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J.J. Abrams talks ‘Super 8’ inspiration, ’70s rock and Area 51

At the “Super 8” preview in Manhattan last night, J.J. Abrams made it abundantly clear that he’s not really a suit-and-tie guy. After a flattering introduction from Paramount mega-brass Brad Grey, the “Star Trek” revitalizer plucked confidently at his black suit collar, shaking his head and the quasi-formality of the “road show”event. That was right before he dropped the f-bomb a half a dozen times.

When I asked Abrams during the reception why the stop-off was scheduled for New York and not L.A., he laughed. “What, did I not dress the part?”

Aside from the wardrobe compunction, the director/writer/producer displayed a sense of ease during the event, and after the extraordinary sneak-peak, there’s no reason for him to feel otherwise. With Steven Spielberg on board as producer, “Super 8” has the elements of wide-eye mystery and the promise of intimidating creatures of “Cloverfield” capacity, all through the lens of middle school-aged kids and small-town folk. (Heck, and the “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” looked fun, too.)

Check out my full thoughts on the footage here.

Abrams met Spielberg back when he was but a teen, working with collaborator Matt Reeves on Super 8 films. They in one way or another got roped into restoring the “E.T.” director’s early 8mm clips “Firelight” and “Escape to Nowhere.” Fast-forward a couple dozen years, and Abrams found himself ultimately pitching Spielberg on “Super 8,” the coming together of two different ideas.

[More after the jump…]

Abrams said he wanted to develop an idea about teenaged kids digging into shooting Super 8 movies in the late-’70s, just as he did. Separately, he had long intended to write a script about the military moving an alien from Area 51, but its train crashing and the alien escaping. After he had a team of writers trying to hash out either, Abrams combined them.

“I thought ‘f*ck it,'” Abrams said. “‘I like this, I’ll write it myself.'”

As the trailer was played again in the Walter Reade Theatre, and the 20 minutes screened, “Super 8” was electric with the adventure. Viewers weren’t privy to actually seeing the monster — which Abrams, afterward, still was still loath to call an alien — but even the rough mix of the sound gave these scenes scale. I couldn’t help but to think of the smoke monster from “Lost.” Sorry.

It was also abuzz with a goosebump-inducing score and nostalgic soundtrack. Michael Giacchino, who’s taken home an Oscar for his breathtaking work on “Up,” is backing “Super 8,” and Abrams’ supervisors and editors were specific in selecting tunes of the times: representing the summer of 1979 were songs from Blondie, The Cars and “My Sharona,” which the director said reminded him of his own upbringing. He also promised me there’d be some Cheap Trick.

What does Abrams listen to now, as far as new bands go? Off the top, he didn’t mention names specifically, but referred to his “kids” as inspiration goes.

“You know, I can’t listen to the radio a lot, because it’s the same eight fucking songs on all the time,” he smiled. Even if a programmer didn’t agree, he’d at least be charmed.

By Katie Hasty – The man really, really doesn’t like wearing a suit

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