When a train derails releasing a dangerous, unseen presence in a small suburban town, a group of youngsters making an amateur film unwittingly capture the alien images on their Super 8 camera. The nuts and bolts of SUPER 8 aren’t particular fresh or original. Rolling elements from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, THE GOONIES, and E.T. into one film was a bold move. No matter how much director J. J. Abrams claims the film is an homage to the films of his childhood, having Steven Spielberg as executive producer turns the homage into more of a conflict of interest, if you ask me.
On the plus side are the talented young performers who do their best to create flesh-and-blood creations out of their two-dimensional characters as written. Much of the humor comes from the potty mouths of the youngsters, which, like THE BAD NEWS BEARS, is highly entertaining for those not offended by that sort of thing. Michael Giacchino‘s score hits most of the right emotional and musical buttons, primarily with a collection of memorable themes.
While Abrams all-too-obviously references Spielberg in nearly every frame, Giacchino also channels the musical ghosts of his youth in the score. “That score for me was like a memory from my childhood,” he said in his interview with FSM Online. “The music, when I listen to it, more than anything I’ve ever done, feels like an echo of my past. Of course, all those movies that we know and love—and their scores—came out of that time period.”
Giacchino keeps things simple over the opening studio credits and the title card with an ominous four-note minor-key motif, some sustained violin chords and a heartwarming main theme in the lower strings. At my screening, when the harp glissando and cymbal roll led into a full-bodied statement of the theme, I got a shiver down my spine and was musically hooked…all in the first 33 seconds of the score.
The other main theme is the lovely weaving melody for Alice (Elle Fanning). “We’ll Fix It In Post-Haste,” the theme featured as background music on the film’s website, can now be heard in all its glory.
Giacchino channels his inner John Williams, especially (and not surprisingly) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, throughout the score. The sliding strings of “Aftermath Class” suggest the former’s alien abduction, while that score surely served as a boilerplate for the martial theme for the evil military personnel in cues such as “The Evacuation of Lillian.”
From a story standpoint, the ending of the film is particularly and unfortunately anticlimactic. Characters stand around staring in Spielberg fashion while the finale of E.T. plays out onscreen, missing the emotional resonance of that film’s memorable ending. Giacchino’s music, however, nails what emotion is inherent in the scene, even if the film doesn’t. Weaving together every theme and motif from the score into a satisfying, uplifting whole, with a spine-tingling French horn countermelody, I experienced one last, bookending shiver as the score culminates on that rarest of events in contemporary film music—a major chord.
Rounding out the album is a six-minute suite and the delightful Herrmann-esque “The Case” that accompanies the kids’ completed Super 8 film, which plays out over the end credits. Giacchino, who likes to get creative with his track titles, plays one last joke by attributing the music to Charles Kaznyk, the young director played by Riley Griffiths in the film.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of this score since the film debuted a month ago, but the approval process for the soundtrack’s artwork delayed the soundtrack album from it’s original mid-June drop date. The score is finally available on iTunes (though not in the film order of the album) and will be available on CD in August. Many of the cues in the first half of the album are under a minute in length, making for a slightly choppy listening experience. But once the story (such as it is) gets rolling, the cues lengthen and the score takes off.
In the weeks since I’ve seen the film, I haven’t really revisited it mentally. If I want to watch favorites like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or E.T. (or even, God forbid, THE GOONIES) again, I’ll go back to those original films. But I have returned to Giacchino’s music again and again over the last month, and the score continues to grow on me with each listen. That I feel nostalgic towards the kinds of traditional film scores that Giacchino references in his compositional style may be why I am more forgiving towards the composer’s homages than the film’s. While SUPER 8 may not be the total slam-dunk score I was hoping for, some moments of pure movie music magic and those two musical goosebumps are two more than I’ve had at the cineplex in a long time.