The internet has been running wild with casting rumors for the new Star Wars trilogy, with the latest attention landing on Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch, you may remember, played the role of Khan in this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness.
You may also remember that Star Trek: Into Darkness was directed by J.J. Abrams, who has been overseeing the reboot of the Star Trek cinematic universe and will direct the first of the new Star Wars films, in 2015.
Something else to remember about J.J. Abrams? His directorial ouvre–Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8 and Star Trek: Into Darkness–were all pretty good movies in all the same ways: they look beautiful and glossy and explosive, and are all uncomplicated in their production and storytelling (Super 8 pushes this the most). This is the very definition of J.J. Abrams the film director: Pretty good in the same way.
By being given the reigns of the Star Trek reboot, one of the most highly recognizable, popular and successful science-fiction properties ever created, J.J. Abrams has been given the opportunity to cement his vision into the sci-fi world. Whether you love or hate what he’s done with the Star Trek universe, Abrams has imbued the series with his lens-flaring, masculinity and hero-worshiping brand of movie-making.
Knowing that Star Wars VII will be directed by J.J. Abrams, we should worry about what will happen to that other most highly recognizable, popular and successful science-fiction property ever created. Star Trek and Star Wars are, must, remain as separate entities in the genre, unique from one another and maintaining the positions they have for the past 50 years. They are the tent-poles of sci-fi in space and though the bodies always uphold a conversation, they are also distinct from one another.
These are great times for science-fiction cinema. Highly talented filmmakers are creating large-scale sci-fi blockbusters–Avengers on the pop side, the upcoming Gravity on the the other. Smaller scale projects bringing strange and complicated sci-fi concepts are getting out to audiences–Monsters, Moon, Upstream Color. And there are all kinds of wonderful films in-between: Ryan Johnson’s gritty films, for example, or Andrew Niccol’s future past.
While J.J. Abrams has proven his ability to oversee unique and rewarding stories in creative sci-fi worlds–which he did in LOST and (the underrated) Alias on television, and Cloverfield on the big-screen–he hasn’t yet proven himself to be a gifted film director. Mission Impossible III, his best, showed off the shiny nature of his cinematic vision: beautiful on blu-ray, but not much beyond the sound and furious explosions. And while that set of skills worked for the MI series, the same can’t be said for Star Trek.
The biggest problem with Abrams’ Star Trek was its title. By any other name the film would be fun and boisterous sci-fi action adventure. The film has all the elements of a blockbuster summer movie, and that’s a high value to serve as our summers are filled with more and more drek.
But unfortunately it is Star Trek. Abrams’ Star Trek is among the glossiest films of recent years. It is produced and photographed to beautiful, glorious perfection. But with the title comes certain responsibilities. And Star Trek, once again, showed Abrams’ had little behind his visual toolbox when it came to telling moving cinematic stories. The blandification of Star Trek is a problem. There’s a reason that Star Trek fans voted Star Trek: Into Darkness the worst Star Trek movie in franchise history.
It isn’t the worst Star Trek movie made (Insurrection, anyone?), but it’s barely Star Trek. Fans of Star Trek are right to be concerned for the series future. And if that’s true of Star Trek, might it not be true also for Star Wars? There’s no question that Star Wars is ripe for the rescuing–no one will miss the last trilogy once the new one launches–But the news that Abrams’ will be the rescuer, and thus beginning the Abrams’ era of two most famous titles in the genre’s history, should concern all science-fiction fans.
Abrams’ films make big bucks at the box-office. That’s undeniable. But his ability to create distinct visions for the two most important sci-fi franchises in the history of science-fiction is seriously in doubt. Now that we know he will be in command of both, let’s hope–and demand– the most from Abrams. With great power, J.J., comes great responsibility.