With Super 8, 45-year-old J.J. Abrams tried to make a throwback film similar to those from the days of his youth — E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Goonies — and, for the most part, he succeeds admirably.
Set in 1979, the story involves a young Ohio teen named Charles (Riley Griffiths) who is making a zombie short film to enter into a regional competition. He enlists his pals, including his best friend, Joe (Joel Courtney), to help him make a movie called The Case. He even prevails upon middle-school beauty Alice (Elle Fanning), whose father (Ron Eldard) was somehow involved in the death of Joe's mother, to be the leading lady.
Super 8's real hero is Joe, who has a crush on Alice despite his father's (Kyle Chandler) enmity toward her dad.
One night, when the gang sneaks out to shoot a scene, they have a near-miss as a train derails after mysteriously crashing into a pickup truck driven by their science teacher (Glynn Turman). Weird objects spill out of the overturned boxcars, and then a bunch of sinister military guys led by Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich) arrive and start to hush things up. Then all kinds of strange sci-fi stuff starts to happen.
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Abrams keeps the pace humming, with the requisite special effects entertaining us along the way. It's also fun watching the inventiveness of young filmmakers as they first try to make their Case even as events conspire against them as the mystery grows deeper.
Part of the fun in Super 8 was Abrams' clear joy in reliving the past (the song My Sharona) while winking toward the future (hey, there's this thing called a Walkman).
Super 8 doesn't have the magic of E.T. by Steven Spielberg, who helped produce Super 8. But you should get a kick out of it, and the real short called The Case plays during the credits. It was mostly made by the young actors in the film.
Super 8 retails for $29.99 or $44.99 Blu-ray.