 8mm film festival. Being 1979, there aren't any cell phone or flip cameras. These kids live in a time where film actually had to be loaded into a camera. Yeah, kind of shocking right? Riley is another newcomer to the acting scene, but you wouldn't know it. The way he rattles off his smart-ass lines reminds me of some of the great 80s child actors. He could've held his own with any of those kids in 'Stand By Me.'
After filming at a local train depot, the group of kids witness a tremendous train wreck. In 2010 the most memorable cinematic scene to me was Joseph Gordon-Levitt beating up a bad guy as the hallway he was in rotated around him. The year 2011 will be remembered as the time I saw the most stupendous train wreck scene I could ever have imagined. I remember sitting there in the theater, smile spreading across my face, thinking that this most likely would never happen, but it sure was a lot of fun.
Turns out the train is a military train, carrying some cargo which could possibly be of extraterrestrial origin. While it was fun the first time around guessing what you thought the creature would look like, the second time I was simply entertained by the young actors involved. This truly is 'The Goonies' for a new generation.
'Super 8' is a well-crafted, well-written piece of cinematic nostalgia that will thrill younger viewers while transporting older viewers back to a time when movies still held a sense of wonder and amazement.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Paramount release comes with a 50-GB Blu-ray Disc, along with a DVD copy of the film. A code and instructions are included on how to download your Digital Copy of the movie. The packaging has been a bit of a sticky point for some. There was some outcry about the cover art and its generic feel. Some people didn't really like the look of the bright yellow and red cover that was intended to mimic old Super 8 film boxes. Well, it's all okay, because that's only on the slipcover. The actual cover art of the disc case has no yellow or red and instead uses the same theatrical poster art with the vertical skyline and the silhouette of the water tower in the distance. It's one of the few times that the outer slipcover doesn't resemble the actual cover art. The two discs are packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.
If you were happy with the look of J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek,' on Blu-ray then you'll warm right up to 'Super 8's 1080p presentation. Even though the movie takes place in the late 70s, Abrams' photography (with the help of cinematographer Larry Fong) doesn't really reflect the time period. Besides the sparse representations of grainy 8mm footage here and there, the rest of the movie looks as slick and polished as 'Star Trek' did, lens flares and all.
The film has a very distinct clarity to it. Fine detail is optimal on faces, structures, and special effects. You can see individual threads in the shag carpets, and the woven texture of the furniture of that time period. The texture of shirts and denim also stick out. The movie is predominantly set during nighttime sequences. All the big set pieces take place during night, and therefore the presentation of the movie's blacks was extremely important. I'm happy to report that the blacks are infinitely deep and shadows are wonderfully delineated. Even though it's dark in those tunnels under the city, you're still able to clearly see the claw marks in the dirt made by the creature. Colors do pop, however. You'll noticed the bright oranges and reds of the fiery explosions from the train wreck, which cut through the blackness perfectly. I didn't notice any sort of banding at all. Aliasing or any other nuisances are nowhere to be seen.
Yes, Abrams is back in full force with his lens flares. Hate them or love them, they're there. I'm somewhat ambivalent towards them, but they do tend to become distractions as the movie progresses (like they did in 'Star Trek').
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix provided by Paramount, to quote Charles Kaznyk, "Is mint!" This is one of the best sounding Blu-rays you'll buy all year, but to be honest, are you really surprised by that?
The train wreck (surprise, surprise) is the first place you really find out what you're in for with this engulfing audio mix. As the train becomes derailed and metal starts crunching and clanging against each other all seven channels come to life with all sorts of distressing sounds. Explosions pop off in the rear and side channels. The front channels are filled with the terror-tinged screams of the kids as they run for cover as huge pieces of metal flies all around them. LFE is in a constant state of activity, adding power and oomph to each explosion. The bass lends hard-hitting rumbling as train cars come crashing to earth. When the train depot finally goes up in a fireball you may want to have secured your pictures to the wall, because they'll literally rattle off their hooks. This is a loud, jarring, altogether amazing audio experience. It's a scene that you'll pull out again and again over the years to show to your friends and family exactly how HD 7.1 sound can sound when done right.
It isn't all action and mayhem though. The center channel picks up clean and clear dialogue, which is passed around to the front and side speakers depending on directionality of voices. Panning effects like helicopters circling overhead make smooth transitions throughout the sound stage, from one channel to another, seamlessly. Ambient sound keeps the rear and side channels lively throughout the movie, even if there is no alien action going on. When the kids are boarding the bus out of town, or during the town hall meeting, townsfolk can be heard chattering away giving the mix a very genuine feel. 'Super 8,' rises to the expectations that it set in the theaters, and provides us with a demo worthy audio performance.
'Super 8' still holds the top spot as my favorite movie of the year. It reminded me of movies like 'Goonies' and 'Stand By Me,' with strong kid characters who can drive a movie just as well as any adults out there. As was expected, 'Super 8' comes to Blu-ray with a great looking video presentation, and an audio presentation that's simply out of this world. The full-bodied 7.1 mix is sure to rumble your home's foundation. 'Super 8' is highly recommended.