GENRE: Adventure in late '70s nostalgia
THE PITCH: In the summer of '79, a group of middle schoolers making a horror movie on Super 8 film accidentally record a train crash that unleashes something very, very dangerous on a small Ohio town.
MONEY SHOTS: The most spectacular, almost comically explosive trainwreck imaginable. A convenience store clerk listens to a newfangled Walkman while in the background something horrific happens to the sheriff. A bulletin board covered with homemade signs about missing dogs conveys the scale of the weird phenomena. A Jurassic Park-worthy attack on a bus. Brave young Joe (Joel Courtney) ventures into scary tunnels to rescue new girlfriend Alice (Elle Fanning).
CHEAP-O SHOTS: Super 8's most charming moments come from young Charles' (Riley Griffiths) zombie flick, including the grisly deaths of brace-faced pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) as various zombies.
BEST LINE: "You need to reassure her. Do you know what 'reassure her' means?" Charles commands when directing his amateur cast. When directing, Charles turns from lovable fat kid to a control freak Francis Ford Coppola.
WORST LINE: "Unless you tell us who's messing around with our stuff, it's the Soviets!" declares a panicky citizen in a lazy rip on Cold War-era paranoia.
BODY COUNT: About 10 victims receive terrifying attacks, which may or may not be fatal. Charlie's four to five zombie kills prove hilariously fake. The story begins with the wake for Joe's mom, whose death creates tensions between son and father ("Friday Night Light's" Kyle Chandler).
PERIOD DETAILS: Super 8 plays loving homage to the cassette tapes and Kodak film of the pre-digital age. T-shirts with multicolored horizontal stripes. Joe specializes in building models of trains and old-school movie monsters. Lots of jokes anticipate present-day trends with 20/20 hindsight, along the lines of "No one likes coffee!" or "No one can develop film overnight."
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: The soundtrack resembles a mixtape of AOR pop radio of the era, featuring the Knack's "My Sharona," ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," the Cars' "Bye Bye Love" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass."
POSSIBLE ANACHRONISM? Although Walter Cronkite's Three Mile Island broadcast dates the film to Spring of 1929. But a kid describes a strange object as resembling "a white Rubik's Cube," and the toy didn't debut internationally until 1980.
CLOSING CREDITS EXTRAS: Don't dash out too quickly or you'll miss scenes from Charlie's opus. No stingers at the very end, though.
HIS MASTER'S VOICE: Director J.J. Abrams makes Super 8 as a slavish homage to the early blockbusters of Steven Spielberg (who executive-produced). Shots of characters staring heavenward amid high winds and bluish light evoke E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while the suspenseful set pieces (and tendency to target people who are dumb or otherwise unattractive) evoke Jaws as well as Jurassic Park. Super 8's scenes of massive military destructiveness may unintentionally reference the elephantine excesses of 1941.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Abrams clearly loves his scruffy young heroes as much as he likes crafting big-scale action scenes. The more grown-up plots involving military cover-ups, grief and forgiveness feel far more perfunctory, although it's an entertaining movie overall. Super 8? More like Perfectly Good 8.