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Reviewed by: Ammon Gilbert

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Elle Fanning
Kyle Chandler
Joel Courtney
Ryan Lee
Zach Mills

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What's it about
Set in 1979, a group of kids making a movie on a Super 8 camera witness a horrific train crash that turns their Super 8 movie into an investigation of alien invaders and military cover-ups, while coming to grips with dead parents, teenage love, and something that is so much bigger than themselves.
Is it good movie?
One of the repercussions of growing up in the 1980s is growing up with a genre of films that were not only epic and awesome adventures, but were also full of magic and wonder. It was the prime of Steven Spielberg’s career, not only as a director but as a producer as well: INDIANA JONES SERIES, THE GOONIES, GREMLINS, JAWS (1975, but close enough), POLTERGIEST, BACK TO THE FUTURE SERIES, and E.T. among many others. With his direction / influence and the musical scores of the great John Williams, it was an awesome time for movies—the kind of movies that sadly aren’t made anymore. Until now. Director J.J. Abrams and Spielberg himself are back to tell a tale of wonder, coming of age, and adventure that will have you feeling nostalgic for those wonderful 1980s, bad hair and all.

I saw SUPER 8 opening day when it was released in theaters and really enjoyed it. I didn’t love it at the time because there was so much extreme hype surrounding the film that if turned out to be anything less than perfect it’d be a disappointment. Like most movies, SUPER 8 isn’t perfect—but it’s pretty damn good and now that I’ve checked it out on Blu-ray (in glorious HD), I will admit that I liked it a little bit more than my first initial viewing. Partly because there’s no more hype to set exceedingly high expectations, thus letting the focus be on the film itself—and not the incredible build-up we had leading up to its release. Plus, problems that seem really big on the big screen aren’t much of a big deal when seeing it on the small screen, which is probably why all those flicks from the 80s are on such a high pedestal –they weren’t perfect upon their initial release either, but got better and better over time.

At its core, SUPER 8 is a coming-of-age movie about a group of friends making a zombie movie with their Super 8 camera. One is dealing with the loss of a parent, one is dealing with guilt, one is obsessed with fire, and another one just wants to make the best movie he possibly can. Then one of the most epic train crashes ever filmed happens in front of their faces and their lives become entwined with a mysterious alien/creature/monster that is making weird shit happen all over town, not to mention no-good military personnel unleashing shadiness on their small town. Throw in a dysfunctional father/son relationship that is both sad and beautiful (yep, I said beautiful), young teenage love, and an electrifying mystery of what the hell is going on here, and you have yourself an entertaining summer movie that is not only a throw-back to the Spielbergian golden years, but also better than most summer movies released these days.

The flick works on so many levels that’s hard to narrow it down: the kids are surprisingly fun to watch and not the least bit annoying. For a movie with kids to not be super annoying is an awesome achievement by itself, but having a group as fun and dynamic as this one—well, it hasn’t been done this well since THE GOONIES or even THE MONSTER SQUAD. And while a few started to wear their welcome on the big screen, none of the annoyingness of rubbed off on Blu-ray. Big props to all of them for being able to carry an entire movie, especially Joel Courtney (the main kid) and Elle Fanning (the more talented of the two sisters for me at this point) whose relationship carries much of the film.

Then there’s the action sequences that were pulled off beautifully, including the train crash and the school bus, which may be chalked up as being the most intense and scary sequences in recent memory. What makes most of the special effects scenes is how they don’t show you the creature through most of them—until the very end. Having that JAWS like effect where they almost leave it to your imagination throughout the majority of the film—and in this day in age, where big reveals are given away in the trailer, having SUPER 8 keep the creature a secret from its audience was welcomed and refreshing, and made for an even more enjoyable experience.

The cinematography is also impressive, capturing the Spielbergian look and feel with the addition of sun-flares, which plague every scene that featuring a bright light. You know what I’m talking about—mostly because most movies don’t have these sun-flares, and if they do, they probably have them removed in post-production. Some people will hate the constant sun-flares plague the screen throughout the film, but for me, there was something comforting about those flares, something that I really dug and appreciated in the confides of the film. Maybe it’s the whole Super 8 filmmaking angle that makes those flares fitting in the confides of the movie—whatever it was, it made sense and gave SUPER 8 an entirely unique look of its own.

