Friday, 25 January 2013

Jar Jar Abrams

"JJ Abrams to direct Star Wars film!"

I read that headline last night and, though my reaction wasn't nearly as intense as last time, I did groan slightly. Which is weird, and not at all the reaction I would have expected. So I've spent the last sixteen-or-so hours trying to figure out why.

I actually really like Abrams. I'm not massively familiar with his TV work (though I did watch Lost all the way through to its facepalm of an ending) but his three films so far are all great. Mission: Impossible III and Super 8 are very very good, and Star Trek is just fantastic.
It's pretty obvious Star Trek is the reason he's got this gig. As a lot of people have pointed out, in many ways Star Trek is a better Star Wars movie than at least two of the actual Star Wars movies. It has action; it has daring-do; it has a sense of humour, but not an immature one (ahem). Importantly, it has the narrow focus on a core team of characters that separates Lucas' original trilogy from the prequels. It has melodrama and heightened emotion, but it never devolves from space opera to soap opera.
All this suggests that JJ should be perfect, so why do I still have doubts?

I think the problem is the opposite of the one I have with Snyder. Where Snyder is tonally deaf, Abrams can find the right tone perfectly. Even if he hadn't made the perfect audition-tape in Star Trek, his other films demonstrate this just as well. Super 8 brilliantly captures the tone of ET and The Goonies, and M:I:III (note the heartless abuse of colons) strikes a perfect balance between De Palma's serious, gloomy first film and John Woo's glossy, pulpy (utterly terrible) second.
The problem is that all three of those have one thing in common: they all look like JJ Abrams films. They all have the same style. High contrast; oversaturated; often tinted green or blue; shot hand-held; lots of camera movement; frenetic editing; dutch-angles; and JJ's own unique brand of shakycam. Also lensflares. Lots of them.
Abrams knows and controls his tone in a way that Snyder cannot - but where Snyder excels in capturing the look of his source, Abrams' films always look like Abrams.

Star Wars on the other hand, despite the latter entries being mostly bluescreen affairs, has always been shot traditionally. The camera is fairly static, the editing not too fast, and the colours and lighting always pretty naturalistic. It's weird, but I think I'm worried that it won't look like Star Wars any more.
There's a million arguments against this. A new director should be allowed to leave their mark on a series, as with Harry Potter or Bond. Star Wars probably should be dragged up-to-date, with its silly old-fashioned wipes and irises. JJ has only made three films and never tried to emulate a style before, so suggesting he can't do it is entirely unfair.

Nevertheless, I am still irrationally worried by this news. But, all things considered, I'd much rather a Star Wars film that doesn't look like Star Wars than some other kind of film that does. The substance always outweighs the style.
With that in mind, the franchise is in good hands.

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