Cybersurfing: Abrams on Trek

The Onion’s AudioVisual Club has posted an interview with J. J. Abrams in which he discusses FRINGE, his other television shows, and his upcoming TREK feature film:

AVC: How do you put your varied interests to work in a franchise like Star Trek, which has fans deeply devoted to certain immutable core elements? How do you make it yours?

JA: Well, I was never the type of Star Trek fan that had expectations or limits about what the “right” version of a Star Trek movie should be. But at the same time, one of the reasons I got involved with Star Trekwas because it has such devoted fans, so I felt it was critical to honor them and honor the series. I learned as much as I could about the show, and looked for help from Bob Orci, one of the creators of Fringe, who was also one of the writers of Trek, and an avowed Trekker. He knows all the arcane details, so he was the one kind of keeping me honest on the set.

Ultimately, though, I wasn’t making this movie just for the dedicated fans. I was making the movie for fans of movies. The final product, I think, doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the show Star Trek. I mean, almost anyone, if you stopped them on the street and asked who Kirk and Spock are, they’d know. I think people will typically have some sense of those two guys. And then there are fans who know every episode and argue about what the Star Trekcanon is. This movie does acknowledge a world that has pre-existed off the screen for decades, but when you see it, it’s not going to be quite what you’d expect, and definitely not just a rehash of things you’ve seen before. It’s a very new take on the thing that it’s also beholden to. It’s a very interesting balance.

There is also an interesting passage at the end, when Abrams responds to a question about his penchant for hiding information from his audience in order to string them along for as long as possible. After admitting that this is “partially true,” Abrams goes on to draw comparisons with feature films that kept secrets:

Now in a movie, you get all the answers by the end, except in Pulp Fiction, where you don’t ever really get to know what’s in that case. But even in movies—a great example is North By Northwest, where you don’t really know what the microfilm is, but who cares? By the end of the movie, the answer that you get is not really the answer that you thought you wanted to know. The answer you get is: “Oh, they’re in love, and now they’re married, and these were the circumstances that led up to that. They almost died a number of times, but they survived and they found each other,” I feel like in telling stories, there are the things the audience thinks are important, and then there are the things that are actually important.

This may sound okay, but it strikes me as a bit of sophistry. The case in PULP FICTION and the microfilm in NORTH BY NORTHWEST are, as director Alfred Hitchcock would have pointed out, “MacGuffins” – that is, they are merely plot devices. Their nature is not crucial to the viewer’s enjoyment; therefore, not supressing the details only streamlines the story. This is fundamentally different from deliberately obfuscating details to keep viewers hoping for some kind of revelation that never comes. The former is a satisfying entertainment experience; the latter is an attempt get viewers hooked like junkies and coming back for more, whether or not their fix truly satisfies.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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