It won't be a spoiler if I say that, yes, it is all linked to a UFO and an alien that have been captured by the US army. Fortunately, we don't see it/him most of the time, which helps to build a little suspense, but it does seem as if teenage friendship, first love and adventure is more important to writer-director J.J. Abrams (who was one of the talents behind Cloverfield (2008)) than the alien itself -- sort of like The Goonies (1985). In fact, the whole plot and setting is a direct homage to the kind of movies that I grew up with - E.T. (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (both directed by Steven Spielberg, who produced Super 8), which is probably why I found the film enjoyable and the plot's silliness forgivable.
The young actors are quite good, or at least as good as they can be playing their somewhat clichéd roles - the sad guy, the lonely guy, the coward, the girl-everyone-loves. Elle Fanning is impressive, as is the unforgettable little pyromaniac Cary (Ryan Lee) who steals most of her scenes. Unfortunately, however, the conclusion is very soppy, and the final encounter with the big, sad, puppy-eyed alien does not help. But, then again, didn't all the movies from our childhood end this way? I suppose that if it's a homage to that sort of movie, it has to be homage all the way.
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