By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 25, 2013 at 3:09PM
For all his success, Abrams is not a blindingly original creator of material. His strength comes in giving new twists -- sometimes fairly out there ones -- to established genres. "Alias" was a spy thriller with sci-fi tinges. "Lost" was "Gilligan's Island" by way of "Twin Peaks," with conspiracy, mystery and an ancient battle of good vs. evil thrown in. "Fringe" was "The X-Files," but with the weirdness turned up to eleven (and a more satisfying macro-plot and emotional backbone than Mulder & Scully ever had). "Star Trek" took the classic series and added a time-travel twist. Indeed, Abrams' greatest failures ("Undercovers," "Six Degrees," "Morning Glory") have tended to come when he leans towards the conventional. And let's not forget that, while we've been inured to it over 35 years, "Star Wars" must have seemed pretty weird to begin with. Space knights fighting with laser swords and telepathic powers? A weird frog-goblin thing that speaks in messed-up syntax? A camp robot butler? The temptation would be to play it safe, but the film will be far more interesting if Abrams lets his freak flag fly to a certain degree, and throw a few surprises into the mix. Speaking of...
Abrams has always played things close to his chest, valuing his famous "mystery box", which has allowed projects to brew quietly, leading to surprise annoucement teasers for "Cloverfield" and "Super 8" (and the same secrecy is being with "Star Trek Into Darkness" with details kept firmy under wraps). Abrams even gave some insight into why this is recently, saying :"I will sit in a meeting before a movie with 80-some people, heads of departments, and literally say that all I ask is that we preserve the experience for the viewer. Every choice we make, every costume fitting, every pad of makeup, every set that’s built — all that stuff becomes less magical if it’s discussed and revealed and pictures are posted online. I just want to make sure that when somebody sees something in a movie they didn’t watch a 60-minute behind-the-scene [video] that came out two months before. We just say up front that all the work we’re doing is about making this a special experience for the viewer; let’s preserve that as long as we can."
It's a refreshing approach, albeit frustrating for the I-want-it-now internet generation, and we'd love for Abrams to keep it up with his "Star Wars." Let's face it, it's going to have queues around the block whatever happens, so why not tread softly with the images, clips and spoilers. It'll only lead to more feverish speculation, but it should also mean that, unlike with the prequels, we won't know everything about the films going in. Hopefully, if this approach is taken, it'll also get rid of the midichlorians-aided demystification that came with the prequels. Of course that will mean he'll have to...
Thanks to "Star Trek" (with the cast of rising stars and familiar names, carrying the movie even when the script failed it; they're about 60% of the reason that the film works), Abrams has form on this front, and the studio are likely to let him go with whoever he wants -- they're not going to want to put Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp in it anyway, they're spending enough money as it is. But just as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were essentially unknowns back in the day, the key new roles should be taken by people with few existing associations, and that goes for actors that the director has worked with before. He can get away with casting Abrams-verse veterans like Keri Russell or Josh Holloway in small roles in a "Mission: Impossible" movie, but their presence here, for the most part, would only prove distracting. Want to give Greg Grunberg a cameo as the voice of a stormtrooper? We suppose that's just about ok. But much as we love him, seeing Simon Pegg as a wisecracking pilot is going to break the spell, when we should be getting absorbed back into the universe. There may be some exceptions to this here and there -- we can see "Fringe" actor John Noble working in a role, perhaps, partly because he's a chameleon, and partly because no one watched "Fringe," so he doesn't have the same cultural association as, say, Bradley Cooper or Hurley from "Lost." But for the most part, Abrams should seek out some new talent when the time to cast up arrives.
One of the best things about the hiring of Abrams is that he's already a golden boy, one of a handful of filmmakers around who can do pretty much anything he wants. The risk was always that the studio would hire a workman, who could be pushed around to make the blandest and most profitable film possible. Abrams has an enormous amount of cache in and of himself, and that'll hopefully buy him a lot of creative leeway. He's already flexed his muscles on this front, with "Star Trek Into Darkness," forcing Paramount to push the film back a year so he could get the script right. It was a disaster for the studio in the short-term. They were left without a summer blockbuster, and went months without releasing a film (thanks to pushing back both "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "World War Z" as well), but fingers crossed, it benefited the film, and in turn will likely help Paramount out in the long-run. Now that he's at Disney, we hope he keeps it up. Whehter it's Arndt's script, casting, story, marketing, whatever -- they wanted Abrams, and so now, he should get to do it his way. As for George Lucas, who's indicated he wants to take a back seat on the film, but may yet change his mind, Abrams should of course listen respectfully to the franchise's creator, but not be afraid to ignore him if Lucas' storytelling instincts haven't improved since the last three films in the series.
That said, there's one thing that Abrams probably won't fight the studio on, and that's making the film in 3D. Given the studio's love of the format (they've had giant billion-dollar hits in three dimensions with "Alice in Wonderland," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "The Avengers" and "Toy Story 3"), and the general economic benefits (plus the in-process conversions of the previous films), Disney are going to want the film to be released in 3D. And Abrams is likely to acquiesce, given that he's already done so on "Star Trek Into Darkness," and has been won round, saying recently: "The studio said, 'You have to make it in 3D if you're going to make it, for economic reasons. But my feeling was I didn't like 3D. I approached it very cynically. And the fact is that we've been using techniques that haven't been used before in 3D. They've figured out things. They've made enough movies now with this new process that they can understand ways to eliminate some of these problems. Things like breaking shots into zones, 3D zones, using multiple virtual cameras. A lot of this has made me a believer, whereas before I was really against it…"
But what he could do, at least, is throw us a bone and add a format that we're genuinely excited about. After "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," which Abrams produced, shot multiple sequences in IMAX to spectacular effect, Abrams has done the same with "Star Trek Into Darkness," so it's surely not too much to hope for that we get some of his "Star Wars" in giant mega-screen vision too? Christopher Nolan and 'Ghost Protocol' have shown both the format's potential for both spectacle and increased box office revenue, and we'd be lying if the idea of IMAX-ed "Star Wars" didn't make us a little giddy. Make it happen, guys.
P.S. The original "Star Wars" was only a touch over two hours, so let's try to keep it closer to that than the 150-minute mark.
Anything else you think the new film needs? Let us know in the comments section.