Sunday, January 26, 2014

#672. Seven epic visions from J.J. Abrams

I've been a fan of J.J. Abrams for a long time.  Not as long as some people (the 1998-2002 TV series Felicity was his first project to be heavily touted, but it gained most of its buzz from star Keri Russell's signature hair...and lost most of it when she lost it, although its concept-heavy final season was the first of J.J.'s big creative gambles; the largest impact on his career was the show's focus on emotional character development, which became a signature for every other project that followed; I've never seen a single episode of the series, alas, although frequent acting collaborator Greg Grunberg debuted in it, and that much is probably worth seeing), but long enough.  Here are seven projects that have kept me as inspired a fan as he is an imaginative visionary:

  • Alias (2001-2006) The saga of CIA agent Sydney Bristow, her father Jack, and the diabolical Arvin Sloane helped launch the popular careers of not only Abrams and star Jennifer Garner, but Bradley Cooper as well.  Full of twists and turns and all the Rambaldi creations you could ever hope to handle, this was a show that was always evolving but remaining true to its origins at every turn, including the surprise revelation of the first season major villain, who turned out to be Syd's own mother, Irina Derevko.  
  • Lost (2004-2010) The only show that could possibly have eclipsed Alias was its immediate successor, which became a full-blown phenomenon that needs no real introduction.  Fans loved to eat up its intricate mythology almost as much as they loved to dissect and lament its many developments.  Abrams discovered a rich wealth of collaborators for this one, allowing him to move on to other projects in his increasingly high-profile career.  
  • Fringe (2008-2013) The only way to succeed Lost was to return to the intimate scale of Alias, which worked exceedingly well in Fringe, which unlike Alias pulled the focus closer and closer to its original premise with each succeeding season even while expanding it to increasingly astonishing degrees.  Another project where Abrams discovered perfect collaborators, I'm still convinced that appreciation for this one has only just begun.
  • Person of Interest (2011-present) The genius of this show is that it's not even considered a J.J. Abrams show, even though it's exactly a J.J. Abrams show.  The brain-child of Jonathan Nolan (kid brother of Christopher Nolan) and as such featuring hallmarks of the Dark Knight script, this one is both successfully episodic in ways a broad audience can appreciate week to week, but also featuring a wider arc and classic Abrams character types in Reese and Finch, as well as several Abrams alum (Michael Emerson, Sarah Shahi, who had a minor role in the first season of Alias, and Amy Acker, a major supporting role in its last).  
  • Super 8 (2011) His first attempt at an entirely separate movie legacy (Abrams directs a lot of famous franchise films, you may know, including Mission: Impossible III), which a lot of people took as a pastiche on early Steven Spielberg but is a thoroughly enjoyable experience in its own right.
  • Star Trek (2009, 2013) Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness achieved the impossible, which was to not only make this particular franchise relevant again, but more popular than ever at the box office, which was probably the whole reason he got the assignment to direct the upcoming seventh Star Wars film.
  • S. (2013) This is a book, written in collaboration with Doug Dorst, which like most of what Abrams does is a love letter to the medium it's presented in as well as an entirely original and inspired piece in itself.  As far as I'm concerned, it solidifies him as one of the great creative minds of our time.  With it he emerges in an entirely new light, as arguably the successor of Orson Welles, what the great director of Citizen Kane might have become had he actually been embraced by Hollywood.  It bodes well for whatever Abrams does not just in the next few years, but decades.  I look back in this retrospective and see not the great things Abrams has done, but what he will do.


Pat Dilloway said...

Meh. Overrated.

Nigel G. Mitchell said...

I'm a big fan of JJ Abrams as well. I thought "Lost" lost its way, but "Alias" was brilliant, everything "Agents of SHIELD" should have been. His reinvention of Star Trek is one of the truly great artistic feats of all time; taking an already established and beloved franchise, completely transforming it, and making the franchise more popular than ever.

The Armchair Squid said...

I agree with Nigel. Lost lost its way.

Right after the final episode, I posted a comparison between Lost and tennis. If you're interested:

Tony Laplume said...

Nigel and Squid, I gotta say, I thought Lost only got better. Perhaps I still have a lot of it to talk about here...

Remembering Grace said...

Here's the problem:
Alias rocked.
Fringe rocked.
Person of Interest rocks.
Star Trek rocks.

Lost took up ALL my time for YEARS at work and at home while I tried to unravel mystery after mystery that JJ ABRAMS introduced and then he ended the show.

With 1,874 mysteries still left hanging around waiting to be solved.

So, yes, LOST lost its way. :(

Tony Laplume said...

I keep forgetting that not everyone loved how Lost ended. That, in fact, almost no one liked how it ended. But all this reminding had me plot a whole post about how it all makes sense. And so I will try to convince you people once and for all that it did...


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