By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Director J.J. Abrams goes where no fan has gone before
The voice on the phone from London, a few days after the world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, speaks in a stream of staccato phrases, a brisk torrent of ideas that have no time for commas. When you talk to director J.J. Abrams, you can almost hear the universe expanding. Officially, he’s promoting the sequel to his triumphant 2009 reboot of Star Trek. Now George Lucas and Disney have placed Abrams at the helm of Star Wars: Episode VII, so this prince of geeks—who had his first encounter with Hollywood at 16, when he was hired to edit Steven Spielberg’s teenage Super 8 archive—is poised to inherit Spielberg’s mantle as Hollywood’s master of the extraterrestrial universe.
According to the laws of fanboy physics, it should not be possible that one man could command both Star Wars and Star Trek—two heritage franchises from rival sci-fi galaxies as distinct as church and state. You’d almost expect it to cause a rupture in the space-time continuum. “There’s no meta strategy to this, no Machiavellian plan,” says the 46-year-old Abrams. “It was simply two opportunities to get involved in two disparate film series that are bigger than all of us. I don’t feel any kind of Coke vs. Pepsi thing about it. It seems there’s enough bandwidth for both of these very different stories to coexist. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in either of them.”
Spoken like a Starfleet ambassador. The moral and aesthetic hemispheres of Star Trek and Star Wars are, of course, polar opposites. Spun from the DNA of the late Gene Roddenberry’s cult TV series, Star Trek is a secular, open-ended franchise fuelled by the comic friction of an interspecies ensemble, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Star Wars is a closed universe, a generational saga on a Wagnerian scale, rooted in myth and mystical forces.
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
A Star Wars movie every year? Scott Feschuk imagines the synergies
Walt Disney Co., which paid $4 billion for George Lucas’s film company, has announced that, beginning in 2015, it will release a Star Wars movie every year—yes, every single year. Let’s look ahead:
2015: Although many are eagerly anticipating J.J. Abrams’ take on the series, some are apprehensive that he will introduce to the Star Wars universe the element of time travel—which would enable a middle-aged Luke Skywalker to encounter his younger self, his older self and, quite possibly, a very confused Spock. On the other hand, it could also bring together seven Yodas for the most backwards-talking, ass-kicking climax in film history. Let’s agree to let the time-travel thing slide so long as Abrams uses the device to have two incarnations of Jar Jar Binks beat each other to death.
2018: The franchise is entrusted to other directors, beginning with Michael Bay—who opens his film in flashback with a 14-minute shot of a young Princess Leia (Megan Fox), clad in cut-off jeans, leaning over a landspeeder to tinker with its engine. On the radio we hear the sounds of Alderaan’s best Aerosmith cover band. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
We’re talking videos, geofencing, plus ‘exclusive opportunities and special offers’
Tiding over eager fans of director J.J. Abrams’ next Star Trek installment–which doesn’t premiere until May–is a new app that will allow users to “have unprecedented access to all Star Trek content, as well as the opportunity to participate in missions and win valuable prizes,” according to a Paramount press release.
The free app includes:
- A geofencing function for location-based experiences such as encouraging viewers to go to the movies
- An audio scan function that can be turned on to automatically recognize and reward users for watching Star Trek Into Darkness content on TV and other media
- An image scan function that enables users to interact with images printed or viewable in the real world
- New Star Trek Into Darkness content, such as videos, images and wallpapers delivered directly to users’ mobile devices
- Exclusive opportunities and special offers only available to app users
IMdB says that Abrams’ second Star Trek film will have Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, leading the crew of the Enterprise on “a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.”
Who’s the man? Even though Abrams has said the villain’s name is “John Harrison”, it’s rumoured that the “unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization” might be a young Khan. Yes. THAT KHAN. The Khan–played memorably by Ricardo Montalbán–who was Captain Kirk’s nemesis in the 1983 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I can’t even. It’s too much. Can you even imagine? It gets better. This John Harrison, who may actually be Khan, is being played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, the guy who plays Sherlock Holmes in the television series. I know. Believe me. I am counting down the days, too. (It’s 105 days.)
In the meantime, fans can download the free app here.
