Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ranting Time: J.J. Abrams...Really?

Hello everyone! How are you doing?

I just found out today (1/25/2013) that director and producer J.J. Abrams has been chosen to helm the new "Star Wars" movie, slatted for 2015. Very old news for the rest of you by now, granted, but I just have to share my thoughts here regardless.

Because that's what the Internet is all about - complaining about anything and everything!

Now before I begin, I must state that I'm not the biggest fan of "Star Wars", even before "The Phantom Menace" arrived in theaters over a decade ago. The extreme dichotomy between good and evil with no margin in between, and a sad tradition of mugging actors who look like they really don't want to be there, are my chief complaints. Oh, and a general lack of respect for otherwise sentient robot characters, outside well received guest appearances from David Tennant.

But it's still Star Wars, and my fondness, or care for the franchise is present enough to lead me to write the following article (extended rant).


Now I'm also not a J.J. Abrams hater like most critics and Internet commentators tend to be, but when I think of the Star Wars Universe (for better or for worse), I think of massive colorful landscapes and characters (at least in appearance over personality - again, see mugging), with related good cinematography and / or imaginative artistry. Even the cold planet of Hoth, and the emotionless interiors of the mechanized Death Star, are both nicer to look at than similarly theme locations found elsewhere in fiction.

And from what I've seen from Mister Abrams past works...those elements are NOT in his repertory, unfortunately.

He's one of those science fiction craftsmen who underplays everything he does, as most Hollywood film makers often tend to do - even in the supposed unlimited age of computer generated imagery, or 'CGI' for short. And although that might work with most of the material that these men and women are given to work on, it's an otherwise bad fit when it comes to something as bombastic as the "Star Wars" films.

I know the "Star Trek" franchise, as a whole, was never really about insane aliens and space monsters, but there was a earnest attempt at colorful alien variety while Gene Roddenberry was still kicking about, as evident in his own Star Trek motion pictures, the Filmation cartoon spin-off, and "The Next Generation". But Abrams' own handling of the Trek mythos, although not bad, was still pretty tame and even visually neutered. And that's even by the more unimaginative comparisons of previous Trek films and television series.

'Star Trek light' if you will.

And of course, there's his overt use of darkness in his films...And no, not darkness as in story material or subject matter, but literal darkness, as in poorly lit and purposely so shots, hampered further by limited cinematography and related artistry. He never goes as bad as the later-era "Harry Potter" films, which it comes off to me like grown men blindly fighting each other with three-or-more glow sticks, in a completely unlit warehouse during a prolonged Alaskan night.

But Abrams films like "Super 8" and "Cloverfiled" come dangerously close to the line, or even over stepping it on occasion. This 'Stage Lighting Blackouts Syndrome' of course obscures any coherent scenes, and more so, any and all creature designs.

"But Enshohma (You might say), the overt use of lens flair isn't dark at all!"

No, it isn't...for that's on the complete opposite end of my 'problem specter', and the amount J.J. Abrams flaunts it, it breaks the forth wall with as much subtlety than a plate of pancakes, being shoved into the camera every ten-seconds for a cheap 3D gimmick.

Getting right back to underused monster and alien designs - that's also something Abrams seems to excel at in all of his projects, which comes off like a bad mixture of being way-to-realistic with your admittedly silly monster movie, or again, typical of Hollywood, laughably timid (the 2011 "Green Lantern" movie for example).

I'd like to give J.J. Abrams the benefit of doubt, and hope that he hasn't done 'creature spectacle' in his past works because the studios were holding him back...But than I remember to myself that he's very much in the "Jaws" school of cinematic thinking, by never showing any non-human characters for any significant amount of time...which in my opinion works only in the suspense style of that aforementioned film, but not in outrageous space fantasies like "Star Wars".


I know I might be over reacting here (for all the right reasons), but this feels like yet another bad decision that the 'Hollywood Suits' tend to do, when pairing a film's manager, to an ill fitting subject matter that's almost the opposite of what he or she understands, nor even cares about.

Like placing two otherwise competent film makers on a project, whose fantastical subject matter doesn't at all appeal to them, even remotely. And thus the two alter the said material to their own extreme preferences, that we end up with something that's completely, if not insultingly against the source material. Akin to the similar situations that plagued the making of "Super Mario Bros the Movie", and of course the 1998 American Godzilla.

And I actually liked "Super Mario Bros the Movie"!

Now with J.J. Abrams, he no doubt will do a better job than the aforementioned examples, but I still can't shake off the dumb-downing and visual blandness of his "Star Trek" reinterpretation, which wasn't further helped by script writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who unlike Abrams, are bigger offenders in this regard.

And maybe Abrams will tone down his own idiosyncrasies to deliver an actual Star Wars-like, or at least Star Wars-looking product. This is after all, a genre I do love, and as such, I give almost every science fiction and fantasy film a fair chance when they get released, even when I have MAJOR reservations like I'm sharing here.

Plus, let's face facts and note that J.J. Abrams is a rather smart filmmaker (lens flare not withstanding), unlike say someone like Michael Bay. So if Abrams' does fail at "Star Wars", at least we know he was putting some effort into the proceedings.

Although just like Michael Bay, I have the sneaking suspicion that J.J. Abrams' continuing success in Hollywood has much less to do with the caliber of his work, and more to do with how well he personally appeals to the studio heads behind operations.

But even with that stated, this is all still a less than a promising start to the new cycle of this already troubled franchise. Especially after a good number of weeks when the future of Star Wars was looking positive, with George Lucas stepping down, and giving the reins over to Disney. Despite the obvious jokes and gags the public loves hurling their way, Disney has done fantastic jobs with their stewardship and support of the Muppets AND Marvel Studios properties.

And unlike most of you, I am mindfully grateful that they halted production on all those terrible straight-to-video sequels, prequels, and 'midquels' of their own animated theatrical films...Well, minus the Ticker Bell movies, and all the freakish "Cars" flukes.

But YET again, with J.J. Abrams being directly involved, my enthusiasm for a New Hope (pun intended) has diffidently been diminished.

HOWEVER, maybe you can make positive arguments, or less harsh opinions on this turn of events, and as such, I more than encourage you to share them here, beyond the usual, expected 'this sucks' replies.

-Love Enshohma!