SciFi Weekend: Return of Tribbles, the Shadow, and Red Dwarf; and Sleeping With The Boss’s Daughter

J.J. Abrams was interviewed by The Los Angeles Times. Some excerpts:

GB: You know that no matter what you do, you’ll get an earful from hardcore fans.

JJA: The key is to appreciate that there are purists and fans of “Star Trek” who are going to be very vocal if they see things that aren’t what what they want. But I can’t make this movie for readers of Nacelles Monthly who are only concerned with what the ship’s engines look like. They’re going to find something they hate no matter what I do. And yet, the movie at its core is not only inspired by what has come before, it’s deeply true to what’s come before. The bottom line is we have different actors playing these parts and from that point on it’s literally not what they’ve seen before. It will be evident when people see this movie that it is true to what Roddenberry created and what those amazing actors did in the 1960s. At the same time, I think, it’s going to blow people’s minds because its  a completely different experience than what they expect.

GB: Last time I saw you, you mentioned there would be a tribble in the movie. That’s fun.

JAA: Yes! There is a tribble in there. But you have to look for it. And there’s that other surprise I told you about but please don’t write about that one.

GB: How much did you go back to the various “Trek” shows, films, novels, etc., to research the mythology? I imagine at some point sifting through all of it would become a counterproductive exercise.

JJA: I looked at a lot of the episodes of all the series that came after the original “Star Trek” but because we are focusing on the original series I didn’t really need to know every episode of “Deep Space Nine” or “Voyager” or even “Enterprise.” But, yeah, I watched episodes, I read up a lot, I watched the movies, I talked to people, whether it was our “Trek” consultant or one of the two writers [Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci] about what it would mean to do what we wanted to do. We have one producer, Bob [Orci], who is a complete Trekker and another in Bryan Burk who had never seen an episode of the show ever. And it was a great balance. We could make sure it passed the test of the ultimate fan and the ultimate neophyte and make sure that it was equally entertaining to both parties.

GB: It’s awkward to talk about sequels for a film that has not even been released but there is such a Hollywood emphasis on tent pole properties that it’s impossible to ignore. So, given that, where do you see yourself going if the movie this May is the success you hope for?

JJA: I’d rather not be presumptuous that this will go on — I mean we’re still finishing up this movie. I have to say I sort of feel like I’m in the middle of lunch and someone asks, “What do you want for dinner?” I have no idea. But I gotta say that the idea of seeing this cast and these characters live on and go on further adventures — it’d be a shame not to do. Obviously the story would need to be great. But the beauty of what Roddenberry created is there is such an abundance of opportunities with these characters and [deciding] which elements of the original series we want to revisit. There’s this great opportunity there for further stories and I would definitely be involved in that. Whether I’m directing or producing, whether Bob or Alex are writing, obviously all that remains to be seen. Paramount is hungry to get going on that, but we’re still finishing up the first one.

GB: “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” is sort of a classic Beatles vs. Stones debate for sci-fi fans of a certain age. You have said you wanted to infuse your “Trek” revival with some lessons learned from the George Lucas universe. Can you talk about that?

JJA: Well, I’m just a fan of “Star Wars.” As a kid, “Star Wars” was much more my thing than “Star Trek” was. If you look at the last three “Star Wars” films and what technology allowed them to do, they covered so much terrain in terms of design, locations, characters, aliens, ships — so much of the spectacle has been done and it seems like every aspect has been covered, whether it’s geography or design of culture or weather system or character or ship type. Everything has been tapped in those movies. The challenge of doing “Star Trek” — despite the fact that it existed before “Star Wars” — is that we are clearly in the shadow of what George Lucas has done.

GB: How do you overcome that?

