It was slightly surreal realizing upon watching Super 8 for this review that it had been a decade since I originally caught the film at a press screening. Looking back now, the film is in my humble opinion peak J.J. Abrams fresh off the critical, financial and fan success of Star Trek; but before his tragic downfall thanks to Star Trek: Into Darkness. That particular screening is seared in my mind, when Benedict Cumberbatch finally admitted to being Khan after months of disinformantion spread by cast and crew there was a collective audible groan in the theater. Super 8 however, I think really reaches those Spielbergian heights, with that whole sense of wholesome childlike wonder while also imbuing the story with what it was like to grow up in the early 80s. I mean it makes sense, since at its core the film is basically E.T. mashed up with Cloverfield and after rewatching it now for this review it’s the rare film from Abrams that perfectly utilizes his love of the “mystery box” narrative without feeling overly obnoxious about it.
Also, while it feels very derivative, like all these throwbacks tend to feel, it also manages the rare feat of doing this, while still feeling like its own distinct entity.
For those that haven’t seen Super 8, the film takes place in the late 70s early 80s, and features a group of free range teens as most of these films and television shows romanticizing this period of time tend to do. The film’s narrative centers on Joe Lamb, son of the town’s Sheriff who’s mother recently was killed in a workplace accident at the local steel mill. Joe is a monster kid who in his spare time is making a zombie film on super 8 — hence the title with his best friend Charles. One late night while filming a scene at a train station with their new female lead Alice (Elle Fanning) they witness a truck derailing a train, that just so happened to be carrying a Cloverfield like alien and its ship. The boys then go into full Scooby Doo mode as they try and track down the mystery behind the accident while uncovering the truth behind the motives of the alien that has invaded their town.
One question I always seem to get stuck in my head while watching this film is who is our director in this film supposed to be? It’s obviously a passion project, meant to touch on a big influence on his career — Steven Spielberg, but look closer, there’s something more autobiographical here other than the director simply commenting on a simpler bygone era. While the doe eyed makeup effects guy Joe gets the girl, it’s the heavy set director of this super 8 masterpiece Charles who brings Alice in because he liked her; only to watch her get swept away. Charlie to me feels very much like the JJ Abrams surrogate, since not only did JJ make super 8 films growing up, but he also was frequenting film fests like the one they are prepping their zombie film for. In fact I was able to find JJ entered one in 1981, which almost fits the narrative timeline here perfectly. I mean not to sound superficial, but from one husky kid to another, Abrams was definitely in the club growing up; which makes you wonder why make a film about him losing the girl?
With this in mind I think there are three meta layers to Super 8 and I honestly hope my hypothesis is wrong on this because it makes the film a masterclass in pettiness. See, the first layer, is the film itself of Super 8 that tells this great story, then the second layer is the film we see at the end that they film, now this is where it gets a bit quirky. When you watch the film at the end you hear a projector in the back channel of the sound mix that sort of adds a separation layer between the film world you’re watching and the real world you’re in, sort of breaking that wall while we are viewing it. So by that logic JJ is basically saying hey I lost the girl make up kid, but I make films now, so chin up nerds and follow your dreams and you too can win in the end.
But you can also fall down the rabbit hole of wondering whether the events of Super 8 were in fact real and the inspiration for Cloverfield and this film is sort of like Abrams putting it all out there in a very elaborate way. But my money’s on the fat kid hypothesis.
Now that I’m done prattling on with my tin foil hat, here’s my thoughts on the disc itself. JJ being a film guy and Super 8 being shot on celluloid really makes this disc worth the upgrade; and definitely reflects on this transfer. This picture has little to no DNR from what I can tell and the film grain is left completely in tact with the HDR used here to really only to enhance the established color palette.The image here is just plain stunning, and it’s paired with a with a very robust sound mix that has them pulling the original 5.1 mix forward rather than creating an Atmos mix and I can appreciate preserving the theatrical experience. Also, that trainwreck scene is most definitely demo material and will be something I will use to show of my system next time I have someone over in my theater room. Please keep in mind in this package there is no Blu-ray, only 4K, but all of the previously available extras are brought forward.
Watching Super 8 almost a decade later, it still has that timeless feel to it and is imbued with that sense of wonder and innocence that has eluded countless directors that have tried to channel Spielberg. I have to say while this film once again showcases Abrams impeccable casting choices, its the one film that I think really gives Elle Fanning something to chew on as an actor and do more than simply be the embodiment of the “bad girl” or “trouble” archetype. Here she really shines and shows a tremendous depth that I feel most directors fail to really tap into. So what can I say? I loved Super 8 before watching this, and I appreciate it even more now. I think this could possibly be my favorite film by Abrams, because its derivative nature doesn’t hold it back or simply make you think about that thing its aping, but fuels and imbues it with a real heart and soul. That being said I will let you decide if its just a good film, a masterclass in pettiness or simply proof that JJ Abrams witnessed an alien presence terrorize a small town.