Let me know if I'm taking this metaphor too far
Super 8, as you will know by now unless you're stupid or dead, attempts to capture the tone of some of the films Spielberg produced and directed in the '80s. In this respect it most resembles E.T., with its broken families and small town invaded by both a mysterious creature and the military, and The Goonies, with its band of pubescent protagonists including a plucky mop-topped leader and the requisite fatty.
Things begin well with a cast of excellent near-unknowns and an amazing, ear-splitting train crash that goes on for approximately six weeks, before Abrams fills the bulk of his film with perfectly respectable bits of pre-teen drama, occasional mini-LOLs and the odd violent and noisy interruption by a massive, unseen gremlin.
The homage to Spielberg is more or less successful in Super 8's mise-en-scène (sorry), thanks in no small part to cinematographer Larry Fong's soaring crane shots, and composer Michael Giacchino brings a knowingly John Williams-esque feel to the score. And while there are enough elements of the script to make it a decent cover version of Amblin's Greatest Hits, Super 8 falls short of its target in the final act. There's nowhere near the emotional connection between kids and creature that Elliott has with E.T, and the youngsters don't drive the plot forward like the Goonies do. What's more, at no point does The Fat One do the Truffle Shuffle.
I AM NOW LEGALLY REQUIRED TO INCLUDE THE TRUFFLE SHUFFLE .GIF.
It's also hard not to be disappointed by the creature: with the tools at Abrams' disposal, he should be giving us full on Jurassic Park-style monster madness, rather than a shy bogeyman who hides just out of shot until the climax. Fortunately the rest of the film is good enough to keep your mind from wandering, and if it's not you can always speculate on exactly why all the dogs run away, or perhaps enjoy a challenging game of Count The Lens Flares. I lost track after about thirteen squillion.
In years to come it's unlikely that Super 8 will nestle snugly in the memories of today's children, but for now it remains solid summer blockbuster entertainment, and unless apes, cowboys or aliens can out-entertain it, it's the best we'll get in 2011.