J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. A match made in cinematic heaven for any film geek. Here they collaborate – Abrams as writer/director, Spielberg as producer – on Super 8, a wonderfully enchanting, genuinely thrilling and surprisingly emotional sci-fi film where the characters matter just as much as the wonder and spectacle.
A group of friends are out filming an amateur movie with their Super 8 camera (hence the title) near a train track when suddenly they witness a massive derailing. Soon after they start noticing strange things going on around their town as the military step in to handle a mysterious situation which involves something which has escaped from the train wreckage.
Super 8 is largely about “the mystery box.” That is, the wondering of what's really going on, what's inside the box (so to speak), rather than what's actually in it. It's the reason why people love magic tricks so much – it's better not to know and wonder yourself how it's done than just being shown... at least right away. Abrams is a great purveyor of mystery – just look at his past record which includes co-creation of that most mysterious of TV shows, Lost, and shepherding the ultra-secretive Cloverfield, amongst others – and here he amps up the mystery, and more importantly the wonderment about what the answer may be, to full volume.
Having said that, despite this being Abrams' film as both writer and director (his name is thrown around so much as producer people tend to forget he's only ever actually directed three movies, including this), Spielberg's presence can be felt all throughout the film. The most obvious comparison is to his beloved 1982 film E.T., but it's often more akin to his earlier Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with its starry-eyed innocent wonder of the possible. This is a movie more interested in the “what if?” than the “what.”