Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Geek-Overlord (of the Star-verse) Has Arrived, ‘Tis, J.J. Abrams

February 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Film & TV, Opinion

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The recent news that J.J. Abrams would be helming the new “Star Wars” film hit the nerd world like a cosmic brick of hysteria as fan-geeks danced in the streets in anticipation of the revitalization of their beloved science fantasy franchise. One fan, Henry Olortegui, not one of the aforementioned street dancers, but a proud owner of the original (unaltered) trilogy on laserdisc, was excited to hear of the Abrams reboot. “I thought that ‘Star Wars’ was done. I was ready to die,” he exclaimed.- “Now its time to live. But if [Abrams] brings back Jar Jar Binks, then it’s a different story.” Apparently, no one likes Jar Jar.

No matter how excited we are about J.J. Abrams, there are upsides and down to his appointment. First with the upside:

The Man Has Street Credentials

Leia kissing Kirk - IMG_4056Fan glee over the J.J. Abrams selection should come as no surpriseThey consider him one of their own. Abrams, a self-acknowledged fan-geek himself, touts his respect of such science fiction and fantasy filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. He considers “Star Wars” “probably the most influential film of [his] generation.” You can also see Abrams’ love of Spielberg’s style in Abrams’ 2011 film “Super 8,” which many see as homage to Spielberg’s early works.

Aside from “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams has more than proven his mettle with such sci-fi fantasy hits as “Fringe,” “Lost” (we forgive you for the ending J.J.) and “Star Trek.” More specifically, he’s shown that he can successfully straddle the line between action director and storyteller. Abrams is not one to shy away from a strong plot, nor does he rely on action in lieu of characterization to move the story along.

J.J. Abrams’ turn in 2009’s “Star Trek” is a strong example. In the film, Abrams effectively re-establishes the origin myths of his main protagonists, Kirk and Spock, while simultaneously taking you on a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish. I think I counted twelve minutes of no action in the entire movie, and that included the credits.

J.J. Abrams also isn’t timid about working with solid writers; he often taps the help of Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, his collaborators in “Alias,” “Fringe,” and both “Star Trek” films. And for the seventh “Star Wars,” Abrams will be working with Academy Award winner Michael Arndt of “Little Miss Sunshine.” This proclivity for a sound writing team is one of J.J. Abrams better traits. After the prequels, “Star Wars” could stand the influence of a strong writer. All things considered, having “The Big Chill’s” Lawrence Kasdan pen both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” certainly didn’t hurt the original trilogy. In fact, it helped produce one of the most memorable moments in the saga. How many of us will forget when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father? It was simply the best Maury Povich paternity reveal in sci-fi history.

Perhaps the icing on the cake is the blessing of the “Star Wars” Holy Father himself, George Lucas. In a statement, Lucas praised the selection of Abrams and described him as “an ideal choice to direct the new ‘Star Wars’ film.” Just this past October Lucas sold Lucasfilm Ltd. and his beloved “Star Wars” franchise to the Walt Disney Company for 4.05 billion dollars.

Unfortunately, J.J. Abrams’ appointment as the new “Star Wars” vintner isn’t all wine and roses. Let see if I can tackle this. For starters,

Same Guy Doing Star Trek and Star Wars: Uh oh?

There is such a thing as too much uniformity of vision. The “Star Wars” prequels are a perfect example of this. During the making, it seemed as if George Lucas’ world was too insular, so viscous and undiluted in ideal, that when it came to making more cinematically effective decisions, diverse and perhaps, more level headed voices did not prevail. As serious fanboy and affirmed poindexter Jesse Ransom pointed out, Lucas should have stuck to his technical and special effects strengths, while letting those better at conveying “human relations take a crack at story and character development.” The Mercury News” went even further and described the prequels as “soulless, airless affairs and a far cry from the imagination and rough-hewn, can-do thrills of [Lucas’] original trilogy.” With all of this, its no wonder that fans are a bit gun shy at the idea of one filmmaker having so much control over not just one, but two iconic franchises.

