J.J. Abrams is the ultimate franchise director. He is best known for and has almost exclusively worked within Star Trek and Star Wars as well as directing the somewhat forgotten Mission Impossible 3. But in 2011, he brought out his original vision, Super 8, a film with a deeply mysterious marketing campaign that ramped up the hype for the supposed prequel to the 2008 hit Cloverfield. Super 8 turned out to be its own, independent thing, but it remains the only original feature film Abrams has directed and it’s now receiving a glorious 4K release.
The film follows young Joe Lamb (The Kissing Booth’s Joel Courtney) who along with his filmmaking-enthusiast group of friends witness a horrific train crash while shooting at night. They soon discover that the train was carrying something much more real and terrifying than the zombies in their amateur films. Soon, the military rolls into town and the group get involved in the mystery.
Back in 2011, Super 8 had no way of living up to the expectations set by the marketing campaign, but it is a nifty little trip down memory lane, paying homage to 1970s sci-fi films and George A. Romero’s zombie films. Abrams shows admiration and genuine love for the format of cinema and the craft of filmmaking, but the script, written by Abrams, lacks emotional stakes. The film’s emotional core is Joel’s grief for his recently passed mother and his budding relationship with Alice (Elle Fanning), but it never quite digs deep enough into these elements for it to tug at the heartstrings properly.
Super 8 also stars Kyle Chandler, who is reliable as Joe’s dad and the town sheriff. Chandler tends to be the MVP of any film he stars in and his restrained, internalised performance as Deputy Lamb is a great one. Fanning overdoes her role as the sweet and innocent Alice ever so slightly but shares sweet chemistry with Courtney. Courtney is a little timid as Joe, but his big eyes and sense of wonder is captured gorgeously by Abrams and his DP Larry Fong.
Visually, Super 8 delivers, especially in 4K UHD. It’s a gorgeous visual feast, designed for the big screen but even at home, Abrams’ flair is evident. Super 8 is full of his signature lense flares, so if they’re not your thing, Super 8 might come across as a little too blinding for you. Abrams’ staging and framing is also beautiful. The train crash is over the top, on purpose, but fun. Everything feels like a throwback to those old sci-fi movies one would watch too late at night on the telly.
The new release includes a lot of extras, including a fascinating commentary track by Abrams, producer Bryan Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong as well as shorter featurettes, a featurette on the train crash and several deleted scenes. For fans of Abrams’ filmmaking, these allow us a glimpse into the mind of a visionary filmmaker who is very certain of what he wants to achieve, even if it never materialises.
It’s a shame Abrams doesn’t manage to keep the ball rolling through the film and create more tension. While Super 8 is entertaining, it feels empty and a little forgettable. It never connects with the viewer in a meaningful way and while the film is filled with such a sense of wonder, it never really makes its mark. Super 8 remains a fun little throwback to the 70s, but Abrams’ talents serve big franchises better.
Super 8 is available on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray™ now