Release Date(s)2011 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Bad Robot Productions/Amblin Entertainment (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
The year is 1979. 14-year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother to an accident at the local steel plant. His father Jack, the town’s deputy sheriff (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights), blames Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard, Deep Impact) for his wife’s death. It seems the man showed up for work at the plant drunk, so Jack’s wife had to cover his shift. Fortunately, young Joe has a group of loyal friends to help get him through this tragedy. One of them, Charles (Riley Griffiths), is making a Super 8 zombie film, so he recruits Joe, Preston, Martin, and Cary to help in the effort. He’s asked a girl to join them too—Alice (Elle Fanning, Maleficent), who also happens to be Dainard’s daughter. But just as they’re filming late one night, a passing train derails in a high-speed collision. In the aftermath, the teens discover that the train was carrying thousands of strange metal cubes and some kind of creature, which quickly escapes. Almost instantly, the U.S. Air Force descends upon the crash site and upends in town, clearly looking for the creature, and Joe and his friends’ lives will never be the same.
There can be little doubt that director J.J. Abrams’ intent here was to honor the Steven Spielberg films he loved as a kid—specifically Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—so the knock on Super 8 is that it lacks originality. Of course, that’s ironic, because it’s easily Abrams’ most original work, quite literally the only film he’s made that isn’t a reboot or a sequel. And while the plot is derivative to be sure, it’s also entertaining. If you—like Abrams, myself, and countless other Gen-Xers—spent the late 70s and early 80s reading the pages of Starlog and Cinemagic magazines, and making no-budget Super 8 films, it’s almost impossible not to engage with this story. Moreover, by casting a group of unknown but extremely likable child actors, the film exudes authenticity. It’s grounded by Chandler’s performance as a man trying to hold both his town and his family together in the midst of the most difficult period of his life. The direction is deft, if a little stylistically excessive (hint: lens flares abound), and composer Michael Giacchino delivers a thrilling score. Derivative or not, Super 8 works.
Super 8 was shot on 8, 16, and 35 mm photochemical film, using a variety of Arriflex, Beaulieu, Bell & Howell, Canon, and Panavision cameras, with select insert shots captured digitally in Redcode RAW (at 4.5K, using the Red One camera). It was originally finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, but in honor its 10th anniversary, Paramount has given the film an Ultra HD upgrade. Unfortunately, while I had high hopes for this release, the amount of haloing visible on high-contrast edges suggests an older 2K film scan. That, combined with the lack of very fine image detail, reveals that instead of rescanning the original camera negative in native 4K, the 2K Digital Intermediate was simply upsampled. Everything looks just a little digitally processed, with a lack of refined texturing. The HDR grade (available here in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision) pushes an already high-contrast image even further. Highlights are pleasingly bright, but shadows begin to look a little crushed and lacking in detail. The overall palette is a bit muted, but at least the color space is larger and more nuanced. Super 8 certainly doesn’t look bad on UHD, but it could have looked great. Instead, it falls short of other recent catalog titles on the format and that’s disappointing.
Thankfully, audio on the 4K disc is available in the same lossless English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that was found on the previous Blu-ray release. It was a thrilling, reference grade mix back in 2011 and it remains so now, atmospheric and full of bombast. The soundstage is big, wide, and immersive, with highly active surrounds, smooth movement, and aggressive dynamics. Bass is muscular to say the least, yet the dialogue remains clean and clear at all times. The train crash sequence, a highlight of the film both visually and sonically, will shake the foundation of your house. But even in quiet moments this mix impresses, with soft but precisely-placed environmental cues. This is a demo TrueHD disc, no question about it, and to complain about the lack of an object-based upgrade would be missing the point. Additional audio options include English Audio Description and 5.1 Dolby Digital in German, Spanish, French, Quebec French, Italian, and Japanese, with subtitles available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, German, Spanish, French, Quebec French, Italian, Japanese, and Dutch.
Paramount’s 4K includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Larry Fong
- The Dream Behind Super 8 (HD – 16:28)
- The Search for New Faces (HD – 17:46)
- Meet Joel Courtney (HD – 14:35)
- Rediscovery Steel Town (HD – 18:24)
- The Visitor Lives (HD – 12:22)
- Scoring Super 8 (HD – 5:29)
- Do You Believe in Magic? (HD – 4:29)
- The 8mm Revolution (HD – 8:15)
- Deconstructing the Train Crash (HD – interactive map with video clips)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 14 scenes – 12:47 in all)
All of these are carried over from the previous Blu-ray, and they’re actually quite good. The commentary is thoughtful and the featurettes are substantial—The 8mm Revolution in particular is fun to watch, especially for you former teenaged filmmakers. VFX legend Dennis Muren even makes a few appearances. The Blu-ray version of the film is not included in this package, but you do at least get a Digital copy code on a paper insert.
Honestly, I wish Abrams would stop playing in other people’s sandboxes and get back to making more movies like this. Super 8 is a love letter to a certain kind of 80s blockbuster film and to a certain period of hand-crafted filmmaking. And if the story fails to ever really feel original, it makes up for that with heart. Paramount’s new 4K Ultra HD release misses the mark on image quality but is still a modest upgrade on the previous Blu-ray, and its audio mix remains a knockout. It’s therefore recommended, if only for fans.
- Bill Hunt