By Mandi Bierly
March 24, 2011 at 05:32 PM EDT

Last night, Paramount and director J.J. Abrams presented a 20-minute sneak peek at two scenes from Super 8 to a small audience in New York. They were centered around moments we’ve all seen in the trailer: A group of 14-year-olds (including Elle Fanning and newcomer Joel Courtney, pictured) shooting their own Super 8 movie by the railroad tracks when a train derails and an unseen “thing” escapes, and that “thing” starts terrorizing a gas station attendant. Abrams asked writers not to spoil anything, so we won’t talk specifics. But I think it’s fair to discuss the conversations being had as we all filed out of the theater. Even if you didn’t know Steven Spielberg was a producer on the ’70s-set picture, you would have felt it watching the scene of the kids. There’s such… affection for them. That’s really the best way I can describe it. They’re smart, funny, passionate, and real. They’re at the age when they still care about things other than girls, but, of course, there’s that longing for one. It also makes sense for Abrams, too, who married two of his ideas for the movie — one he had about kids making Super 8 movies like he and Spielberg did when they were young, and one he had already pitched to Paramount about some “thing” escaping its cross-country train transport from Area 51 to Ohio.

Watching the unfinished footage, it made me wonder what Goonies and E.T. would’ve been like if Sloth and E.T. hadn’t been nice. It also reminded me that there are live-action movies starring kids that I can relate to. Maybe it helps when movies have a supernatural slant to them — we’re all green when it comes to dealing with that stuff. What was the last film centered on that age group that truly captivated you? (Son of Rambow, anyone?)

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Super 8: Full trailer offers more hints, more confusion