Fans may have a right to worry. After all, every filmmaker has a style. J.J. Abrams is no exception. What if “Star Wars” starts to look and feel like Star Trek? With J.J. at the helm, if Episode Seven starts walking like a duck and quacking like a duck, then isn’t it a “Star Trek?” Its not as if Abrams has set no precedence for this sort of thing. Just look at the similarities between, “Alias” and “Fringe.” The eerie Michael Giacchino musical styles, the doe-eyed, but tough-as-nails heroines, the loving, yet distance father figures, the plucky tech-savvy side-kicks, and more kick-assedness, creepy mystery cliff-hangers and Terry O’Quinn than you could shake a stick at.

Now to be fair, Terry O’Quinn wasn’t in “Fringe,” but he should have been. Personally, I think Abrams should cast Terry O’Quinn in all his works. He should be like J.J. Abrams’s “Where’s Waldo,” You’re never quite sure where he is, but he’s always there. Like a lurking sci-fi fantasy stalker that…but I digress.

Now maybe there’s a good excuse for “Alias” and “Fringe” being such stylistic cousins. They did share the same writing team. In fact, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are also the scribes behind the new “Star Trek” films. However, since Michael Arndt will be writing “Star Wars VII” and not the dynamic duo, maybe we won’t have to worry about such similarities. And as much as my brother (in his words) is “having a nerdgasm” over Disney’s selection of J.J. Abrams, he’s willing to hold-off premature praise until opening day.

The Disney Question

When it comes to the science fiction and fantasy arena, Disney has always had an image problem. Know primarily for its feel good animation and child friendly fare, Disney has spent the last four to five years trying to revamp its image. With the 4 billion dollar acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in August 2009, and the recent blockbuster success of 2012’s “The Avengers,” the Walt Disney Company seems well on its way to becoming the new big kid on the film block of sci-fi movies.
“The Avengers” aside, Disney still has a reputation for not willing drifting away from its candy coated image. Known, sometimes, derisively, as the Mouse House, many fans worry that Disney may soften J.J. Abrams’s style into to a gooey sweet compost of its former self. Some argue that this is what happened with “John Carter.” Will the Disney overseers allow Abrams and his Bad Robot production house enough room to creatively flourish as he’s been allowed to at Paramount? Perhaps. I guess we’ll get a better idea when Disney and Marvel second major co-production, “Iron Man 3” hits theatres.

The Shoulders of Giants?

J.J. Abrams definitely has his own vision and style, but trying to live up to the myths and apocryphal history of the “Star Wars” universe can be quite the burden. This past Saturday, at the Producers Guild Awards, Abramssaid “I can just say what I want to do: I want to do the fans proud. I want to make sure the story is something that touches people. And we’re just getting started. I’m very excited.”However, surely that excitement is tempered with the weight of expectations?

We of the nerd-herd expect Abrams to make “Star Wars VII” with the auspicious respect for the religion that is “Star Wars,” all the while maintaining an air of JJ’ish creativity. Erring on the side of too much reverence runs the risks of turning “Star Wars VII” into a soft sad pantomime of the original Lucas trilogy. However, drive too far in the direction of Abrams-land, and risk “Star Wars” becoming so recognizably detached from its origins that the result is the final death knell of a geek culture way of life. So, basically, make it fresh, but not too fresh. No pressure J.J.

Now, if you’re worried that I’m giving JJ Abrams too much leeway on this whole “Star Wars” thing, worry not, for even if Episode VII hits the trifecta of happy, I promise to send him a geek rage sonnet tersely listing all the things he got wrong and how I would have done it better, if I knew how to make movies and whatnot.

He’s Busy!

From the “Star Trek” franchise, to his television projects and now “Star Wars,” it’s reasonable to wonder whether J.J. Abrams has bitten off more than he can chew. According to “The Hollywood Reporter,” although Disney announced an expected “Star Wars” drop date of 2015, Abrams has yet to commit to this timeline. Already, to wrap up “Super 8,”Abrams pushed back “Star Trek Into Darkness,” from its original June 2012 release to May 2013. So if J.J. Abrams holds to form, “Star War” fans may have a longer wait ahead before they can expect to see Episode VII.

Final Captain’s Log

So there you have it, and it’s a mixed bag. Under the weight of unmanaged expectations, J.J. Abrams could easily flounder in his tenure as the human defibrillator for the new “Star Wars” franchise. But lets face it. He probably won’t. Over the past decade, his sci-fi fantasy successes in both television and movies have more than proven him to be a true contender for the title of filmic Geek Overlord. And if I can speak on behalf of all members of the Imperial Fleet, we’re certainly hoping that he succeeds.

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