With this sci-fi fantasy/adventure, writer/director J.J. Abrams ("Mission Impossible III," "Star Trek," TV's "Lost") has created a charming homage to the innocence and wonder epitomized by his mentor/producer Steven Spielberg, cleverly incorporating nods to "E.T.," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Goonies," even the "Walking Distance" episode of "Twilight Zone."

Set in suburban Ohio in 1979, it revolves around geeky Lillian Middle School students. Chubby Charles (Riley Griffiths) is making a Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a Cleveland competition. He's enlisted the help of friends like Joe (Joel Courtney), who does makeup/special effects, and slightly older Alice (Elle Fanning), whom Charles has convinced to be their leading lady. While Alice's single father (Ron Eldard) is the local lout, it's Joe who propels the story. His disciplinarian father Jack (Kyle Chandler) is Deputy Sheriff and, in memory of his loving mother who recently died in a steel-mill accident, still-grieving Joe wears her locket around his neck.

Late one night, while the kids are filming near the railroad station, there's a terrible crash. Joe sees his biology teacher (Glenn Turman) deliberately drive his pickup truck onto the railroad tracks just as a train comes hurtling by. The explosive impact is horrific, scattering debris everywhere.

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What happened -- and why? Those questions and more surface quickly, particularly when strange, inexplicable things start happening in town, foliage trembles, dogs run away and people mysteriously disappear. When Deputy Jack tries to discover why the military wants to evacuate the area, he's arrested. Obviously some kind of alien creature has escaped from captivity - and Joe, Charles and Alice know more than they should.

For those unfamiliar with Super 8 movies, Eastman Kodak introduced this relatively simple camera in 1965, thereby making movie-making accessible to anyone with an imagination, including youngsters like Spielberg and Abrams, who must have been inspired by Cecil B. DeMille's "Greatest Show on Earth" train wreck.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Super 8" is a nifty, nostalgic 9 -- and stay to see Charles' completed zombie movie during the credits.