We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
The most anticipated news of 2013 thudded like an intergalactic trouser toot yesterday when J.J. Abrams was revealed to be the director for the new Star Wars film, due to arrive in 2015. Hearing this, I chopped my hand off and stood over a giant air shaft, and screamed like a sissy to my dad, “Nooo! That’s impossible! What about Brad Bird???!!!”
Now, with a robotic hand engineered into my body, I can only do what any geek can in such dire times: take my woe to the Internet. After all, what’s the saying? One director’s IMDb credit is a hundred million geeks’ misery?
For reasons that will be discussed below, Abrams is simply not the best overall hire for the film, especially considering the more adventurous names that were thrown in them mix: Ben Affleck, Brad Bird, and Colin Treverrow (Safety Not Guaranteed). Abrams might be a good filmmaker (and certainly sharper at blockbuster spectacle than someone like Michael Bay), but his authorship, and general association with Star Trek, does not bode well for the hopes of experiencing a fresh Star Wars, with the next film in the billion dollar franchise taking off from where Lucasfilm concluded Return of the Jedi in 1983.
Considering the time between now and 2015, all of these thoughts are certainly grounded in speculation. And while it is extremely anticlimactic to see Star Trek Abrams on board as director, there are other things about Star Wars that are certainly worth being excited about, at this very second we have … the curious vision from screenwriter Michael Arndt, the return of beloved characters, and most of all, the story itself.
But for now, the choice of Abrams for director is extremely disappointing. While I might be eating some of this diatribe in 2015, until then, here are my TOP 7 Problems With J.J. Abrams Directing a Star Wars movie.
7. Heavy Potential of No Original/Personal J.J. Abrams Films For Years
When Abrams was interviewed this past November by Entertainment Weekly about his chance to direct the new Star Wars film, he shot it down. Instead, he offered a hint at what he’d be up to after finishing Star Trek Into Darkness (which is set to come out this upcoming May), “I have some original stuff I am working on next.” Well, uh … not anymore.
If Abrams is such a promising filmmaker, then I’d prefer to see him show such promise in a more diverse pool of directed work; not just in blockbuster films that require archetypes, magnitude, and working within the confines of a franchise. Recently, his company Bad Robot said they’d be turning the Lance Armstrong story into a movie, with Abrams set to produce. Sounds pretty interesting, and most of all, like something that would be fertile opportunity for Abrams to show his skill with the more bare bones elements of filmmaking, while adapting a story that many viewers would already be familiar with. Instead, anything like this has been put on hold.
It’s easy math; unless Abrams’ doubling up with Disney for Star Wars scares away first wife Paramount and their Star Trek love-child, then Abrams will possibly be going back and forth between the two studios (assuming he makes more than one Star Wars film), for an undetermined amount of time. Simply, Abrams has sold his artistic potential to franchises that want more of the same that he has to offer. Maybe in between such projects he’ll take a Joss Whedon-esque break from blockbusting (like with Whedon’s on-the-fly upcoming adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing), but he hasn’t really done that yet. The closest he got to that was Super 8, which did fit in his blockbuster wheelhouse while being personal — it was large, had Cloverfield-like mystery, and showed his love for making movies with all of its Spielberg homaging, etc. Still, a movie like Super 8 feels all the more far off with two big empires to be controlled, especially if either studio is going to want their share of the Abrams action.
6. The Temptation of Abrams’ Signature Mystery Box
I am not saying that this manner of Abrams’ storytelling will definitely be in his version of Star Wars, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that Abrams’ hit-or-miss interest in “mystery box” plots could make some type of appearance in a Star Wars movie. After all, it has been a crucial part of Cloverfield and Super 8, and the mythology of “The Force” seems rife for being catered to by Abrams’ ambiguity. Sure, Midi-chlorians probably can’t get ruined any more than Lucas did in Phantom Menace, but still here’s a mystery box begging to be toyed with, and inconclusiveness is not what the storytelling of Star Wars needs.
5. The Inevitable References to Abrams’ Slusho-Loving Universe
I respect a filmmaker who wants to create a universe with their films, however different they may be. Tarantino wants to link his movies with random characters? Sure, whatever. But Abrams? Please, spare us something like a “Slusho” reference in a movie as singular as a Star Wars. Any stuff like that might be please his followers, but will remind all, outsiders or not, that they’re not watching a Star Wars film on its own, but a J.J. Abrams film first and foremost.
4. Abrams’ Slickness Is Not What ‘Star Wars’ Needs
It doesn’t take a brilliant 70-minute review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace to observe the soullessness that Lucas’ entire prequel trilogy suffered from, especially when compared to the homemade special effects of the original three films. Those movies, however loaded that they were with CGI and green screen, did not have their sense of spectacle benefit from the falseness presented by the overwhelming amount of special effects, which seemed crammed into each moment.
