Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Super 8 Blu Ray Review

Crossposted on and commissioned by Film.com

Oh Super 8, when I think what you might have been … although I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this movie and appreciated the sentiment behind it, ultimately I don’t believe the film accomplished what director JJ Abrams and executive producer Steven Spielberg set out to do. Consequently, it’s a bit of a failure. As much as I love the cast of kids and their moments together, none of the emotional payoffs with the adult characters are earned, and in the third act, when all begins to reveal itself, logic goes straight out the window. Super 8 is a pale imitation of the movies it was inspired by, filled with unmet potential. The idea initially came from Spielberg and Abrams talking about making a movie about kids making movies — *that* part of Super 8 works. Combining it with Abrams other idea of a train crashing while transporting something from Area 51 is where the film falls flat on its face. Super 8 feels like two movies thrown together because it is. Yes, E.T. was developed this way as well, but the difference is, in E.T. it worked. In Super 8, the marriage is clunky and undermines an otherwise lovely story. I’d definitely say the film is worth seeing, in case it speaks more to you than it did to me, and especially because of this impressive group of preteens, all of whom I hope go on to long and fulfilled careers; I just personally found it to be a mild disappointment.

Audio Commentary with JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Larry Fong
Analysis of certain moments, instances of where Spielberg was more or less of a tangible influence, anecdotes, memories, the usual. This is where you can actually hear about cinematographer Larry Fong shooting in anamorphic, the sound effects, which sequences were shot on a sound stage versus on location, motivations behind the actors (as far as Abrams knew them to be), how they worked around puberty, and more. Plus, Fong does one of his famous magic tricks during the commentary, and the gang collectively composes emails to Steven Spielberg. Even though we can’t see either, it’s still fun to know they’re going on. One of my favorite fun facts is that because they got the actors for such little time, anytime you see a reverse shot of one of the kids, it’s a stand-in. Overall, the commentary is thorough and engaging and well worth the listen if you have the urge to learn more about the film.

The Dream Behind Super 8 (1080p, 16:28)

Shot stylistically, almost as if this were a short documentary rather than a standard featurette, this piece takes a look at where the idea for Super 8 came from, and features extensive footage of Abrams on set interacting with his cast and crew. We learn the history of JJ Abrams and frequent collaborators Burk, Fong, and Matt Reeves, and see clips of their childhood Super 8 films. Also elaborated on is the relationship between Abrams and Spielberg over the past 20 years and how they came up with the idea for Super 8 together. My favorite bits are a shot of Abrams’ face while Elle Fanning nails the emotional scene wherein Alice talks about her dad, and his speech to the crew upon wrapping, where he offers “Let me know when I can do anything for you because you’ve done so much for me.” I know secondhand at least what a good guy Abrams is, and it’s neat to see him living up to that reputation on set.
The Search for New Faces (1080p, 17:46)
A look at the six leads of Super 8, from the audition process to wrap, featuring audition tapes of and interviews with the collection of young actors, thoughts from the casting directors, and footage of the kids engaged in behind-the-scenes antics, Abrams directing them, and best of all, the final day of shooting where an emotional Elle Fanning says goodbye and thanks to the crew for all their hard work. Watching the actors hug Abrams, knowing their journey together had come to an end, actually brought tears to my eyes. Favorite moments include learning that Abrams called each kid personally to offer them the part, a funny on-set moment where lead Joel Courtney doesn’t know how to use a rotary phone and Abrams teaches him, and when the cast reminisces about Riley Griffith’s contagious laugh. Since the kids are easily the best part of the movie, this featurette is my favorite, no question.
More after the jump

