Writer/director J.J. Abrams' Super 8 doesn't try to hide its influences.  The film is an unabashed throwback to the style of Steven Spielberg
classics Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.  Spielberg even produced the film under his Amblin Entertainment banner (The one
with the E.T. logo).

Although Super 8 can't match the monumental heights of those films, Abrams is a formidable filmmaker in his own right, and he supplies
enough humor and heart to elevate it above pure nostalgia.

The film's greatest strength is the kids.  The performances from the younger members of the cast are superb; wonderfully delivering laughs
and emotion.

The kids’ dialog here is something of a rarity in film- it actually sounds natural.  It's funny, heartfelt and, of course, authentically awkward.  
Their constant insults, frustrated outbursts and nervous energy all ring true in addition to being really damn funny.

Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning lead the young cast and both give superb performances.  The relationship that forms between them, in
spite of the tragedy that connects them, is the heart of the film and provides some of its most powerful dramatic moments.

The rest of the gang provides excellent comic relief.  There is some really funny stuff here.  Whether it’s the filming of their awesomely
terrible amateur zombie film, the 1979 period gags or the stoner who works at the photo shop, this very endearing sense of humor never
falters throughout the entire running time.

Where Super 8 fails to match the films it looks up to is actually the plot.

When the kids decide to film a scene from their movie at a train station, they witness the derailment of an Air Force train and the escape of
its precious cargo.

Taking a page from Spielberg's Jaws, the creature isn't revealed until very late in the film.  With all that buildup, there really isn't a
significant enough payoff.

There are subplots involving the military cover-up, the deputy's investigations and even a connection to one of the kids' school teachers.  
None of them are all that inspiring, but they serve their purpose well enough.

Super 8 is really a coming of age story against the backdrop of strange occurrences and pissed off monsters.  It's much more about
character than creature, and that's certainly not a bad thing.

It's just too bad it couldn't excel at both, because the movie is a lot of fun despite these shortcomings.

Abrams’ film exudes energy and humor and has been lovingly modeled after some films that clearly shaped him as a filmmaker.  From the
smooth and subtle camera work to the wide-eyed reaction shots, Abrams is clearly channeling that indelible Spielberg style.

Even composer Michael Giacchino gets into the act, delivering a fun John Williams-flavored score.

But Super 8 stands tall on its own.  The characters are so lovable, so hilarious, that any complaints feel like nitpicking against the awesome
fun of this movie.  If you don’t have an embarrassingly goofy smile plastered across your face when the credits roll and we get to see the
completed version of the movie the kids have been making throughout the entire film, check for your pulse.

As the chubby director in the film is fond of saying, Super 8 is MINT!

* * * ½
(out of four)

Written and Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler,
Ron Eldard, Ryan Lee, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso

Cinematography by: Larry Fong

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Released: June 10, 2011; 112 Minutes