Or just rewatch Star Trek II.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:50 AM - 2 Comments
Movies like “Avatar” have been huge hits, but on the small screen, the genre’s not doing that well
Seeing the kind of publicity buildup Fox is giving to Terra Nova (premiering Sept. 26 on CityTV), you might think it was the last hope for science ﬁction on network television—and maybe it is. The show is about a family from a dystopian future that escapes to a prehistoric past, complete with CGI dinosaur fights and hints about hidden conspiracies. The network has high hopes for it: Landon Liboiron (Degrassi), who plays a rebellious teenage son, told Maclean’s the network has made the publicity into “a huge thing.” There’s a special sense of urgency surrounding both this show and the same network’s Alcatraz, from J.J. Abrams (Lost) about mysteriously ageless prison escapees. Every season there’s a science fiction show from a broadcast network that is supposed to be a big hit like Lost, or the drama that made Fox’s reputation, The X-Files, but it’s been years since any of them worked. If audiences reject this year’s sci-fi shows, it might be taken as a sign that no matter how much money a network spends, sci-fi isn’t mainstream anymore.
In the last few years, sci-fi movies like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Avatar have been big hits. But television has been another story. “It’s really bizarre,” says Jeff Pinkner, a showrunner on Abrams’s Fringe (in which an FBI-led team investigates unexplained phenomena), “People really want to accept it in a movie theatre, but on television, they’re like, I don’t know.” Ajay Fry, who covers science fiction as one of the hosts of Space’s InnerSPACE show, thinks the networks have been “too focused on trying to create something ‘like’ Lost or ‘like’ Battlestar Galactica,” and the result has been a lot of expensive, highly hyped failures. Some of those failures were original creations like last season’s The Event, a wildly promoted drama about a huge mystery involving aliens. Others attempted to recreate the days when sci-fi was popular: ABC spent two seasons trying to get an audience for a new version of V, the ’80s invasion allegory. One long-running sci-fi show after another has retired with nothing much to replace it; the CW network’s Supernatural is the only remnant of the youth-oriented genre shows that were popular in the ’00s.
On cable, things brightened up this summer with Falling Skies, where ER’s Noah Wylie leads a resistance movement against alien oppressors. But other cable networks are cutting back on the genre: the Syfy network has introduced the dramas Warehouse 13 and Alphas, but also some inexpensive reality shows. And on highbrow cable networks, viewers seem more willing to accept fantasy shows than sci-fi. Game of Thrones and True Blood are two of the most popular shows on HBO, a network that does not program sci-fi. Ron Moore, creator of the revamped Battlestar Galactica, once told Entertainment Weekly that high-end audiences avoided his show because of the subject matter. “Science fiction sort of has a rap,” Pinkner adds. “We’re running against that as far as viewership goes.” Magic and vampires are in; alien conspiracies and futuristic devices are a harder sell.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:54 AM - 0 Comments
What a strange cosmic convergence we have in the Hollywood heavens this weekend: two wildly different period films set in small-town America that pit boyhood innocence against the mystery of the universe. From the cathedral ceiling of the art house comes Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which conjures nostalgia for a Paradise Lost of growing up in early 60s while contemplating all of Creation with such ambition it could be dubbed 2011: A Space Odyssey. From Hollywood’s sci-fi clubhouse comes J.J. Abrams Super 8, set in the late 1970s, about a gang of young boys who have a close encounter with an alien monster in their own backyard while shooting a homemade zombie movie. Oh, then there’s Submarine, about a teenage boy grappling with the mysteries of sex in ’80s England. It’s a batty Brit Rushmore, an idiosyncratic tonic to all this American heaviosity—but (spooky coincidence!) it, too, has super 8 footage, a home movie the precocious hero imagines he would shoot of his love affair with a classmate.
