"Super 8" tells the story of Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a shy young boy who lives in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Joe occupies himself with monster makeup and model trains. His best friend, Charles (Riley Griffith), is filming an amateur zombie movie with a ragtag group of local kids: brace-face Cary (Ryan Lee), awkward Preston (Zach Mills), freckle-faced Martin (Gabriel Basso), and tomboy Alice (Elle Fanning). One evening, while the kids are filming by the train tracks, they witness a huge collision. A small white truck makes its way onto the tracks, heading in the direction of the speeding train. The crash is enormous, to say the least. It was probably the loudest sequence I've ever heard in the theater in recent years - it reminded me of my "Jurassic Park" experience. Anyway, so once the kids recover from the crash they make their way to the small white truck. Inside, they find Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), the school's biology teacher. Bloodied and bruised from the crash, Woodward tells the kids that they cannot tell anybody what they just saw. Scattered about the damage site are mysterious white cubes, one of which Joe snatches up and takes home.
Strange things begin to happen in Lillian following the train wreck. For some reason, the local dogs have disappeared. The engines have been stripped from the cars on the local dealership. TV sets have gone missing from the local electronics stores. People have also gone missing, including the Sheriff. As the Sheriff's deputy, Joe's dad Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler) is on a mission to find out what's going on in Lillian. A heavy concentration of military personnel arrive after the crash, scanning the town with Geiger counters and tanks. There are mysterious red semi-trucks, all painted with the same symbol (three white circles in a triangular shape) that also arrive in Lillian. Jack attempts to get information from Lt. Nelec (Noah Emmerich), but to no avail.
**BIG SPOILERS HERE** If you're smart enough, you can pretty much figure out what's going on in Lillian: There's a big, scary creature running around. Conveniently (or is it lazily?) J.J. Abrams works the entire explanation for this creature into the script. When Joe and his friends head back to Lillian after the town is evacuated, they get their hands on Dr. Woodward's research. They proceed to watch a film, narrated by Woodward, that details the life of the creature. After crash-landing on Earth, the creature is held captive by the U.S. Air Force for research. After making physical contact with the creature, Dr. Woodward is able to understand - psychically, he claims - that all the creature wants to do is fix his ship and go home. So, it turns out that when Dr. Woodward took his small white truck up the tracks, he was trying to set the creature free (it was being transported to the base for more research). Oh, and those mysterious white cubes? Well, it turns out they are able to form themselves into any solid material or shape. They're like little mini-shapeshifter-thingamajiggs.
**BIG SPOILERS HERE** It was a little disappointing, this whole alien thing. I'll give props to Abrams for the build-up (Hey "Lost" fans! I think you understand this), but not the unveiling. So, this whole time, it was just a lonely alien who's trying to get back home?! How unimaginative. Not only that, but the alien itself looked like a cross between an Ent, an Orc, and one of those Garthim critters from "The Dark Crystal." So, all the electronic devices that went missing were being used by the alien to recreate a model of his spaceship. That's it. That's the big secret. I know. Me too.
What saves this movie from near-mediocrity is the incredible young cast. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, especially. It's always fun to watch a group of kids discover something cool or go on an adventure. I mentioned "Stand By Me" earlier, but I'd also like to mention "The Goonies." Joe and his friends have to learn how to survive fairly quickly, but not without a sense of humor and curiousity. It's the epitome of adventure. I really hope we see more of Joel Courtney, and I hope that he doesn't go the way Henry Thomas. The special effects are the other saving grace of "Super 8." Thank goodness that Spielberg gave J.J. some assistance. I don't think Abrams would have pulled this off without Amblin. "Super 8" has a lot going on, and nothing going on all at the same time. For pure entertainment value, I'm going to go ahead and give it my blessing.