Imagine that a fantasy property has just been optioned in Hollywood. This property is very famous and beloved the world over. Soon it will be a film. From the moment it’s announced there is a ground swell of excitement. Things start to come together. Locations are scouted. A script is written. Fan posters have started to show up online. Then it happens. The one step in the filmmaking process that’s a sign it’s “really” happening. The cast is chosen. Whether or not the cast selected is universally loved or abhorred is not important. What’s important is that the imaginations of the fans have been ignited. Who will these ordinary people be embodying? Will they measure up to how we’ve imagined them in your mind or will they look completely different? How will they look in their costumes? Who knows? That’s the fun in speculation.
Speculation, however, can cover a multitude of sins. Lets say this imagined film, complete with a dynamite cast, crackerjack script, spectacular set design, and dynamic score was being directed by a no talent hack. It’s no secret that the best ingredients can produce a nasty mess if not properly mixed together. Look at those Night At The Museum movies (or just read the plot synopsis online…..don’t actually look at those films). You take a multi-million dollar budget, a slew of A list actors, a score by a Hollywood vetern (Alan Silvestri) and other top notch assets, mix them all together and what do you get? Unwatchable garbage. Why? Because the guy doing the mixing is none other than Shawn Levy. Shawn Levy is a director of motion pictures. Shawn Levy is an awful director of motion pictures. If you give Shawn Levy the best tools for filmmaking, allot him a few months, and then return to see the finished product you will be disappointed. Why? Because, (say it with me now) Shawn Levy is an awful director of motion pictures. Even when given the best assets he has turned out nothing but duds time and again.
Now lets jump from the imaginary to the real. Star Wars 7 (or VII) is happening. The script (at least a first draft) has been written, the sets are being assembled, John Williams is writing the score, and, as of about 24 hours ago, the final cast has been revealved and the assorted players assembled
Now, before I start let me just say that yes, I am excited. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t. A new Star Wars film is actually happening. One of the most successful motion picture franchises of the past 30 years, instrumental in shaping the imagination for millions of people living in this modern age is getting another installment. Yes, I will eagerly await and watch the first trailer over and over. Yes, I will visit the fan boards to see the exicted chatter. Yes, I will probably buy my ticket early to ensure I will see it the first week and yes, I will likely skip work and play hooky wooky to see the film. Still, I wonder about myself on that day. As I stand in line with millions of others waiting to see the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and Co., what, perchance, will I be feeling: excitement, apprehension, doubt, joy, stress, peace? Maybe all of these or maybe none, but one feeling I can count on to be present will be regret. Regret about the fact that I just paid 15.00 dollars to see an IMAX 3D presentation of the new film by none other than J.J. Abrams.
You know who J.J. Abrams is don’t you? Take a closer look at the picture above. See the guy awkwardly gesturing near Harrison Ford, kind of doing an annoying Spielberg impersonation? Yeah that’s him. Want a closer look?
Now that you’ve been properly introduced let me regale you with the only information you need to know about J.J. Abrams; he is not a good director. Rather than bore you with all the facts of his artistically unfulfilling career, we’ll just stick to analyzing his career as a film director (mercifully overlooking his writing and producer credits for TV). Suffice to say, of the few big screen credits he has there is not a good film among them.
- Mission Impossible: 3 (A.K.A. Alias the Movie) was nothing more than a multi-million dollar TV movie with all the lazy staging and cliché dialogue we’ve come to expect from most prime-time TV nowadays.
- Star Trek (2009) was revisionist storytelling of the worst kind, wherein Abrams took solid characters residing within an interesting canon and reduced them to a slick, narrative-bankrupt reboot devoid of any good cinematic ideas except for whip pans, bad Dutch angles, and lens flare
- Super 8 plays like a montage of scenes deleted from superior 80’s children’s entertainment (E.T., Explorers, Goonies, etc). All the scenes that didn’t move the story forward, dialogue the kids spoke that felt forced and fake, and bad special effects shots which couldn’t pass the mustard in those films were included in Super 8 strung together with a convoluted alien plot featuring the Cloverfield monster.
- Star Trek: Into Darkness provides the greatest example of J.J. Abrams’ lack of talent. It’s essentially a convoluted remake of Wrath of Khan, performed by your local high school drama team, but lacking the sincerity or potential found in such productions. Oh wait, it did have lens flare though. Redemption!
Yes, we have a cast, we have a writer (the great Lawrence Kasdan), and we have the wonderful John Williams back writing music. All that’s well and good but at the helm of the ship is still one of the most inept directors working in Hollywood today. I find it hard to get excited when a new film on the horizon is being made by an untalented filmmaker. Maybe if Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg, Genndy Tartakovsky, or John Woo (my dark horse pick) were directing the film I could muster some genuine excitement that extended past the realm of morbid curiosity. As it is, that’s about the only kind of excitement I can muster for this project.
Come December 18, 2015, I don’t want a good Star Wars movie ; I want a good movie period. Abrams can cram the screen with weird and familiar characters; give them lines to say; call action and make them perform, but he can’t give the film any real life or kinetic energy. He doesn’t seem to have the same preternatural cinematic instincts of his “mentor” Spielberg. His style has never risen above the level of a slightly above average TV director. Come December 18, 2015 all the familiar faces, as well as some new, will be in a brand new Star Wars story. It’s sad that the aesthetic value of the film won’t be any higher than an episode of Castle.