Ah, Spielberg and Abrams know how to go retro. Super 8 did a great job of not only replicating life in the late 1970's with one exception, but also replicated the heart and humor of the classic Spielberg flicks with Super 8 as a mix of Jaws, ET and Close Encounters. Spoilers below
In sum, we have an early winner in the best movie of the summer sweepstakes. While I liked X-Men First Class quite a bit, Super 8 was simply a better movie. While it relied and built upon classic sci-fi, horror, and kid movie tropes/memes/whatever, Super 8 was pretty original in the way it mixed these elements. The kids trying to film a movie was a nice call back to the influence the Spielberg had then and since. That they get interrupted by a train crash is exciting. That they use the new crisis for backdrops ("production values") is funny. And that it all works demonstrates great casting, writing and directing.
The kids in this movie are just fantastic. You buy them and their reactions all the time. Perhaps I had it easy since I was around 12 the time this movie takes place, so I had no problem at all getting into the movie and the characters. Indeed, it was very easy to see why all the boys fell for Elle Fanning's character. A great actress and not nearly as spooky as her older sister. But the stunning thing is that for most of the folks involved (Elle being the exception) is that this is the first real action job for all of them. Perhaps we should not be surprised, given the quality of the kids in ET and the more recent brilliance of kids in Game of Thrones. Still, they were great.
The writing was quite good, too, with the lines chock full of humor and heart. Lots of gulp moments throughout, even if some of the stuff involving the relationships among the kids and their parents was a bit predictable at times.
The direction was terrific. The movie moved along fast, built up tension quite well, with several jump out of my seat moments. And Abrams got great performances from the kids.
The movie ends with the kids' movie during the credits. A great touch. Overall, a terrific summer movie--entertaining, moving, funny, and chock full of great moments. I doubt that any other movie will come close this summer.
The one minor complaint is that in the midst of the panic about what is happening in the town (lots of electronics are stolen, dogs flee, etc) at a town meeting a woman believes it is the Soviets. Sorry, but we really didn't have much fear of Soviet subversion. Red Dawn was a joke at that time precisely because there was no red scare despite the best efforts of folks in the Reagan administration.
Since we watched Battle LA the day before, I knew that water would be at the heart of this.