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Super 8
  • Composed by Michael Giacchino
  • Varese Sarabande / 2011 / 77:43

It received generally positive reviews and I greatly enjoyed J.J. Abrams’s Super 8, a film which succesfully evoked the classic films made by Steven Spielberg during the late 1970s and early 1980s (the film is even set during that period).  It goes beyond being a mere pastiche of the Spielberg films, obviously being a very personal project for its director, with its warm-hearted story of a group of friends who witness a mysterious train crash and find themselves caught up in the large-scale cover-up that follows.

The fantastic Michael Giacchino score also evokes the John Williams classics and, I’m delighted to report, is also not a mere pastiche of them.  There’s nothing wrong with pastiche and Giacchino has turned his hand to that on several occasions, but actually it’s wonderful to hear him write music which is as obviously personal as this in a film score (even on his finest previous works for film, I’ve always had a bit of a sense that he’s writing music that, no matter how technically proficient, perhaps isn’t all that personal to him – only in his tv scores for Lost did I get a sense of the real composer in there).

Michael Giacchino

Lost is without doubt the reference point by which Super 8 will be judged.  Right from the terrific opening track, the ominous string and brass theme is something which could certainly be underscoring some sort of mysterious monster in the tv show; and the sweeping main theme could be from one of the show’s most emotional moments.  Over the course of this very long album, Giacchino uses those two themes as the basis for a lot, also adding a theme for the military which sounds rather like one of the themes from his Secret Weapons Over Normandy video game score (at least, I think it’s that one).

Of particular note is that gorgeous, glorious main theme.  Filled with a warm, nostalgic feeling, it is magical film music at its best.  Perfectly evocative of the innocent adventures of youngsters, it may not be destined to enter the public consciousness like the great Williams themes for Spielberg, but it’s absolutely as fine a theme as will be heard in a 2011 film.  Its use in the finale, “Letting Go”, as the full extent of its majesty is revealed, is 2011’s standout film music moment so far.  Big themes aren’t in favour these days – but they are of course the reason so many people fell in love with film music whenever they did, whether it was through Miklós Rózsa and Dimitri Tiomkin’s big themes over half a century ago or John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith’s back in the era this film and score evoke (or anywhere else in between), those magical moments as the biggest scenes in the biggest films get the biggest themes playing along with them are those which most of us fell in love with, but that style just isn’t really in vogue any more.  Bravo, then, to Giacchino and Abrams for providing us with one of those moments in a big studio film in 2011.

I think Super 8 is this composer’s finest work to date.  The 78-minute album (which includes as a bonus the wonderful music Giacchino wrote for “The Case”, the film-within-a-film) doesn’t drag, is full of magical moments, has a handful of individual pieces of music of the highest order (not just the aforementioned “Letting Go” – which is worth mentioning again and again, to be honest, and worth listening to again and again – but several others – check out the fantastic, dynamic “The Evacuation of Lillian”) and while there are hints of Williams (most obviously the brilliant Close Encounters of the Third Kind), this is essentially pure Giacchino, and all the better for that.  My only nit-pick is with the overly dry recording – otherwise this is an album to savour.  **** 1/2

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  1. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 1 November, 2011 at 13:38

    I can’t believe that you didn’t drag out your old too-long argument on this score. One of the few where I really felt it to be justified. “Letting Go” is, as you said, one of the film music moments of 2011, but there isn’t a whole lot else in this score that I’ve found myself revisiting very often.

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 1 November, 2011 at 19:10

    I can’t believe you would mention that! I haven’t mentioned anything being too long since you last told me off about it.

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Tuesday 1 November, 2011 at 19:29

    I know, I know…I’m just surprised that this, of all scores, managed to bypass that usual addendum to your reviews. When I saw that you’d written a review of this I guessed it would be a three-star review that would otherwise have been four if not for the over-long album. Personally I didn’t love this score, but I haven’t yet been able to love anything Giacchino’s done, to be honest. I think he’s a composer who frankly works better in film for me than on album (and don’t get me wrong, his scores work wonderfully in the film).

    Surely it’s been too long since I last told you off. I was utterly surprised when I saw that I totally agreed with your Real Steel review – took the wind out of my sails, that did 😉

  4. christopher (Reply) on Tuesday 1 November, 2011 at 22:50

    I love “Letting Go.” Hearing that in the film was the film+music highlight of the year for me. I doubt even Spielberg and Williams will top that moment in either of the films coming from them this year, which is quite a thing to say given the inspiration for this film and score.

  5. Kalman (Reply) on Wednesday 2 November, 2011 at 13:58

    It’s a surprise for me too that James didn’t mention that this album is waaaaay too long. It was literally a chore to listen to it through.
    The memorable themes disappear among the many filler tracks.
    After listening to it 2 times I edited my playing list which makes a good 38 minute long album – and even with that I am a bit submissive, picking 1-2 tracks that I am not 100% sure about…

  6. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Wednesday 2 November, 2011 at 15:18

    I often agree with James about albums being too long, but I didn’t feel that this was one. The four themes are in constant interplay, and even though some of the early cues are short the album has a great narrative flow–it really is one of Giacchino’s best.

    Never did understand why so many people seemed sour about the film and album. Curmudgeons all!

  7. Kalman (Reply) on Thursday 3 November, 2011 at 13:49

    The film was great, the music in the film was great, but listening to it on this CD is not a great experience. Probably the worst edited album of my collection.

  8. Yahzee (Reply) on Friday 30 December, 2011 at 13:45

    … this is definitely one of the best scores of the year. Is it okay that I always cry at the end of “Letting Go”? Great review AND website by the way. I just found it, keep the great work!