How's the movie?
There's a mentality these days to categorize movies as either OMG AMAZING or WORST MOVIE EVER, especially when it comes to high profile studio films from high profile directors. Of course, movie quality just isn't that black and white, and JJ Abrams' Super 8, about a small town that encounters a visitor from beyond the stars, certainly occupies that gradient. And that's okay. It's okay for a movie to be good, but not great. It's still possible to enjoy films that are problematic, that have imperfect scripts but great intentions. That's exactly what Super 8 is; a well-meaning movie that arrives close to but not quite at its intended, Amblin-era destination.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82% Fresh with critics, 78% liked by audiences
Box Office: $260 million worldwide
What are the vitals on the disc?
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: November 22nd, 2011
Edition: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack
Number of Discs: 2 (1 x BD, 1 x DVD)
Digital Copy: Yes
Runtime: 112 minutes
Video: 1080p, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English Dobly TrueHD 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Portuguese DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
How does it look and sound?
To put it bluntly, Super 8 blew me away on Blu-ray. The visual prowess of JJ Abrams' third feature film didn't particularly strike me in theaters, but at home ... in a word: wow. It is hands down the best HD transfer I've seen for a modern movie this year. I don't know if that's a bigger testament to Abrams as a filmmaker, Larry Fong as a cinematographer, or a condemnation of this year's crop of studio blockbusters, most of which have a flat, albeit sharp-as-hell, digital look to them. Super 8, however, looks incredibly filmic, with grain and physicality in all the right places. Whether it's kids riding backs down a half-shaded main street mid-day or running across a playground besieged by tanks at night, the colors, the incredibly deep blacks, and the grit and the grim all stand out in all the right, impressive ways.
Imagine my total shock, then, when listening to the commentary track revealed how the production was actually a mixture of film for all of the on-location shooting and then Red for the reshoots and pick-up shots. And what's even crazier about that is at the beginning of the commentary Abrams and Fong are quick to point out what is film and what is digital, but about halfway through they can't even tell any more what was and wasn't film. Basically, it is the single best argument I've seen to date for how digital can, in the right hands, rival the lived-in, soulful look of film. And it should be noted that these screenshots in no way reflect the actual quality of the Blu-ray. It's mind-blowing
As far as the sound mix goes, it's equally flawless. I do have some qualms with some of the more curious choices for sound editing (some elements of the train crashing sound like laser fire), but as far as the integration and presentation of everything goes, it's immaculate. You may wonder why a particularly something makes the sound it does, but you'll at least never wonder where the sound was coming from or why it's overpowering anything else in the mix. Abrams proves once again that he is, at least as far as the technical side is considered, on the cutting edge of filmmaking these days.
What about special features?
This is a busy, packed disc, and almost all of it is worth checking out-- and that's coming from someone who doesn't outright love the final film in the first place.
Audio Commentary with JJ Abrams, Producer Bryan Burk and Cinematographer Larry Fong - If you have it in your head that filmmaking is an incredibly fixed medium and that filmmakers should all have locked, final visions of their film before they ever even yell action, this commentary track might actually drive you a little insane. It's shocking to hear how loose and cavalier Abrams and company were with the production, as they constantly reference what they shot on location and what they ended up having to reshoot back at Bad Robot HQ and how they didn't pre-vis some of the film's biggest sequences, including the train crash. And not only is it very informative about their surprisingly carefree approach to filmmaking, but it will also endear you to their charming personalities and heartfelt passion for filmmaking. Definitely give it a listen.
There are eight featurettes on the disc and they can be watched individually or all in one whopping ~97 minute chunk. They're each worth watching with coverage spanning everything you'd want from creature design to audition tapes, but the highlights are:
The Dream Behind Super 8 (16 minutes, HD) - Abrams' dives into his childhood making home movies on the titular format and how it lead to him getting a job organizing Steven Spielberg's own Super 8 home movies. It's a really heartfelt look at what drives Abrams, plus you'll get to see home movies made by Abrams, Fong, composer Michael Giacchino and others.
Meet Joel Courtney (14 minutes, HD) - A day-in-the-life type featurette on the film's star/first time actor that does a really wonderful job of telling his humble story. This is a genuine, sweet, wide-eyed look at the film industry from the perspective of a first time actor from an incredibly small town in Ohio, and it does a damn good job of capturing the wonder and awe of glimpsing movie magic for the first time.
Rediscovering Steel Town (18 minutes, HD) - A look at the very small town (Weirton, West Virginia) the film was made in and how it had such a huge impact on not only the lives of the townsfolk, but its entire economy.
Scoring Super 8 (5 minutes, HD) - This is one of the shorter featurettes of the batch, but any insights into the mind of one of Hollywood's best working composers is more than welcome.
Do You Believe in Magic (4 minutes, HD) - Apparently Larry Fong isn't just a magician when it comes to cinematography, he also does actual magic tricks. Not only does he blow the minds of the film's young cast, at one point Tom Cruise inexplicably appears and even he is won over by Fong's slight of hand.
Deleted Scenes (13 minutes, HD) - There are a lot of scenes here, but don't expect any of them to offer surprising insights into the movie as they seem to have all been relegated to the cutting room floor not for content, but for pacing and context. There are no introductions for the scenes, but if you listen to the commentary you can hear Abrams address several of them and why they were cut.
Because it demands to be said over and over again: Super 8 is the best looking and sounding Blu-ray of 2011. Whether you have an elaborate home theater set up or not, you will be treated to a helluva great disc, even if the movie on it is closer to good than great, the absolutely flawless presentation alone is more than enough reason to give this disc a spin your Blu-ray player as soon as possible. And if you do happen to already love the film, you'll only fall deeper for it after watching the exhaustive batch of special features and listening to the worthwhile commentary track.