J.J. Abrams

Advice for Star Wars VII and Beyond…

I’m not a filmmaker, a director, a producer, or a screen writer, but I have enjoyed my fair share of Star Wars. I grew up with it. I adored it. I had the toys and the video games. I shed tears at the travesty of the prequel films (actually I didn’t cry, though tears are justified in any case).

Despite this, I have maintained restraint regarding the upcoming films, because my experience has shown me that it is better to be surprised that a film is actually good, than to be let down because it didn’t meet my expectations (ahem… J.J. Abrams’ previous films and shows…)

I am however quite interested in how they will turn out. Like many, I am just itching to learn what the films will be about, and the length at which J.J. Abrams keeps such information makes the itching that much worse. Unlike others, I will refrain from speculating what the plot will be, because at this point, there is no sense in trying as my guesses are as good as anyone else’s. What I will do is provide some brief points that would behoove the new films to heed, in my own limited opinion.
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  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope

The start of it all. It was a great introduction to everything we needed to know. The good guys, the bad guys, and the extent to which either was willing to go to satisfy their goals. We met our heroes, and basically fell in love. The one problem I have with A New Hope is that (especially compared to its sequel) it’s too bright of a film. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly adore the optimistic heroism, the mythic tone, the call to adventure, all that jazz. It’s just that it’s a bit too squeaky clean in some of its presentation, at least by comparison to the next one…

  • Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

Widely regarded as the best sequel ever, it’s also the best film so far in the entire franchise. Take everything about the first one, dig deeper, get darker, up the ante, and you have everything that is good about The Empire Strikes Back. While nothing seems as intimidating as flying towards a giant Death Star, watching the inexorable march of AT-ATs through the snows of Hoth strikes a dread all its own. If there were a weak point in this movie, it would have to be… … … Hold on… … … Yeah, I’m really trying… … … Okay, so there isn’t much wrong with it. Maybe the incestuous kiss. Or how Yoda talks, but that’s just characterization. So yeah… a great film, with a great twist. Just make another one of these, J.J.

 

  • Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi

A satisfying conclusion to the saga. Our heroes confront their gravest odds yet, and we see this whole thing finally comes to a close. Luke confronts the home of his past while saving Han from Jabba (who had been hounding him since the first film), before heading off to face his uncertain future. The weakest point in this film is, arguably, the Ewoks. I think George Lucas got a bit carried away with this one. They are just so darned cute, but it does provide a stark juxtaposition against the galaxy-spanning Empire, who is defeated by a meager force rebels and their teddy bear allies. At the end of the day, everything resolves in a way that promises things will be better for our heroes, even if they enlisted the help of stuffed animals.
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  • I-III: All of the prequel films

I can’t deny that they exist, just as I can’t deny to myself that I exist. As necessary as my conception and birth are to my present state of living, I’m glad I didn’t experience my parents’ copulation or the likely nasty and painful affair that was my birth from the womb. I cannot say the same for the prequel films, which I did experience to my great disappointment. Like any trauma that affects us, I have decided it best to look forward not back, and accept the prequels as a dark, yet necessary chapter.
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So what now? Well first of all, don’t make films that you’ll need to remake again two decades later by adding unnecessary new scenes and special effects. Don’t mar your work this way, and you should be golden. Seriously, though, the new songs and and Hayden Christensen’s sudden appearance in the newest revisions of Return of the Jedi are just horrid, even if the songs replaced were campy and 80s. Campy and 90s is infinitely worse.
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Don’t dumb it down for us. Lot’s of us older and aging fans don’t need to see a juvenalized retreatment of our beloved universe, nor do we want anymore teddy bear aliens, or Jar-Jar fucking Binks. Please pardon the expletive. Give us the appropriately shady, mature, yet still fun and adventurous setting that has enough mystery and enchantment that causes even the more jaded of us melt in our seats at the theater.

Keep it classy, Abrams. No contemporary humor. No commentaries on modern society that won’t make any sense in 2050. In fact, no commentaries whatsoever. Just give us Star Wars. Keep it about that, and we’ll be happy. Don’t try to make a film that leverages you into U.S. Presidency, just stick to what you know, and hopefully that will be enough. And learn more if you don’t know a lot. Please. No shame in admitting that.