JJA: The key to me is to not ever try to outdo them because it’s a no-win situation. Those movies are so extraordinarily rendered that it felt to me that the key to “Star Trek” was to go from the inside-out: Be as true to the characters as possible, be as real and as emotional and as exciting as possible and not be distracted by the specter of all that the “Star Wars” film accomplished. For instance, we needed to establish that there are aliens in this universe and yet I didn’t want it to feel like every scene had four new multi-colored characters in it. That is something “Star Wars” did so well with its amazing creature design. The question is how do you subtly introduce the idea that there are different species here. And to also do it differently than the [“Trek”] TV shows, which basically had someone wearing a mask sitting in a chair [in the background]. It was the balance of doing what the story needed us to do but also not feeling like we were trying to rip off or out-do what Lucas did.

GB: It is a challenge. There’s an early scene in your film where you have a crowded bar, music is playing and your callow young hero walks in, rubs shoulders with aliens, and then ends up in a brawl. You have to know that a chunk of your audience will be thinking about the “Star Wars” cantina scene…

JJA: That cantina scene is obviously one of the classic scenes in “Star Wars” and it was such a wonderful introduction to how amazing, how diverse and how full of possibility this “Star Wars” universe was going to be. In the subsequent films, especially the last three, so many scenes have that feeling, that they are just expanding and expanding the worlds. That was definitely something where I felt the burden of “My God, they’ve done it all.” And the challenge is how do you do it where it feels real and meaningful and not like you’re borrowing from someone else. That’s just one of our challenges.

Another remake of The Shadow is in the works which promises to be different from the 1994 attempt  staring Alec Baldwin.  MTV interviewed producer Michael Uslan:

“I think the one thing going in is we all see The Shadow as more of a force of nature than a specific person in a secret identity,” Uslan told MTV in an exclusive interview. “The Shadow may actually be many people.”

“We’ve gone back to the pulp roots, the comic book roots of The Shadow, with a dash of the radio roots,” added Uslan. “But we’ve deeply ensconced ourselves in the world of pulps and comics.”

Sounds cool to us, but that begged the question of when we’ll see this “Shadow” revamp hit the multiplex.

“Sam [Raimi] and Josh Donen are my partners and we have it set up Sony, and a wonderful writer named Siavash Farahani who has worked for me before is writing the screenplay,” Uslan said. “It’s coming along great, we’re very excited about it. You know, it takes time to nurture these things. You probably know all the stories. The first ‘Batman’ film took me 10 years to get made.”

The BBC reports that Red Dwarf will be returning for a two-part special airing Easter weekend entitled Red Dwarf: Back to Earth. I hope that their return to Earth turns out better than on Battlestar Galactica.

While Red Dwarf and Galactica are interested in returning to Earth, one couple might be leaving. There are plans to send the ashes of Gene  and Majel Roddenberry into deep space.

Life on Mars returned after a two month hiatus. The fall season ended with a cliff hanger in which Sam received a phone call to go down into the basement of the house he was in. Would this provide some clues as to why he is back in the 1970’s? Who knows. They returned by airing an episode out of order, saying nothing about this cliff hanger.

The episode was one of the lightest yet, but did add another potential complication to Sam’s life. Sam, without realizing it at the time, slept with his boss’s daughter. We also got a mini-Sopranos reunion with Johnny Sack joining series regular Michael Imperioli.

The idea might have been to return with a stand a lone episode so that new viewers would not have to know about the mythology of the show. Considering that Life on Mars was placed after Lost this made little sense. Lost fans would be far more intrigued by the question of how a cop from the present wound up in the 1970’s than in a standard police story.

As for Lost, in the present Desmond (now living happily with Penny and a child) starts a hunt for Daniel Faraday’s mother. This led to a connection to Charles Widmore, and Desmond is off to Los Angeles where he will presumably run into the others who left the island. Meanwhile back on the island, we had many pasts as the characters jumped around in time. We saw Richard Alpert appearing exactly the same regardless of year and a young Charles Whidmore who was living on the island as one of the Others. Knowing that Whidmore had been on the island when young gives some hints as to his interest in the island, but raises many questions. My suspicion is that Ben was responsible for Whidmore leaving he island and not being able to return.

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