Meet Joel Courtney (1080p, 14:35)
A profile of Joel Courtney and his life before and during the shoot. This featurette is framed around a long interview with Courtney about his journey, from auditioning to getting the role, to his on-set experience, to how he suspects he will feel when they wrap. We also follow a typical day for Courtney, as he shows off his trailer, gets into makeup, goes to the on-set classroom, makes a visit to craft services (and teaches us how to make the perfect hot chocolate), and more.
Rediscovering Steel Town (1080p, 18:24)
A look at the town of Weirton — how they found it, why they chose it, how it was dressed to go back in time, and the benefits of shooting there. Featuring interviews with production designer Martin Whist, executive producer Guy Riedel, and — coolest of all — production assistant Josh Foglio, who is from Weirton. We are also treated to a history of the town from citizens who live there, complete with old photos and statistics.
The Visitor Lives (1080p, 12:22)
The sole featurette on the alien, which is partly why I enjoy these extras so much. My least favorite part of the film isn’t all they talk about, in fact it’s barely what they talk about! Yaaay! Featuring interviews with visual effects supervisor extraordinaire Dennis Muren (did you know he is the only VFX artist with a star on the walk of fame?), other VFX supervisors Russell Earl and Kim Lebreri, creature designer Neville Page, and animation supervisor Paul Kavanagh. This takes a look at the creature itself, from concept to actualization. Motion tests, rejected art, pre-vis, early animation, CG movement tests, and footage of Bruce Greenwood doing the motion capture as the creature make up the bulk of the piece. Since I couldn’t stand the alien or anything about the alien, this was naturally my least favorite supplement.
Scoring Super 8 (1080p, 5:29)
A look at Michael Giacchino and the scoring process, featuring footage of the orchestra recording the score, clips of Giacchino’s childhood Super 8 films, Giachhino on John Williams’ influence, and more. Would have been nice to go a little bit more in-depth, but I know your average Blu-ray buyer may not be as obsessed with Michael Giacchino as I am.
Do You Believe in Magic? (1080p, 4:29)
A look at Larry Fong’s close-up magic. Yup. The DP is a magician. Literally. “The best magic trick person in the world” according to Griffiths. These tricks are insanely impressive. Even having them on camera, I could see no way to figure them out. In one instance, Fong even does a trick for Tom Cruise, who was visiting the set, and blows his mind. Best DP for a movie starring six kids ever.

The 8mm Revolution (1080p, 8:15)

Spielberg, Abrams, Fong, Muren, Giacchino, and more talking about their history of making 8mm and Super 8 films and what it taught them. Also features interviews with experts on the camera and film stock itself; Norwood Cheek, who created Flicker, a place for people to show their 8mm films; and Paul Korver, EP/Principal of Cinelicious; plus a history of Super 8/8mm and technical specifics and footage of the kids’ reactions to handling the Super 8 camera.
Deconstructing the Train Crash (1080p): 
An interactive grid map of the train crash scene with three main sections, pre production, production, and post-production. The origin is the script, the destination is the clip itself, and the tracks connecting the two explain the entire process through visual aids.
Pre-pro has four “trains” — “Pre-vis,” “Visual Effects Tools,” “Location,” and “Storyboard” — with images, behind-the-scenes clips, storyboards, and interviews making up the “cars” in each.
Production has “Train Set Construction, Filming – Moments Before the Crash” and “Filming – Train Depot is Destroyed,” with script excerpts, production stills, footage, and images of the train models, behind-the-scenes clips, and  production dailies making up the cars.
Post-production has a sole “Visual Effects” train with cars featuring interviews and clips of the visual effects progression.
Kind of a strange setup, and a little overly complicated just to get to one pre-vis image at a time. Plus, considering how long it takes to get to each clip, I can’t help but wonder if there could have been a better way to compile this information. Ultimately, it seemed like too much to do to yield not enough of a satisfying result. But if you care a lot about the train crash for any reason, this is where you’ll find extremely in-depth information.
Deleted Scenes (1080p, 12:47)
“Inside the 7-Eleven,” “Joe Writes New Pages,” “Joe Gives Charles New Pages,” “Jack Searches the Gas Station,” “Inside the Car Dealership,” “Joe Gets in Trouble,” “Lucy Goes Missing,” “Dry Brush Technique,” “Army Navy Store,” “Joe Watches Home Movies,” “Saying Goodnight,” “Cubes Shake the Red Trucks,” “Jack Finds Joe’s Backpack,” and “Joe and Cary Discover the Coffins.”
Every scene is pretty short and the information provided in each is more or less inconsequential, but that doesn’t make watching them any less fun for fans of the movie. Or, if you’re like me, a fan of just the kids, it’s a chance to see them work more. “Dry Brush Technique” and “Army Navy Store,” which feature further interactions between Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, are my particular favorites.
I have some minor complaints about the special features, including why the Super 8 films Fong, Burk, and Abrams made in their youth aren’t on here in their entirely, and why watching The Case on its own isn’t an option. I wish the featurettes would have gone a little bit more in-depth, covering every other aspect of production, but not every movie can haveLord of the Rings-esque extras, and the commentary more than makes up for what’s lacking otherwise. As strange a choice as the Train Crash special feature is, it still provides valuable information for anyone who cares. Overall, not gonna lie: the special features are better than the movie. I definitely had more fun watching them make the film than I did watching the film itself. Which is why, even if you weren’t a huge fan of the film but enjoyed multiple aspects within it, these special features are a fine way to spend a couple hours.
Movie: B-
Extras: A-
Buy, Rent, or Skip? Rent