No filmmaker is better versed in the art of piquing fan interest in an unreleased, non-brand title than J.J. Abrams, as best evidenced by the viral marketing campaign for his and Matt Reeves’ “found footage” monster pic, Cloverfield. That Abrams has built up a similar aura of mystery around his next directorial effort, Super 8, is all the more expected by (and infuriating for) his fans.

A full-fledged preview for Abrams’ new project aired as part of the 2011 Super Bowl Movie Trailers, and now the man with the glasses himself (not Doug Walker, for those who get the reference) has spilled a few tidbits about just what Super 8 is and why it’s a film that’s close to his nerdy, sci-fi-loving heart.

Super 8 takes place in small-town Ohio (is there another kind?) circa 1979 and follows a group of six kids who are shooting their own zombie invasion movie, with the use of now old-school 8 mm film stock. As anyone who watched the official Super 8 teaser trailer or last night’s Super Bowl clip know, the youngsters are filming one night when they witness a furious collision between a truck and passing locomotive – and the emergence of a mysterious creature from the subsequent wreckage.

Abrams himself offered the following intriguingly cryptic description of Super 8 to Hero Complex:

“To me, all people need to know is that it’s an adventure about a small town and it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s scary and there’s a mystery: What is this thing that has escaped? What are the ramifications of its presence? And what is the effect on people?”

Not only does Super 8 stylistically pay homage to the 1970s and 80s-era sci-fi cinema of Abrams’ childhood, it’s also a throwback piece to coming of age pics from that period as well. In order to fully capture the mood and atmosphere of his influences, Abrams employed the assistance of Steven Spielberg, and also reached out to the likes of Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) in order to better assemble a strong cast for his own tale of maturing adolescents on an adventure that stretches the boundaries of their imaginations.

Abrams spent a fair amount of time shopping two unrelated projects – a drama that concerned young people whose perception of the world is shaped by their use of a Super 8 camera, and a spooky tale about the notorious military base Area 51 and its inhabitants – around Hollywood, but neither attracted more than lukewarm reactions from studio execs and screenwriters on its own. It eventually occurred to the Star Trek reboot director to combine the two premises, with inspiration in part coming from Spielberg and a discussion about how E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was essentially an amalgamation of two themes important to the filmmaker – the heartbreak of divorce and life beyond the realm of Earth. To quote Abrams specficially:

“As the process went along I  realized I had the potential makings of  my favorite sort of movie, which is the one that is the hardest genre to define. That because you could say — and be right — that [‘Super 8′ is] a science fiction movie; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a love story; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a comedy; or you could say — and be right — that it’s a special-effects spectacle. That sort of cocktail is for me what I love about movies…that was the beginnings of this movie coming together.”

Super 8 will have its work cut out this upcoming summer, having to compete against the likes of several established franchise titles, comic book hero pics, and the customary action-happy blockbusters that roll into theaters every summer. With an interesting premise and the involvement of some solid creative talent behind the scenes, there’s good reason to be excited about Super 8 and hope that it doesn’t get ignored by the moviegoing masses upon release.

Super 8 hits regular and IMAX screens around the U.S. on June 10th, 2011.

For more from Abrams about the casting process for Super 8 and why he prefers to not overexpose his films prior to their release, read his full interview with the LA Times.