Super 8 did a great job keeping things a secret up until the film’s release. What’s banging on the container door? What is the military trying to cover up? Why did Clarence Royce derail the train?

I don’t read a lot of reviews or spoilers, but I am a rather ravenous consumer of the trailers, clips and features that movie studios will release in promoting any particular movie. Usually, you’re able to glean a good sense of what the movie will be about from the aggregate of those videos. Super 8 played it pretty tight. You got an idea of some of the pieces, but no real clue as to what “it” would turn out to be.

I walked into the theater with less of an idea than I would normally have about what I was to see. That was exciting.

Delightfully, that excitement was just reinforced by a movie that was a loving reminder and homage to the Steven Spielberg films that became pillars of my youth.

Super 8 follows a group of kids in Lilian, OH that scamper into the summer of 1979 with the hope of finishing their movie in time to enter it into Ohio’s 8mm film contest.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) loses his mother in a factory accident. He’s left with his distant and removed father (Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler), a deputy in the small town. Their relationship is not much more than glances and misunderstandings.

Joe finds support and purpose with his group of knuckleheads, the kids that are to the left and right of center. They like comic books and monster movies. They don’t go out for the sport teams. They stick to themselves and do things like make zombie movies.

When their female lead drops, the director (Riley Griffiths) is able to coax Alice (Elle Fanning), an outsider herself, into stepping in. That perks Joe up, as he’s a bit smitten for the girl, despite the turmoil that exists between their fathers.

The crew sneaks away in the night to film a scene at train depot, nothing more than a shack beside the rails, between Alice and her on-screen husband. An approaching train has everyone scramble to capture the “production value.”

What they end up capturing is a truck swerving onto the tracks to derail the speeding train. Out of the wreckage spills curiosities. There’s a field of mysterious, metallic cubes. Then banging and clawing that we saw in the trailers. And finally, the arrival of the military to clean the site.

People, car engines, microwaves, and other things start disappearing. While Joe’s Dad is caught up in the investigation and trying to figure out what’s happening to his town, Joe and crew use military backdrop to enhance their movie and dig deeper into the mystery that swallows the town.

Like E.T., Super 8‘s wonderful strength is found in the superb cast of talented young actors, lead by Courtney and Fanning. They are at once playful and endearing, pulling you in for playtime. But, they carry an emotional weight that makes you care, pulls you in.

Though, it’s a bit uneven, slightly scattered. There are a lot of things going on between the kids, Joe’s Dad, and the military searching the town. Certainly, the core of the movie, the kids, is what drives it. The other parts and pieces are important, but when you depart to investigate those stories, you just want to get back to the kids. Those other parts aren’t tied together as neatly and lean toward distraction.

And in the end, when you finally learn what it is and what’s going on, yes, it’s a little derivative. We’ve seen it before. And it really just runs out of steam. It takes you right up to the end. Tows you along, but then it limps across the finish line. That doesn’t ruin it, but it’s just not a strong finish.

Homage and reminder. Perhaps Super 8 will capture some freckle-faced, mop top out there like E.T. and Close Encounters did to me, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to their level. It’s a familiar taste, a waft of a something in the air that took me back to at time when I could sit and watch a movie with complete wonderment.

Super 8 took me back to that. I watch the movie with a smile stretched wide across my face.