Who is this JJ Abrams fella, anyhow?

"Give me all your money, folks."
So Super 8 hits cinemas today, which is the latest offering from JJ Abrams. So, who the hell is this guy and what has he ever done for us? Well, quite a lot it seems, having produced, directed, composed and written for several popular TV and movie productions over the past 20 years. He also seems to be a very shrewd operator when it comes to publicity and making money - I'm guessing that's a quality that is rather valued in Hollywood. Here, we focus upon his recent movie output, as well as a digression about a little TV show he created, which you may have heard of.

Run Tom! Run like the wind!
If ever a film deserved the description 'breathless', then Abrams' directorial debut Mission: Impossible III (2006) is it. With scant regard for such distractions as a sensible story and plot exposition, it sticks five or six frantic set-pieces together, turns the volume up LOUD and lets rip, all of which is perfectly watchable. It also benefits from a menacing performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, although he is unfortunately sidelined as the film progresses, along with any attempt to make sense. The biggest disappointment is the theft of the central MacGuffin. Presumably unable to craft a break-in as tense and ingenious as the NOC file theft in the first Mission: Impossible, they get around it by not showing the theft at all, which is hardly in the spirit of Mission: Impossible now, is it? On the plus side though, we get Tom Cruise running. And whatever you think about his beliefs and behaviour, I'll say this for him. Of all the movie stars in Hollywood, nobody runs better than Tom Cruise.

When Abrams announced plans to overhaul the Star Trek franchise, he risked incurring the wrath of Khan countless Trekkies the world over. So it was pleasantly surprising to find he turned out a film that appealed to fans and everyday audiences alike. Star Trek (2009) might play out like Top Gun Trek, but it's a fun and very enjoyable re-vamp, which manages to both respect and update the Star Trek universe. The fast pace and some hand-waving papers over some plot-holes and coincidences that are, well, illogical Captain, whilst Eric Bana's villain is a bit weak, but the smart casting of a hip, good-looking crew smartens up the old bridge of the starship Enterprise. Plus creating the alternate universe timeline was a smart move, thereby unshackling future movies from the previous incarnations, so they can boldly go in other directions. Expect sequels.

Cloverfield(Matt Reeves, 2008) wasn't actually directed by Abrams, but he was the driving force behind it. It's one of those 'lost-footage' films, following a group of friends frantically trying to survive an attack on New York by a very angry Big Stompy Monster from the sea. (So frantically, they insist of carrying their camcorder with them every step of the way). More interesting than the film, though, is the very smart viral marketing campaign which demonstrated Abrams' flair for promotion and publicity. The teaser trailer above, in which nothing much happens until the sudden destruction of the Statue of Liberty, first screened without even a title, catching audiences unawares and sending them away wondering what the hell was this film? With the film production shrouded in secrecy and only the release date to go on, the Internet nerds swung into action. In addition to an official, albeit unconventional, website (http://www.1-18-08.com/), they also found several interactive websites (www.slusho.jp/, http://tagruato.jp/, http://jamieandteddy.com/) and MySpace entries which tied in with the movie's characters and events, thereby establishing an alternate reality 'game' for Comic Book Guys to puzzle through. People lapped it up, to the extent that when the film was finally released, it couldn't possibly live up to expectations. Of course, Abrams knew that people would lap up the conspiracy cover-ups, the websites, the clues etc, because he'd been honing this geek-driven approach since 2004, when he had co-created a little TV show called Lost.

Lost (2004-10). Never was a show more aptly named, as you will go a long way to find someone who can actually tell you what on Earth it was all about. The story of a plane crash on a mysterious island enthralled/frustrated/confused (delete as appropriate) viewers for 6 seasons as Abrams and his writers introduced just about every mad thing you could think of as they created the mysteries and mythology of the Lost universe. So we get science-fiction, the supernatural, time-travel, smoke monsters, magic numbers, a fat beardy bloke and some polar bears,to name just a few of the ingredients. To extend the action beyond the confines of the island, they threw in flash-backs, flash-forwards and even flash-sideways, as the interactions between characters were gradually revealed in ways that ranged from intriguing to utter bollocks.

Hands up if you know what's going on in Lost. Thought not.
Now, if you were a cynical sort, you might suggest that this sounded a bit like make-it-up-as-you-go writing, but this was hotly denied by Abrams, who always claimed that everything would be answered and that he knew all along what the ending would be. Maybe so, but as the brain-addled fans started to lose patience, the equally brain-addled writers finally gave up trying to tie everything together neatly and opted for an series ending which cunningly by-passed the brain and went straight for the heartstrings instead. For the die-hard fans still left watching, half of them cried at the emotional journey they'd had over the previous 6 years, whilst the other half went ballistic at the lack of clear resolution and the wasted journey they'd had over the previous 6 years. Incidentally, a little investigative journalism by The Fast Picture Show tracked down a shadowy Deep Throat-like source close to Abrams who was prepared to reveal some interesting evidence about the thought process behind the production of the show which you can exclusively read here.

Obviously not one to fix what isn't broken, Abrams' marketing for Super 8 has also gone down the secretive, tease route. Will he deliver a satisfying resolution to the intrigue this time, or will he once again point over your shoulder and shout 'What the hell is that!', then run away when you turn around? Probably doesn't matter, since with Steven Spielberg on board as producer, the inevitable success of Super 8 this summer will just cement Abrams' position as one of the hottest and most influential players in Hollywood, which has shown time and time again to be a place where the geeks really can inherit the Earth.

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