REVIEW: J.J. Abrams' 'Super 8' a Superb Love Letter to Spielberg

J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” is a pleasant return to a more innocent time in movies where kids plotted mischief via walkie-talkies from their bedroom windows, disco was “mint” and gasoline was much, much cheaper.

Abrams' first feature film since his “Star Trek” reboot, “Super 8” is a glorious love letter to Steve Spielberg (who serves as producer) and his early Amblin Entertainment films.

Spielberg is the consummate visual storyteller and Abrams successfully mimics the legendary director’s style to a fault, with much of the credit going to Director of Photography Larry Fong (“Watchmen,” “Lost”).

“Super 8” has all the Spielberg-isms that have made him the most successful director in Hollywood: a group of children pitted against a supernatural force, broken homes and fragile families; adults who appear to never have been children themselves and, most importantly, the yearning to explore the unknown.

The story, also written by Abrams, revolves around the bereft Joe (Joel Courtney) and his friends, who are in the process of making a zombie flick on their 8mm camera. While shooting, they accidentally witness an Air Force cargo train derail. The contents of the cargo containers are released and the small Ohio town finds itself under siege by the United States military and a mysterious alien creature. Meanwhile, Joe and his friends use the incident as a backdrop for their own film. (Note: Be sure to stay for the end credits to see their delightful short.

Abrams takes his time with “Super 8”, letting the audience bond with Joe and his friends. The excellent acting from the young stars and witty dialogue binds the ensemble together like the Spielberg-produced “Goonies.” Unlike the 80’s classic, though, the dialogue and drug references may not be suitable for all children. And like the original summer blockbuster “Jaws”, “Super 8” patiently builds suspense and horror leaving the creature’s reveal to the end.

To tie the film together with an emotional wallop is Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s ("Up," "Star Trek") nostalgic and beautiful score. If tears are shed during the finale, blame the music.

Unfortunately, “Super 8” does weaken, but is not lost, in the final act. Abrams also makes unnecessary use of his “Star Trek” lens flares, with some covering characters’ faces, which is highly distracting.

But overall, the film hits all the right emotional thrill-ride marks, leaving the cynicism of Hollywood behind to breathe movie magic once again into the theater.

4.5 out of 5