Think about a classy film like “Lawrence of Arabia”. How many special-editioned, enhanced, revised, re-edited, re-visioned, versions of this film have you seen? None? Exactly!

Make a film that will stand the test of time. That’s all I ask.

If you have any thoughts, criticisms, or feelings you’d like to express on this matter, feel free to share them.

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Re-Watch Reviews: Star Trek Into… Sigh… Darkness

I eagerly anticipated the return of Khan and his famous wrath. I was willing to give J.J. Abrams another chance. What did I get?

More of the same.

Not that it’s a bad thing. Unless you consider Abrams’ first effort an exciting sci-fi action spectacle wearing Star Trek’s skin, then, yeah, more of the same.

To be fair there is some Star Trek here.  I enjoyed the trifecta of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Spock and McCoy are excellently acted, just shy of parody. This sequel is also grittier than classic Star Trek’s prevailing optimism would allow it to be.

Overall, my biggest grievance is that this very well could have been a sci-fi flick on its own merit without leaning on Star Trek to hold it up while the public ravenously consumes it. I say this because this departs just enough from the franchise that I catch myself thinking “Wow, this would make a good Star Trek flick” but then I realize that it already is. It may be slighter than a phase shift to some of us it’s more than enough for Devidians to thrive.

There are other quibbles (and a Tribble), such as hyper-advanced technology that allows minutes-long warp and trans-galactic transporters and Praxis’ premature explosion (remember Star Trek 6) and that little puppet alien thing that Scotty is married to. Among other things. Like Leonard Nimoy’s unnecessary cameo. I mean, come on…

And what of Khan? Of course the audience knew it was him despite the media’s futile attempts at obfuscation, but the character’s dramatic “big reveal” seemed to pander to the audience as it fell upon the deaf ears of the characters in the movie.

Bandicoot Cummerbund, I mean Benedict Cumberbatch expertly portrays a different Khan than we know, which is fine, and he is more nonchalantly menacing than Ricardo Montalban. However, I feel that his amazing character was not utilized well. There are some positive moments, like when Khan is (finally) unleashed. The rampage that ensues is truly wrathful, except that you have to slog through the rest of the film to get to it.

I appreciated the attempted complexity of plot, but Khan got lost in the fray and spent too much time lying in wait, not because of his serpentine calculativity, but because the plot is looser than a sorority girl.

And therein lies the crux of the issue. If you look at the best Star Trek films they had simple plots. Wrath of Khan was written in a weekend. This film tries to do too many things, unfortunately, and all at the expense of the components within that are pretty good. On paper, this film must have jumped off the page, but on the screen it falls flat.

It’s a shame really, but it’s good press will hopefully save the franchise from the obscurity it suffered after Nemesis. Even more hopefully, J.J. Abrams can apply his spectacular vision to Star Wars 7 and maybe we can get another director who can give more sci-fi and less lens flare.

So what can you expect from this sequel? More of the same, which is better than nothing. It’s just not better than Wrath of Khan.

Re-Khan-aissance

I will admit it: I was scared of J.J. Abrams doing Star Trek. I was afraid he would distort it in his attempt to modernize it, neuter it in his attempt to revitalize it, and lobotomize it in his attempt to add more action. While it still may be argued whether or not he did these things, I can now say I mostly like what he’s done with the franchise.

My reticence to accept Abrams’ reiteration carried over when speculation about the sequel began. As people clamored for “Wrath of Khan” to be remade, I staunchly resisted such thoughts. How can Ricardo Montalban’s masterful portrayal be out done? Then I realized something…

This new Star Trek universe, an alternate reality if you will, is essentially one big game of “What If”. What if Kirk and Spock were rivals, instead of friends? What if the planet Vulcan were destroyed? What if Uhura finally got to have some Vulcan green-blooded goodness? More importantly, what if ,despite everything being different, certain meetings were a temporal absolute no matter the circumstances?

Of course, I am referring to the ongoing John Harrison/Khan debate. For the longest time I was sure John Harrison was some form of Gary Mitchell, the psychic menace who challenged Kirk in the second pilot episode. As big a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as I am (yay Sherlock!), he’s not Sikh superman material. But, what if?

What if he were?

