Directed by J.J. Abrams
Distributed by Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of youngster Joe Lamb (Courtney) and what happens when a movie shoot with his childhood friends goes horribly wrong under the most unimaginable circumstances in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. A few months after Joe’s lost his mother to a horrific work-related accident, he uses a new movie being directed his best friend, Charles (Griffiths), as a creative outlet to push through the pain. Charles, being the mastermind of the project, is under a lot of pressure to finish his zombie opus in hopes to enter it in a film festival on time. Joe is the make-up artist, and being the artsy one of the group, he spends a lot of time creating some spectacular movie monster models that he displays proudly in his room (something that no doubt will make any horror geek out there proud to see being celebrated).
Rounding out the young filmmaking group in Super 8 are Cary (Lee), the special effects guy who also has a penchant for making homemade explosives from fireworks; lead actor Martin (Basso), who’s definitely no good to anyone when he’s under pressure; and cameraman Preston (Mills), who is the wise-cracking jokester of the group.
Since Charles needs a girl to play one of the lead roles (“to give the movie depth” he smartly acknowledges), Alice (Fanning) comes on board, which pleases Joe since he’s been crushing on her for a while even though she comes from the wrong side of the tracks (don’t they all?). Charles has put together a pivotal scene for his zombie film, and so the gang sneaks out to a remote train depot at midnight when they’ll have the place all to themselves to shoot their movie. As they’re readying themselves to shoot, an unscheduled train can be seen heading their way down the tracks. Charles sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (he’ll get “production value” after all) – and they hurriedly get ready for their big moment.
But what is meant to be an emotional moment for the youngsters’ film turns into an action-packed moment of insanity and wreckage in Super 8- as the train derails, it unleashes holy hell all around the small Midwestern town and provides a truly jaw-dropping train crash sequence that was definitely one of the most impressive “blockbuster” moments of this past summer. Adding insult to injury, not only is there an insane amount of wreckage and fires to contend with around the town of Lillian, but something very large and very angry has fought its way out of one of the boxcars, and it’s not happy.
Soon after the melee dies down in Super 8, the kids realize that they’re in danger of being discovered by the military (led by the mysterious Nelec, played by Emmerich), who mysteriously appear out of thin air and are hot on their tracks right after the crash takes place so they hightail it home and make a pact to never speak about the incident again.
As we all know, that’s rarely how these things work out in movies, and soon Joe, who saw what caused the train crash to happen, begins to theorize that perhaps there’s more going on than just a simple train crash and starts digging for more answers. But his friends don’t share his enthusiasm, and his father, Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb (Chandler), has more on his plate than he knows how to deal with as mysterious occurrences begin happening around the sleepy town of Lillian and his boss goes missing one night, leaving Joe to find answers on his own.
To go on any further into the story of Super 8 would definitely give away too many spoilers and ruin the experience for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, but suffice to say we find out more about the alien and the Air Force’s intentions toward said alien, and our human characters all grow a little in return.
As someone who grew up during the 1980s, Super 8 is very much a like taking a 111-minute nostalgic trip down memory lane hearkening back to some of my most favorite times at the theater as a kid. My first Spielberg movie in the theaters was E.T., and since then the iconic writer/director/producer has been responsible for keeping me entertained almost on a yearly basis from 1981 through 1995- whether it was while he was in the producer’s seat or taking the reins as director. Here he plays the former role and acts as a mentor of sorts to writer/director Abrams, who steps up to direct his third feature film, and while he does attain some spectacular visual feats, I don’t feel that Super 8 delivers a truly “mint” cinematic experience overall.
Sure, Super 8 is definitely like a big gooey slice of nostalgia pie for genre fans around my age, but nostalgia is not enough to completely save Super 8 from feeling like a movie we’ve seen so many times before. Being produced under the Amblin Entertainment umbrella, there’s no doubt that Abrams was influenced by his heavyweight producer’s previous works, but my issue is that he never takes a step forward to make his own indelible mark with this kind of storytelling in Super 8.
The reason movies like E.T., Jurassic Park or Raiders of the Lost Ark still remain undeniable classics to this day is because they dared to tell stories with a new twist and give audiences a reason to cheer, and with Super 8 I walked away enjoying myself but felt no lasting impressions with the story overall. Sure, the train crash sequence is marvelous to watch, but that moment isn’t enough for me to fall head over heels in love with Super 8.
What I did enjoy the most about Super 8 was the talented cast of players Abrams assembled, which was led by newcomer Joel Courtney. Courtney, who’s never acted in anything professionally before, is a breath of fresh air in the age of “Disney Kids” and demonstrates he’s a natural in front of the camera. Fanning proves that her older sister isn’t the only one in the family with some acting chops and gives a performance that I feel is award-worthy and I hope that people will remember now that awards season is starting to gear up. Chandler (who’s by far one of my favorite television actors of all time) also delivers a strong and stoic performance as a grief-stricken Deputy who must find a way to save his small town, and the rest of the kid leads prove here that they are just as talented as their older, more experienced peers in Super 8.
The Blu-ray quality of Super 8 looks and sounds nothing short of amazing and is definitely the way the movie should be experienced at home. The colors pop, the sound design is flawless and everything about this presentation of Super 8 feels pristine. In terms of supplemental material, the Super 8 Blu-ray is stuffed to the gills and then some. Not only does the Blu-ray include a DVD copy and a digital copy (score!), but it also presents over two hours of bonus materials that should no doubt please the superfans and casual viewers alike.
There are eight behind-the-scenes featurettes for Super 8, and I really enjoyed all of them, especially “The Dream Behind Super 8” mini-doc which explores Abrams’ own love for making Super 8 films as a kid and how that led to his friendships (and eventual working relationships) with fellow filmmakers Matt Reeves (Let Me In) and Bryan Burk (Super 8 producer) and how his first job working for Steven Spielberg at age 14 served as inspiration for the story behind this film as well. “Dream” also features some really engaging interviews with Reeves, Spielberg and Burk and shows off several Super 8 movies made by various members of the production team from yesteryear. Really fun, geeky stuff that was incredibly insightful and entertaining.
The commentary track with Abrams, Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong (who also has a knack for magic tricks- check out the “Do You Believe in Magic?” featurette to see many of Fong’s tricks) is also chock-full of insightful stuff although I admittedly turned it off about 20 minutes in because I was starting to miss out on some of what was going on in the actual film. The “Deconstructing the Train Crash” doc is really amazing stuff fans won’t want to miss checking out, and the deleted scenes are fun to watch but really wouldn’t have added much to Super 8, which is generally the case with deleted scenes anyway.
There’s no doubt that the fans who fell in love with Super 8 in theaters this past summer will definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray edition of the flick when it hits shelves everywhere next week. For those of you who may have been on the fence about Super 8 (like this writer) or may not have seen the movie during its theatrical run, the overall Blu-ray presentation of the film (which is like a giant love letter to filmmaking as a whole) is some stellar stuff and is definitely worth checking out once it streets. While Super 8 hasn’t done anything to necessarily raise the bar of genre filmmaking as a whole, it’s still an entertaining ride with a good heart at its core, making it a welcome addition to the Amblin Entertainment stable, and the Blu-ray definitely made me appreciate Abrams work (even if it’s not his strongest) even more so the second time around.
Blu-ray Special Features
-The Dream Behind Super 8
-The Search for New Faces
-Meet Joel Courtney
-Rediscovering Steel Town
-The Visitor Lives
-Scoring Super 8
-Do You Believe in Magic?
-The 8mm Revolution
DVD Special Features
3 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5