Considering the hatred that grew for it this year, it’s very possible you care for J.J. Abrams’ mystery box signature trait much less than we do. What’s the mystery box exactly? “What are stories, but mystery boxes? . . . What’s a bigger mystery box than a movie theater?,” Abrams said in a 2008 Ted talk on the subject. “You go to the theater, you’re just so excited to see anything — the moment the lights go down is often the best part.” He continued, “It represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential.” But to many this essentially means: do not open up your Christmas present until Christmas.
In other words, J.J. Abrams likes to keep his secrets, but he also likes to tease audiences about these secrets with online viral sites, games and whatnot (see the Slusho campaign of “Cloverfield” and the various narrative clues he’s thrown into works like “Super 8,” “Lost,” etc.). But this year, Abrams might have gone too far. Earlier this year, in the lead up to the release of “Star Trek Into Darkness” we suggested the mystery box trick was getting old. Part of this was due to the immense secrecy Abrams held around the villain of the highly anticipated sequel. If you’ve been living under a rock, the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) was none other than Khan, the antagonist of the classic Star Trek film, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” But fans resented the lengths Abrams took to preserve this secret which included lying to the press and coming up with two alternative names for the character in different campaigns. The narrative of this snowball is a pretty fascinating one to watch from afar.
Released in May, the backlash against the film seemed to slowly take on a life of itself. At first it seemed to be a minor annoyance, but then sites like BadAssDigest went on long and numerous tirades (some might say campaigns) about Abrams and the tide seemed to turn against the filmmaker to the point that the not horrible by any stretch ‘Into Darkness’) was reviled to the point that it was named the worst “Star Trek” film of all time at a Star Trek convention in the summer (‘Into Darkness’ arrived in May, but it took until September for the belated hate to fully arrive, compelling Entertainment Weekly to write an article titled, “Why is everyone so upset about ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’?”).
So how does Abrams himself feel about it months later? Well, considering the backlash, regret obviously. “The truth is I think it probably would have been smarter just to say upfront ‘This is who it is.’ It was only trying to preserve the fun of it, and it might have given more time to acclimate and accept that’s what the thing was,” he told MTV in a recent interview. “The truth is because it was so important to the studio that we not angle this thing for existing fans. If we said it was Khan, it would feel like you’ve really got to know what ‘Star Trek’ is about to see this movie. That would have been limiting. I can understand their argument to try to keep that quiet, but I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it.”
Hmm, is Abrams throwing Paramount under the bus here? Because that’s not going to do him any favors with the ardent and passionate fans. In related news, Abrams recently uncorked a little bit of info on his next directing gig, a little movie called, “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
Was there, as suggested, behind the scenes friction because the studio was forcing a release date that didn’t work with Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan’s creative time-table? Abrams doesn’t say no, suggesting there were some issues, but answers the question diplomatically.
“I will say that it is an infinitely better situation now than when they were saying they wanted it in summer ,” Abrams said in the same MTV interview, suggesting the “situation” wasn’t exactly kosher when the release date felt too rushed. “Before I even came onto the project they were talking about 2015 and they made this announcement very early on—which I understand, and I understand why they would want that, but it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the reality of where anyone was creatively, so I think it’s a hugely important thing that [the creative aspect] come first. A release date’s great, but you have to release something great. To me, the new release date is a huge improvement.”
It’s nice to hear Abrams say creative first, date second, but he obviously understands this is a business and compromises are part of the game when it comes to major tentpoles that have so much riding on them. “Star Wars: Episode VII” is scheduled to hit theaters December 18, 2015, Abrams and producers are still trying to figure out who will direct “Star Trek 3,” though the frontrunner to take over appears to be “Attack The Block” filmmaker Joe Cornish. Watch Abrams aforementioned Ted talk below.