Submarine is a tiny perfect gem, and utterly charming. Vastly more ambitious, The Tree of Life and Super 8 revel in different kinds of rhapsodic excess. Super 8, which plays like an explosive homage to early Spielberg (its producer), bombards us with the heavy metal thunder of old-time alien invasion. In the Tree of Life, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, Malick transcends his usual transcendentalism and gets positively religious, revealing himself as a kind of spiritual pornographer (but in a good way) panning for raw divinity in rays of sunlight. Addicted to magic hour, the man never met a dust mote he didn’t like. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
Once obscure, head writers of TV shows are becoming stars in their own right
Who’s starring in this fall’s TV series? Who cares? The real stars are the “show runners”: head writers who, according to The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, “have final say over the hiring of writers, actors and directors.”
Two new shows with unknown actors, Undercovers and Mike & Molly, have tried to build ratings by publicizing their high-profile writers, J.J. Abrams of Lost and Chuck Lorre of Two and a Half Men. Today, the creator of a show has to be prepared to be its public face: Dan Harmon, creator of the comedy Community (whose second season recently started on Citytv), says he’s not getting stopped in supermarkets yet, but “the group of people who know who I am has gotten larger.”
This kind of fame for writers is unknown in Canada, where TV writers have much less control over shows (which has been suggested as one reason why our TV isn’t as good). But for many years, it was also unknown in the U.S. Shows would become huge hits without anyone but insiders knowing the creators’ names. “I grew up in the ’80s when you thought you were watching the Dukes of Hazzard make the decision to drive around in the car,” Harmon says. “You never knew or cared that anything was written.” The fact that Star Trek fans knew about the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, was seen as a sign of how geeky those fans were. But when Lost went off the air, Jimmy Kimmel Live did segments with the show’s co-creators, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and the jokes assumed that the audience knew who they were. We’re all geeks now.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 10:41 PM - 10 Comments
Opening this week are two films from opposite ends of the cinematic universe. One is massive, the other miniature. Both are baroquely plotted, time-warped dramas set in alien worlds, with meta narratives that hover between comic irony and high drama. One is Star Trek, the blockbuster reboot that seems destined to go where no Star Trek movie has gone before—far beyond its fan base. The other is Adoration, a return to form by Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan, who resumes the intimate, and intricate, scale of his earlier work with an arthouse gem destined to consolidate rather than expand his audience. Star Trek is a popcorn movie that I’d happily recommend to anyone; Adoration is a foie gras film, an acquired taste that will delight Egoyan gourmets and may leave others a little bewildered.
I come to this not as a fan, but as someone who has always viewed Star Trek from a distance as an amusing cult phenomenon. Like anyone else, I’ve cruised in and out of the various TV incarnations, and I’ve seen some (but not all) of the previous ten Star Trek movies, which ranged from laughable to forgettable. If you want a fan’s reaction to the new movie, you should read this report from Patricia Treble, Maclean’s chief of research: Star Trek from a fan’s point of view. But even this non-believer was delighted to ride the refurbished Starship Enterprise. With more than double the budget of any previous Trek movie, director J.J. Abrams (Lost) has rebooted the franchise into a new stratosphere, but he’s brought more than posh production values to the table. Without abandoning the Star Trek of sci-fi kitsch, he’s enriched the saga with unprecedented depth and maturity. And if my enthusiasm is any measure, he has pulled off that tricky balancing act—thrilling loyal fans while appealing to a broader audience of the uninitiated. To read my recent background piece in the magazine about the reboot, go to Star Trek’s perilous enterprise. Meanwhile, some thoughts on the movie, after seeing it last night:
Star Trek, a title that seems naked without Roman numerals attached, relaunches the saga with a new crew of actors playing the characters from the original TV series. Abrams kick-starts the prequel’s creation story, with a prolonged space battle that culminates in a Big Bang Genesis: simultaneously Captain James T. Kirk’s father is sacrificed in a clash with a Romulan ship while his mother gives birth to baby James in an escaping shuttle craft. Right from the get-go, Abrams brings an arresting sense of style to the visuals: the enemy craft, piloted by the Romulan villain Nero (a tattooed Eric Bana), looks like an ominovourous, dark-feathered sea creature. And there’s some flesh-and-blood punch to the violence. This doesn’t feel like a cartoon.
