When Steven Spielberg made his classic sci-fi fantasias "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T.," he set in motion a series of unintended consequences, mostly bad, in the movie business. Filmmakers without his pop lyrical gifts were soon infesting our screens with pipsqueak futurism set in suburbia. For every "Back to the Future" there was a "*batteries not included" (both of which, incidentally, Spielberg coproduced).
If you thought all this stuff was finally behind you, guess again. "Super 8," written and directed by the fantastically successful Spielberg protégé J.J. Abrams and coproduced by Spielberg himself, is a thunderously underwhelming sci-fi adventure about a bunch of middle-school classmates in 1979 whose super 8 zombie movie project gets derailed when their suburban town is invaded by an alien who takes altogether too long to make his/her/its appearance.
There are some impressive flourishes, including a monster-inspired train wreck, which will have you clapping your ears shut, if that's your idea of a good time. There is also some nifty comedy involving the making of the super 8 movie – the young actors, including Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, and Ryan Lee, are a spirited bunch.
If Abrams had stuck with the kids and cut way back on all the sci-fi hoo-ha, his film might have stood a fighting chance of being charming. Big is not always better, even when it comes to fantasies. Grade C+ (Unrated.)