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"Super 8" is a throwback to vintage Spielberg.

June 11, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
There is a feel good moment in the new movie "Super 8" that had me thinking "Next come the clean up crew with the mind wipe drugs. Maybe a one way trip to Guantanamo will be involved."

But, since this is an old-school Steven Spielberg-produced movie that celebrates innocence and wonder and good will to one's fellow man, we don't see the conclusion we might have in another sort of film. Even director JJ Abrams, who might ordinarily deliver the other sort of ending, seems to have been bitten by the nostalgia bug here.

Not that the show doesn't have its own low key horrors, though they are more of the psychological variety, like losing a parent or dealing with a drunken father or the terror of talking to a girl you like, especially when your best friend likes her too. "Super 8" starts out with what is probably the greatest horror a child can imagine – a parent's funeral. Young teen Joe (Joel Courtney), the deputy's son, has just lost his mom in a mill accident so bad that there wasn't much left of her to bury. Joe's group of dorky friends, munching on the snacks at the buffet table, are wondering aloud whether this means Joe will now back out of the zombie movie they're making together to enter in a film festival. Will a story about the living dead remind him of his mother in the graveyard?

Joe agrees to be the movie's makeup artist, despite his dead mother, and the scene flashes forward four months. School is out, Joe's grieving dad (Kyle Chandler) is rarely around, and Joe is preparing to sneak out to meet his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths), the boy with the 8 mm camera and a major movie obsession, and the rest of the gang so they can film the movie at the train tracks. Charles has recruited the very pretty Alice (Elle Fanning) to play the love interest in his movie and to drive the gang out to the movie set in the car she's stolen from her drunken dad (Ron Eldard), who worked at the mill with Joe's dead mom and has a running feud going with Joe's dad.

Leading man Martin (Gabriel Basso), nervous about the kissing and mushy stuff that might be required, isn't so sure the film needs a love interest, but Charles thinks it will add the right emotional dimension and will help him compete with films submitted by older kids. Joe, who has a major crush on Alice, is terrified and thrilled when he gets to touch her cheek to apply her makeup. Pyromaniac friend Cary (Ryan Lee) just wants to blow stuff up with his fireworks and nervous friend Preston (Zach Mills) is afraid they'll all get caught.

That's when it all starts to get interesting. Just as the gang is filming the romantic scene, a car crashes into the oncoming train, train cars go flying, fire flashes in the air, and the 8 mm camera records something the Air Force investigators would kill to get their hands on. From that point on I was expecting "The X Files" and instead got something a heck of a lot closer to "E.T." or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It is probably a testament to my age and the years I have wasted on bad sci fi conspiracy shows that I was a little disappointed. People who like innocence and wonder and good will won't be.

If nothing else, go to the movie for the performance by 13-year-old Fanning, whose stellar acting makes the scenes between the young Joe and Alice the best in the film.


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