Flash forward to James Kirk in Iowa as a juvenile delinquent joy-riding a vintage red Corvette, then as a brash young man, a rebel without cause, taking on all comers in a barroom brawl. The actor cast as Kirk, Chris Pine, first struck me as a walking cliché of a blond All-American pretty boy, a callow combo of Tab Hunter and James Dean. But as he finds his rhythm, the performance acquires some edges, some wit, and we can see a glimmer of William Shatner’s jaunty signature in his reckless intimations of authority. Continue…
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 3:51 PM - 6 Comments
The prequel has a sci-fi plot that even neophytes can follow and just enough action
When director J.J. Abrams was selected to restart the Star Trek series with a new Kirk and crew, this fan wasn’t cheering. I might not be a full-on acolyte who knows the name of every Romulan character in each of the five TV series, but over the years I’ve enjoyed watching the trials and tribulations of the Federation and its flagship, the Enterprise. But the show I liked the least—even loathed—was the original. I’m not sure whether it was my older siblings and their friends mocking the series or the blatant misogyny, crappy special effects and arrogance of Capt. James T. Kirk that turned me off.
So the thought of another Kirk film held no appeal. And while Abrams is a small-screen genius (Lost, Felicity, Alias), his feature film track record (the dreadful, at least in this writer’s opinion, Mission: Impossible III) didn’t inspire confidence. But he redeemed himself with Star Trek, which is sure to be this summer’s must-watch.
Star Trek is just plain fun. The dialogue is fast and sharp. There’s a sci-fi plot that even neophytes can follow. There’s enough action to thrill the guys. And, while not giving away any plot secrets, there is one spectacularly satisfying “expendable crew man” death (a plot devise heavily used in the original series). Devotees will be happy that “canon law” has not been violated. Fans like me will be thrilled that the same-old same-old of Star Trek—the Federation is one big happy family and everything is neatly wrapped up at the end—has been turned on its ear. And newcomers will enjoy it for what it is: a perfect escapist film.
Most importantly, it’s packed with young, hot actors who present new facets to characters familiar to anyone who’s paid the slightest bit of attention to popular culture in the last 40 years, especially Chris Pine who takes the edge off Capt. Kirk’s arrogance. But the real standout is Zachary Quinto’s (and Leonard Nimoy’s) portrayal of Spock. Kirk might be the “face” but Spock is the heart and soul of the Star Trek universe.
I don’t usually see movies twice, but this will be an exception. Among a few other things, that flashed by during the first screening, I’ll want to see if that “expendable crew man” is wearing the correct “red shirt” of death. Something tells me Abrams didn’t tweak that tradition.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
With a record budget, the franchise’s much-ballyhooed reboot invades ‘Star Wars’ territory
Believe it or not, there are inhabitants of earth, including at least one editor at this magazine, who still get Star Trek and Star Wars mixed up. But who can blame them? Both franchises are space operas with fanatical cult followings, and, for the uninitiated, it may be hard to keep it all straight—to tell your Romulans from your Rodians and your Klingons from your Kowakians, never mind whether you should slice your aliens with a hand phaser or a lightsaber. So patiently you explain that these worlds are polar opposites. Star Trek is techno science fiction set in a foreseeable future; Star Wars is mythic fantasy set in a past. Star Trek is an expanding universe, a promiscuous TV franchise that’s been cloning itself for over four decades, while spawning a string of ho-hum spinoffs for the big screen; Star Wars is a finite saga that George Lucas has forged into a monumental series of blockbuster epics, all bigger and more lucrative than any of the Trek films.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, December 1, 2008 at 9:00 AM - 3 Comments
Serialized shows are being phased out in favour of old-fashioned stand-alone episodes
Things change so quickly. It was just a little over a year ago that critics and audiences were wild about shows like 24 and Heroes, where the stories were serialized over a full season, and episodes had no clear beginning, middle or end. Tim Kring, the creator of Heroes, gave an interview in which he exulted in the success of the show’s complicated format and praised the network for “embracing the very type of storytelling that was off limits less than two years ago.” Now it’s in danger of being off limits again, as new shows feel the pressure to switch back to traditional self-contained stories. When Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered earlier this year, it featured a long, elaborate story arc about the title character trying to uncover a conspiracy. This season, each episode focuses on a stand-alone adventure for the characters. Series creator Josh Friedman told the Television Critics Association that the show’s producers are going where the ratings are: “In the middle of the season when the ratings dipped, we were doing some heavily serialized mythology episodes. This year, we’re trying to tell slightly less ambitious stories.” Serialization is last year’s thing; today, a show needs a story that gets wrapped up every week.