With all this praise, how could this possible not be a perfect movie? The final act single-handedly puts SUPER 8 from being a timeless classic to just pretty good. From the point where the creature’s lair is revealed to the end of the movie, there are a number of issues going on—issues so big they almost ruin the whole movie. For instance, there’s a resolution of conflict that feels forced and too easy between the film’s two fathers that was hard to swallow, and of course the whole attempt to make the audience feel something for the creature… out of nothing at all. The whole movie the creature is a murdering villain—then out of nowhere we’re supposed to act like it’s E.T. and believe all this gushy emotional mumbo-jumbo about it? Come on…

Regardless of the semi-foul taste the film leaves in your mouth at the end, it’s still a damn good movie that’s extremely well made flick that should have fans of Abrams, Spielberg, alien invaders, and adolescent adventures rejoicing and hungry for more.

Video / Audio
Video: Blu-ray was invented for the awesomeness of movies like SUPER 8. The HD is amazing here, sporadic sun-flares and all. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, if nothing else, you can't deny the film looks impressive through and through.

Audio: 7.1 Dolby Digital True HD is the default, or regular 5.1 Audio if your sound system can't support that. Because of this, I had to turn up the volume louder than normal to hit the decimal I like to watch my action movies in. But other than this little hiccup, the sound was flawless. Again, Blu-ray and SUPER 8 were made for each other.

The Extras
Commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Larry Fong: settle down and listen to the director, producer, and director of photography talk about each scene as it happens. One of the great commentary tracks right here.

Featurettes (each one presented in HD): The Dream Behind Super 8 - Get the inside scoop from J.J. Abrams about how he came up with the idea of SUPER 8 through interviews and behind the scenes of shooting certain scenes. Plus, hear all about how his fascination with making movies on his old school Super 8 camera as a kid. A pretty damn fascinating feature, especially seeing Abrams original Super 8 movies he made as a kid and hearing about his first encounter with Steven Spielberg.

The Search for New Faces - Witness the process of casting the kids for the movie and see many of the auditions of the final cast. If you dig the kids in this flick, you'll dig this little feature. Interesting process, especially knowing they saw more than 5000 kids auditioning for the role. Basically... the final cast is the cream of the crop.

Meet Joel Courtney - You love the main kid of the movie, Joel Courtney? Then get ready to follow him through a day of filming, including hearing about his upbringing and seeing him rehearse his lines.

Rediscovering Steel Town - Explore the town setting of the film, an industrial steel town made fictional in the film but that really exists in Weirton, West Virginia. I've always thought the gig of scouting locations would be awesome and this featurette proves that yes... it would be pretty awesome.

The Visitor Lives - Witness the creation of the monster/creature from the special effects guys who made it. See the earliest versions of the creature all the way through the final product. Since you hardly see the monster in the film, it's kind of cool to get a nice long look at it here.

Scoring Super 8 - Interviews with Michael Giacchino, the composer of the fantastic musical score and what films and scores he was inspired by (hint: John Williams and Steven Spielberg).

Do You Believe in Magic? - Larry Fong busts out some magic tricks on set--and it's hilariously awesome. Cause he's the director of photography... and also, a magician.

The 8mm Revolution - Abrams and Spielberg talk about the awesomeness of making super 8 movies as kids and how it was an important part of them becoming real-life Hollywood directors. Plus... you get a history of Kodak and the super 8 camera and film of the 60s and 70s. After watching SUPER 8, I can't imagine anyone not finding this interesting.

Deconstructing the Train Crash: Considering this is one of the most epic sequences of the film, it's good they devote a cool little feature that lets you watch the scene play out with the ability to ride along with the pre-production, production, and post-production of the making of the sequence. Ah, only with the power of Blu-ray could something like this be possible. Ride a train from the creation of the script all the way through the film's final product in a sort-of virtual train ride. Talk about elaborate.

Deleted Scenes (in HD and 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound): 14 deleted scenes are presented here, giving you a collection of scenes that are fun to watch, but would have made the film a much longer experience than it already was. Some are cut for obvious reasons, some are simply extended scenes, some would have been cool to see in the final cut, and all are a joy to watch, much like the film itself.

DVD & Digital Copy: The film is available for digital download and DVD, so you can pretty much watch it anywhere.

Last Call
For the most part, SUPER 8 delivers as a flashback adventure akin to the golden years of Spielbergian adventures, summoning the spirits of THE GOONIES and E.T., while giving us something that’s uniquely J.J. Abrams in terms of visuals and overall style. Regardless of the film’s fumbling final moments, it still remains one of the best summer blockbusters in years. To top it all off, the Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic and is packed with enough quality special effects to make it one of the must-have buys of the year. Even if you’re on the fence about the film, just seeing the thought and effort and hard work that Abrams and company put into making SUPER 8 is inspiring and may just tip you to the side of seeing the film’s true awesomeness.
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