So, we ask one last time, what is Super 8—besides the reason there's no Star Trek 2 this summer?
Let's review the case file on the under-wraps J.J. Abrams E.T. flick, which unwraps itself at theaters on Friday:
1. It's Not Cloverfield: Early speculation had it that Super 8, with its 1970s kids, film reels and mysterious space alien, was a prequel to Abrams' 2008 movie, with its 21st century grown-ups, camcorders and mystery monster. An early Abrams denial said Super 8 had "nothing whatsoever to do with Cloverfield." Early bird reviews confirm as much, although critics can't help but reference the prior film (or detect its spirit).
2. It's Not Based on a True Story…So Far As We Know: Per the trailer, the government closed a section of Area 51 in 1979 and transported its top-secret contents across the country by rail. (A subsequent train smash-up in Ohio is what sets Super 8 in motion.) In real life, the government didn't close a section of Area 51 in 1979 because the government doesn't acknowledge that there is such a thing as Area 51 (only that it has an Air Force base about 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas).
3. It's About Abrams, Sort Of: Guess how old the film-geek kids are in Super 8? About 13. Guess how old the movie's writer-director was in 1979? About 13. (Abrams, however, grew up in New York City, not Ohio. Also, he never had an adolescent run-in with a space alien...so far as we know.)
4. It's About Steven Spielberg, Definitely: Until the jacked-up trailer that ran during Sunday's MTV Movie Awards, Super 8 has been sold as the Spielberg movie that Spielberg might've made during his Jaws-Close Encounters-E.T. wonder years. The bikes! The kids! The scene where Kyle Chandler removes his eyeglasses in an act of awe! (We made that last one up—we think. Spielberg, a longtime lover of eyeglass-removal shots, is a producer on Super 8.)
5. It's Not to Be Walked Out On: The end credits feature value-added fun. And while we're not talking a hard-core spoiler, if you don't want to know the exact nature of the value-added fun, then don't read this review. Or this one.
(Originally published June 7, 2011, at 4:00 a.m. PT)