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Super 8 is a scary sci-fi thriller
Tense blockbuster pays homage to Spielberg, leaves out the 3D
From left, deputy sheriff, played by Kyle Chandler, grasps his son Joe, played by Joel Courtney, while they and Joe's friends, played by Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard, stand by in J.J. Abrams' "Super 8."

‘Super 8'

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Bosso, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills

Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use.

Bottom line: Intense, thrilling sci-fi action

"Super 8" is a summer blockbuster that isn't based on a comic book or in 3D. How's this for a welcome change?

J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Star Trek") writes and directs, but "Super 8" pays much homage to the blockbusters that made its producer, Steven Spielberg, famous.

It's shot in beautiful widescreen Panavision, lens flares abound, the humor is cheeky, there's plenty of heart, and there's an alien. Sure sounds like Spielberg, doesn't it?

"Super 8" tells a distinctively different story, but the influence of "E.T" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is all over it.

The story is set in a small Ohio town during the early '80s and centers on a group of friends in their early teens.

When we meet Joe (Joel Courtney), his mother has recently been killed in a steel mill accident. His father (Kyle Chandler) is a deputy sheriff who puts his job before being a father. So Joe is not only mourning the loss of his mom, he is adrift, which makes his friends very important to him.

Joe's best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths), is a Spielberg or Abrams in the making. He is determined to shoot a movie on super 8 film (anyone remember film?). Naturally, he uses his friends as his cast and crew.

Joe does special effects make-up on the "production," weak-stomached Martin (Gabriel Bosso) plays the detective, pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) plays a zombie and blows things up whenever Charles lets him, and Preston (Zach Mills) acts and does whatever else Charles demands.

They are a mischievous, likeable bunch of adolescent boys, but things are about to change for them.

Charles has just added a female character to the production, who will be played by the lovely Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), the kind of girl who normally wouldn't give them the time of day.

First romance, anyone?

Joe and his friends are filming at a train station late one night when they witness a spectacular derailment. That's putting it lightly. The crash is loud, long, and then louder, leaving every car on the train completely destroyed. The kids are very lucky to survive.

Things become even more dangerous when a creature bursts out of one of the train cars. We don't see it yet, but it's clearly alien and very vicious.

Soon, engine parts begin disappearing off automobiles and other machinery around town, all the electrical wires vanish, and a bunch of Air Force goons take over the whole area.

Joe and his crew are still just trying to finish their movie, but soon they will be thrust into the middle of the chaos. They will not only have to discover what this creature truly is, but also how to save themselves and their town.

"Super 8" is what you get when you cross an adolescent adventure movie like "Stand By Me" or "The Goonies" with an R-rated Science Fiction/Horror movie like "Alien" or "Predator."

The primary characters are a charming, albeit bad-mannered, group of kids, played wonderfully by mostly unknown actors. The kids have real chemistry, and they are totally believable as early teen best buds.

All of this makes "Super 8" seem like a good movie for tweens.

But the situation the movie throws them into is extremely intense and genuinely scary.

Like "Jaws," the movie doesn't let us see the monster until very late in the film. When we finally see it, this thing is menacing and deadly. Without exaggeration, this is the scariest monster Hollywood has produced in many years.

The characters may be kids, but this is not kids' stuff.

The movie is rated PG-13 but probably deserved an R-rating. The kids curse quite a bit, and an older character drops one f-bomb. That's totally realistic for boys their age, but still.

Teen moviegoers should love it for the action and comedy. Adults will also enjoy the nostalgic nods to the '80s.

Many people have been looking forward to this one, and unlike so many other summer movies, "Super 8" is very much worth the wait.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.