You can tell that serialization is in trouble if you look at the ratings. Serialized shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Heroes are down, Prison Break is on the verge of cancellation, and the only shows that are doing better are the ones that tell self-contained stories, like comedies and mysteries (such as CBS’s new hit procedural The Mentalist). Even the producers who helped create the serial fad in the first place are being encouraged to tone down their penchant for never-ending stories. With Lost, producer J.J. Abrams went further with serialization than anyone had gone before, creating plots that lasted not just for a season but an entire series; he expected the audience not only to know what happened last week, but to accept that nothing would be resolved in the current week. But while Fringe, Abrams’s new show, has an overarching mystery like Lost, every episode has a self-contained story about a “monster of the week.” Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were shows that became famous for featuring more complicated story arcs and fewer stand-alone adventures with every season. In 2009 he’ll return to TV with Dollhouse, but he wrote on his fan site whedonesque.com that the network asked him to “make the episodes more stand-alone, stop talking about relationships and cut to the chase.”
The biggest problem networks have with serialized shows is that they’re closed shops: if you didn’t start watching at the beginning of the season, it’s difficult to understand what’s going on. Abrams explained to USA Today that Fringe is a reaction to complaints about his other shows: “So many people would say to me, ‘I was watching Lost or Alias, but I missed a couple of episodes and I couldn’t keep up and get back into it.’ ” And unlike daytime soaps, these shows don’t even have hotlines to bring you up to speed.
Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars—a show famous for its labyrinthine season-long mysteries—told Denis McGrath of heywriterboy.blogspot.com that network market research had demonstrated that “the average viewer of any show will watch one out of four episodes,” making it difficult for serials, where you have to watch every episode to know what’s going on. He’s learned his lesson: on his new show, a remake of his ’90s cult flop Cupid, every episode has the title character bringing together a different couple. Shows like these can still have subplots that run throughout the season; Cupid has a continuing storyline about the sexual tension between the main characters. But because every episode tells a complete story, new viewers aren’t lost; no matter when you find House, you’ll know that it’s about a misanthropic doctor who solves medical mysteries, and a mystery will be solved by the time the hour is up.
And yet by appealing more to casual viewers who don’t want to watch every episode, networks may risk losing some of the viewers who actually want to get hooked on a show. The shows that make the strongest impact are often the ones that build stories week by week. Shows as different as 24, The Sopranos and Buffy became cultural touchstones in part because they kept audiences arguing about where the story arcs would go. Networks may find that you can’t create that level of involvement if viewers can afford to miss three out of four episodes.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, November 17, 2008 at 4:41 PM - 6 Comments
So what do you think of the new trailer for the Star Trek movie from J.J. Abrams and his posse (writers Orci and Kurzman, producer Lindelof, composer Giacchino — you can’t say the guy doesn’t provide job security)?
It really does look like Star Trek as produced by the cast and crew of Felicity (and I’m being generous here; I could have said Smallville), but, after all, it’s only a trailer. And anything that re-establishes Kirk as a cool character is OK with me. It’s been diluted by the movies and the reruns, but Kirk was much cooler than most TV heroes, and still is. He managed to combine several types that are usually kept separate on TV: the socially-conscious sensitive guy, the ladies’ man, and the action hero. (I guess you could say that The Fonz was the same combination, but did you ever believe him as a socially-conscious voice of morality? I didn’t.) Today’s heroes tend to be either sensitive nice guys or macho sexist pigs, but never both at the same time, and action heroes like Jack Bauer don’t have much time for romance. Kirk is what you’d get if you took James Bond, the most popular fictional hero at the time, and added a dose of political correctness. (’60s political correctness, I mean. What was PC then isn’t always PC now.) And while it’s easy to make fun of Shatner, you have to be a good actor to pull that off.
If the new movie can come close to that combination, it’ll be fun. If it just gives us another broody smirky whiny hero, then we can worry.