While we have yet to discover who John Harrison really is, and everyone is denying the hell out of him being Khan, I am reminded by another denial which was relevant to the plot of a film. Marion Cotillard also refused to admit her character’s true identity (which I had guessed) in “The Dark Knight Rises”. This obfuscation was meant to preserve some element of surprise pertaining to a plot twist, but I wasn’t convinced and I enjoyed the revelation all the same.

Knowing that, are we really to believe in the attempts to misdirect us? Are we being carefully veered away from something in order intensify a surprising turn of plot? Unlike with “The Dark Knight Rises”, my conviction on this case is admittedly lacking. There is, however, some evidence that is striking in its implications:

John Harrison was a crewmember aboard the Enterprise in the Original Series, and he was involved with the Khan debacle in the episode “Space Seed”. It is also noted during the episode that of the 84 in suspended-animation aboard Khan’s ship the Botany Bay, only 72 survived.

72…

I’m not saying he is Khan, but I am tired of fighting against that theory. John Harrison is clearly related somehow. No matter how much the magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch (cumbersome name to type) is not the menacing Ricardo Montalban, I will be interested to see how the “What If” scenarios unravel in Star Trek Into Darkness.

72… Remember that and watch.

Re-Watch Reviews: Star Trek in Retrospect

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek: Into Darkness” is nearly upon us. I must admit I was leery of his previous Trek film. For a man who admitted to not being a Star Trek fan, and desiring to inject elements of Star Wars into his rendition, I was scared (which he can now indulge himself as he directs the new Star Wars flick). Such alchemy as this surely would result in disastrous explosions.

My fears were allayed since “Star Trek” the reboot was actually quite good, though I still have some reservations about Abrams’ choices. So long Sela and your Romulan cohorts, though. I will miss thee.

Since I will not adequately be able to enjoy or examine the new film until it is released, all I am left with are the existing films.  For now, let’s leave the reboot alone, and it can stand on its own confidently anyway, and just look at the rest which can be divided into two categories: The Original Series films and The Next Generation films.

The Original Series Films

  • The Motion Picture – Meh-tastic and bloated. Also called “artistic”. Merely okay. 
  • The Wrath of Khan- The standard by which all Star Trek films are to be judged. Consider “II” = “I” and forget the first.
  • The Search For Spock- Oft-overlooked and under-rated. A strong film that happens to be book-ended by much stronger films.
  • The Voyage Home- Sci-fi-fish-out-of-water-time-travel story (holy hyphens, Batman). Also considered one of the best, and it ties up a cohesive trilogy quite well.
  • The Final Frontier- Sean Connery turned down being in it. That should have been the sign to stop. No redeeming qualities except a surprisingly poignant scene in which McCoy and Spock face dark moments from their pasts.
  • The Undiscovered Country- An exciting send off for our crew. Makes you wish for more, even though the characters are obviously aged, weathered, and deserving retirement from their constant heroism.

The Next Generation Films

  • Generations- Passing the torch results in dropping it and burning things terribly. Not a good start. See Kirk die. Twice. 
  • First Contact- Action-packed but that’s about it, but definitely the best TNG era film. I wish the Borg invasion had been expanded, and the time-travel aspect could have been curtailed to be more succinct and effective.
  • Insurrection- More action. Very “TV Movie of the Week”. Attempts at “character development” are made and Picard cheats on Beverly Crusher.
  • Nemesis- Too little, too late and it borrowed too many tropes from previous films. I preferred it to Insurrection and found some of its concepts promising and enjoyable, however.

Truth be told, I prefer TNG on TV to the Original Series exponentially (though I grew up with Kirk and the gang first), but unfortunately the films fail to deliver. The Original Series films made missteps, but they were at their best when they elevated the essential Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate to the films and explored related themes.

TNG films never elevated anything to the silver screen, traded complex themes for theme park experiences, and ultimately bore only a superficial resemblance to the TV series. Kirk was a man of action, who grew emotionally and personally over the course of the films. Picard was a man of the mind on TV, who emotionally deteriorated in the films and solved problems with guns and torpedoes instead of his intellect.

As tragic as it may be, J.J. Abrams’ supernova may have been the biggest favor to the Star Trek franchise. He delivered it from a whimpering wane and gave it, literally, a bang of an ending and a new beginning.