As a friend worded it, Abrams’ version of Star Wars is bound to look “slick,” just like his 2009 reboot of Star Trek does. While this doesn’t mean Abrams’ film(s) will be sterile like Lucas’ prequel trilogy, it does have one thinking just how much the film will rely on special effects; how much it will undoubtedly look like a primarily blockbuster action film, and less like the dramatic space opera that the first three Star Wars movies were originally meant to be. Isn’t giving Star Wars over to a director who is constantly thinking of action leaning back towards the direction of Lucas, who just piled battle sequences onto more battle sequences? Does Star Wars need Abrams’ dutch angles, constantly moving hand-held cameras, and yes, lens flares? Anyone who has sat through the majesty of the original trilogy knows that Star Wars is not meant to be entirely focused on lightsabers and “Fire everything!” intergalactic battle chaos, and anyone who has experienced the prequel trilogy knows what can easily happen when such action becomes first priority.
3. Lens Flare Jokes … Oh, God, the Lens Flare Jokes!
Years and years of jokes about lens flares. That’s what we, as a collective movie culture, are up against. There has already been plenty of backlash as of Abrams’ announcement on Twitter regarding those jokes being made about Abrams’ signature camera lighting effect. However, it doesn’t guarantee that discussion of an Abrams’ version of Star Wars will go without the geeky giggles of people talking about lens flares, whether they are in the final product or not. At the very least, maybe Abrams will get the hint. People are distracted more than anything by the lens flares, and associate them with humor more than anticipation. Joss Whedon’s dutch angles, we’re coming for you next. Stop doing that!
2. A ‘Star Wars’ Film Under the Direct Shadow of ‘Star Trek,’ Bound To Be Similar
Where is the larger sense of discovery going to be with watching a Star Wars film if it will only feel like a variation on Star Trek? (I can only imagine what Pulitzer Prize winning essay I am going to write about in 2015 concerning Abrams’ similarities with the two films). Whether Abrams uses the same visual style or not, unless Abrams grows a second brain, and then that second brain secures its own knowledge and experience that informs completely individual artistry, the two films will be bonded by an authorship by the same director. Will viewers mostly have the introduction of various characters and planets to provide them surprises, whereas the crucial sense of authorship will automatically relatively feel familiar? Besides, didn’t Star Trek in 2009 do more than just flash a couple winks at Luke Skywalker’s origin story in the original Star Wars? If I want to watch a J.J. Abrams version of Star Wars, I’ll just watch Star Trek.
1. J.J. Abrams Is A Safe Choice, But A Galaxy Far, Far Away from An Interesting One
The trades will talk about how Abrams is a good choice; indeed, financially speaking, hiring someone with experience on his director’s resume of rejuvenating the relevancy of past adapted franchises like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek is a wise move when observing how much money can be made by simply putting a certain franchise back on the big screen. And yes, he is a capable director, a storyteller with an eye for spectacle, and a mind for popcorn audiences. But more than anything, it is a disappointingly easy choice. Instead of choosing a director whose inclusion could challenge the perception of this extremely popular franchise to an automatic audience of millions if not a couple billion, the Powers that Be have elected to go a less confrontational route, and one that is more boring (especially for the upcoming years of Star Wars news that suddenly lost its overwhelming curiosity). Now, we know what to expect, and any viewer who has seen Star Trek or even Super 8 can already surmise what this film will look like. Picking Abrams is agreeing that Star Trek worked, and that more of the same will be just fine, despite the difference between the two Star franchises. This is not a choice that challenges the “Fanboy audience” that Abrams is continuously credited with having won over; instead it is lazily satisfying the geek Rancor, by providing it more of the same. (I would have the same problem if someone like Joss Whedon or even Michael Bay were somehow picked as well).
In this regard, someone like Ben Affleck or Brad Bird would have been a strong choice for the job. Think of what just happened last year – The Avengers was given to a proven storyteller like Joss Whedon, one without huge franchise experience, and Marvel’s crucial tent-pole became a huge, huge success. Or, look at what Sam Mendes did for Skyfall – an unlikely pick, and one that was easy to scoff at when looking at his previous resume of American Beauty and Road to Perdition. But Mendes certainly came with the right tools (Roger Deakins!) and a great script that used his focus on character and drama while obeying the audience’s desire to see Bond kick some ass. Mendes was a surprising choice, but because he simply made a great James Bond movie, it worked – his film, Skyfall, was also productively unique from preceding films because of his involvement. Selecting a director unsafe, or not-so guaranteed, would heighten the curiosity of one of the most anticipated films of all time, while also giving audiences a truly unexpected experience when the final cut of the new Star Wars finally screens across the world.
With this insufficient director choice, it’s as if The Almighty Producers were just picking who was next in directorial line after Lucas. If Spielberg wasn’t going to direct it, might as well just pick Spielberg’s young Padawan … J.J. Abrams.
Oh, well. Who do you think is going to direct that new Batman movie?