A few days ago, I was at a work thing when the Star Wars teaser played on Youtube.
“I have so much faith in JJ Abrams,” one guy said.
“Yeah, he did a great job with Star Trek,” another guy replied.
And so on and so forth.
I wasn’t feeling in the mood for a long debate about the relative merits of the older Star Trek films versus the new ones, but inside I stewed the rest of the meeting. But why, you ask? The two Star Trek films J. J. Abrams directed were hits, and the reception to the Star Wars teaser trailer (even if it is only one and a half minutes) has been promising, apart from the mixed opinions on the sword lightsaber.
First of all: Star Trek. I’m not a diehard Trekkie. I really enjoy Zachary Quinto’s work, as well as John Cho’s work. And I even enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek film, at least while I was in the cinema. But despite all the accolades and all the money that film made, at its heart it was well, empty. JJ Abrams has been pretty vocal about not really caring very much about Star Trek, so it’s not particularly surprising that he glossed over all of the ethical issues, all of the really thought-provoking, groundbreaking stuff that made the original franchise so enduring, to create what is essentially a fun action film in space, with very broad stroke plotting and very little that is new.
And that’s fine – it brings in the money and the audiences, but even films which take heavily from existing pop culture (hello, Star Wars) bring something new to the pop cultural landscape, and that is what J. J. Abrams is not doing. Say what you want about George Lucas (he isn’t exactly my favourite person in the universe), but at least Star Wars was a risk at the time, and it feels real. At least until he became part of the corporate Hollywood machine.
Anyway, I don’t want to use the word “soulless”, but that’s what J. J. Abrams’ films feel like. Some calculated, sweeping music to make audiences feel some kind of emotion, a romance, a bit of lens flare, a grand, explosive, action filled climax, and a polished veneer of tight editing and bam: there’s your movie.
As commercial as Star Wars became during the prequel trilogy, at least it had started out as a noble, nostalgic dream (I can’t believe I used the word ‘noble’ to describe George Lucas, but that’s what J. J. Abrams does to you), but one that was at the same time strange and different and exciting. Star Wars 7 and the host of science fiction films flooding the box office at the moment are not.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m going to go watch it in the cinemas anyway. I guess I’m part of the problem. But still. I’m watching you, J. J. Abrams. Don’t screw it up.
Disclaimer: I don’t hate J. J. Abrams. In fact, the worst thing is that a lot of J. J. Abrams’ television work was actually quite good. I enjoyed Fringe and of course, Lost (although it might have gotten its head stuck up its own butt at some points). But pretty much everything he’s ever directed (and most of the stuff he’s produced) has been sequels and reboots. I think that perhaps he has some original ideas, but they all get smushed together in his quest to control all of the science fiction films ever.