First impression: J. J. Abrams screens new ‘Super 8’ footage

Paramount CEO Brad Grey said that he can’t keep his job if the company’s films aren’t both “entertaining and profitable,” but if the new footage from forthcoming “Super 8” is any indicator, Grey shouldn’t be too worried about the former.

Director/writer (and highly profitable) J.J. Abrams was also on hand to introduce 22 minutes of “Super 8,” the trailer of which debuted earlier this month. Claiming he was eager to return to the editing room — as opposed to introducing new scenes to those few seated at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York — Abrams warned that the two clips were incomplete, that special effects, sound mixing, cutting for length still needed to occur.

For all that fine print, there was still plenty to behold.

From the trailer, we obviously know there’s a spectacular crash that sets off an explosion of weirdness in this tiny town, and the crash is, indeed, lengthy and magnificent at that. The viewer is treated as to how the blow-up occurs, but not yet why. And like the kids in the film, we’ve been encouraged not to talk about it.

But it sets a tone: Joel Courtney’s character’s adorable early-teen awkwardness is further complicated by the death of his mom and the subsequent stilted relationship with his dad. He latches on to his neighbor friend, an aspiring young filmmaker, and tends to his “broken heart,” as Abrams called it, by working on toy models and helping shoot some Super 8 film with his “goofball” crew. The kids shoot at a remote train station, where then a massive conspiracy unfolds. A long locomotive is derailed, thrown into the sky, and spews forth alien objects and thumping noises from one of its cars. The military shows up about the same time the sextet high-tail it from the sea of twisted metal, with some evidence in their soot-covered hands.

On first impression, the tone of these small-towners feels genuine, and as Abrams indicated, it was intended to be that way. Casting for these teens wasn’t culled from preened “Hollywood kids,” but newcomers who had “never been on a set,” to embody what it is to be that age in a dusty, do-nothing Ohio town. Elle Fanning (yes, of those Fannings) falls outside of that specification, but one forgets all about the heavyweight name as she’s threatening tears during this movie-within-a-movie.

The time is set, too, to the summer of 1979, with a little help from the soundtrack. In the second scene shown, — which plays further into the movie — an encounter with the escaped traincar creature occurs at a lonesome gas station, where the oblivious store attendant listens to a Blondie track as a police officer outside endures some late-night horrors. Earlier footage, too, features The Knack’s 1979 hit “My Sharona” blasting from a car.

“Super 8” feels like a genuine mystery is afoot, and taking the audience back to their more innocent days seems like a wise move to get the detective work started. The style is “super” colorful even during a scene shot in a drab bar, and the usage of light seems all-important. (A couple shots reminded me of the slogan on Abrams’ t-shirt from “Angry Naked Pat”: “I (Heart) Lens Flare”.)

And if that ain’t enough, Paramount took the opportunity to unveil a reel of their past triumphs and their 2011 prospectus slate. While clips of movies like “Thor,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” were nothing new, they at least alluded to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret” (no footage, though). Even more delectable were new shots of “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt being suspended from high buildings and shooting guns, and a spicy Josh Holloway looking like Josh Holloway. There was also a bit of the “Footloose” remake, which will be apparently lustier than “Dirty Dancing,” plus an exploding truck.

“Super 8” is out June 10.