Super 8 (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) (2011)

Actors: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills
Director: J.J. Abrams
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Region: 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
DVD Release Date: November 22, 2011
Run Time: 112 minutes





Critics called Super 8 the greatest Steven Spielberg film not actually directed by Steven Spielberg . . .

Therein lies its strength as well as the ways in which it both transcends and draws attention to the Spielberg canon. It’s not the Spielberg of Munich and War of the Worlds; it’s the Spielberg of Close Encounters, the 70s wunderkind who was more upstart maverick than Hollywood icon. The vibrancy and ethos of that Spielberg are alive and well in Super 8, reminding us not only of who he was, but what he’s both gained and lost as an artist in the intervening years.

Director J.J. Abrams doesn’t quite subsume his own voice in the process, but his overt affection for Big Steve ends up trumping almost everything else. Fortunately, he captures the feeling of genuine childhood along with the monsters and spaceships, and indeed the film is much more about a group of friends than the mysterious creature that wrecks a train in front of their disbelieving eyes.

Super 8 takes the time to set up their relationships before getting into all the mayhem. It’s 1979 and life’s possibilities seem endless, even in small-town America. A band of youngsters are getting together to shoot a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera. Two of the crew – make-up artist Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and leading lady Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) – nurse deep personal wounds, which draws them together to the immense consternation of their fathers.

That’s before all hell breaks loose, when an Air Force train derails while they’re shooting nearby and some thing escapes from a boxcar. The kids’ camera captures the entire affair, and as the town experiences some truly unsettling phenomenon, they alone seemingly know the cause. That puts the military on their trail, as well as the Whatever The Hell That Is rampaging through the streets.

Abrams occasionally evokes the nostalgia factor a bit too blatantly, as we’re treated to twee little references to period fashion and technology. But that tendency also focuses on the kids themselves rather than the monster . . . which, as Spielberg can tell you, is really the purpose of the exercise.

The coming-of-age elements resonate without falling into undue sogginess: a deft balancing act that Abrams coaxes out of his young cast with effortless ease. We sense their fears and anxieties – the ways they grapple with the realities of a cruel world – as well as their passions and loyalty to each other. They have a way of interpolating the extraordinary events around them, the way kids do, and their attitudes endear them to us even as the danger rises. Abrams understands how to deliver both sides of that equation so that each compliments the other, rather than getting in each other’s way.

Spielberg would be very proud of the results (and presumably is, since he served as a producer). Super 8 deftly evokes his great early works, even as it finds its own rhythm and tone to set it apart from its predecessors. Besides being a terrific effort in its own right, it gives us a chance to see just how much Spielberg has evolved as a filmmaker. His contemporary efforts bear little resemblance to his earlier films . . . and that’s not a criticism of either category, merely an observation of how much he’s changed as an artist.

Super 8 conjures up such a comparison and allows us to see its inspiration in a whole new light. One could not ask for more from such an homage: one that succeeds both as an entertaining movie and an evocation a singular artist who changed moviemaking forever.

THE DISCS: The two-disc set contains the Blu-ray/DVD copy and a digital copy, as has become the norm for releases of this sort. The sound and image quality are first-rate and the special features have plenty to recommend them. Along with sharp comments from Abrams and other key filmmakers, the disc includes deleted scenes, the usual gaggle of featurettes and an extended look at the train crash sequence to see how it was done.

WORTH IT? Those who grew up on Spielberg films will find a kindred spirit here, and younger viewers will discover a terrific gateway to those earlier works. Besides that, it’s great fun in its own right.

RECOMMENDATION: If you missed it amid the stampede of summer blockbusters, here’s your chance to rectify the oversight.

- Rob Vaux



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