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film-super8-600x400J.J. Abrams directs “Super 8” the way he produced the TV show “Lost.” He draws out the suspense, doling out just enough detail, shocks and surprises to keep the story interesting and moving forward. He knows that the strength of the movie isn’t the special effects or the whatever-it-is that is causing all the trouble, but the relationship between the kids. Call it “Stand By Me” with a giant bug… or a monster… or something. I’m not saying what!

Welcome to the no spoiler zone! Here’s what I can tell you about “Super 8”: The action begins with six Lillian, Ohio kids shooting an amateur zombie movie. As their super 8 films rolls they witness a terrifying real life train derailment. Soon strange things start happening in town as they army tries their best to contain the situation.

“Super 8” is one part “Goonies,” two parts “Fright Night,” a dash of “Cloverfield” topped off with a liberal pinch of Spielberg glow. The story, the set-up and the characters feel like a throwback to the great teen action adventure movies of the mid-eighties, and while many people have tried to recapture that sensitive mix of sentimentality, vulgarity and menace, few have actually hit it on the head. JJ Abrams nails it. Perhaps it because he had some heavy weight help—Steven Spielberg, master of the genre is listed as a producer—but despite the Spielbergian flourishes, this still very much feels like an Abrams creation.

His fingerprints are all over the action sequences—particularly the out-of-control train wreck scene—and even the sweetness we’ve come to associate with Spielberg has been dialed back. It’s still there—very much so in the film’s last ten minutes—but Abrams manages to set the tone as though he is paying homage to the saccharine tendencies of his mentor than actually aping him.

There is a sense of wonder to “Super 8” that permeates almost every scene. Whether audiences raised on a steady diet of Michael Bay will buy into it is yet to be determined, but for me some of that familiar glow is a welcome sight.

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