EDITORIALS

Is Playing a Guessing Game on New J.J. Abrams' Projects Getting Old?

by
October 3, 2011
Source: Deadline

J.J. Abrams

It was only a matter of time till we heard word on J.J. Abrams' next mystery-shrouded project and now that wait is over. Well, at least the wait for hearing about the project at all… now we get to play the waiting game for the actual film, a game that we've all become accustomed to by now from the director of Super 8, producer behind Cloverfield, and co-creator of Lost. Fan sites, forums, virals, and theories upon theories upon theories are soon to come. But for now, let's look at what we know. Paramount acquired a pitch from writer Billy Ray (Flightplan, State of Play) & J.J. Abrams being touted as a "mystery adventure." Read on!

Oh wait, there isn't more… that's it as far as the facts at this point (other than the idea came from both Ray and Abrams and it will be a joint venture with Bad Robot according to Deadline, where this news is from). We also know that this won't be the next Abrams' film, as he's already locked in for Star Trek 2, with pre-production now underway and a shoot set for this winter. He's also producing Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (out this December) along with Person of Interest and Alcatraz on the TV front.

So this news today begs the question, does this whole schtick from the "mystery box"-obsessed boy genius still have an effect on you or do you feel that what is often found to be in the box doesn't live up to the box itself? Rather, is the hype more exciting than the actual film?

Personally, I'm not so sure just yet, but I can see it waning if the films themselves don't measure up to the marketing surrounding the release. I was a fan of Super 8 and a big one at that but I'll also be the first to admit that it had its glaring problems and inconsistencies. And above all, it didn't necessarily deliver when it came to what it was sold to be. And as I look back at both Cloverfield and the series finale of Lost, I remember my former self sharing the similar feelings of my current self. Abrams' has a true gift in the Internet age for keeping his films under the sheet until he's ready to yank it off to unveil what's underneath and, for the most part talents aside, it is what has built him up as this generation's Spielberg… or at least the closest thing we have to one.

But that same gifting may be his ultimate curse, as it's natural human tendency for us to fill in the blanks in our own minds on what to expect. Expectations that are typically far greater than what can be met by a film when it's marketed to us in this way. We love a magic trick but when we see how that magic trick is done, it's not so magical anymore. So if what we get from Abrams is a big pretty box with a giant question mark on it, with another box found to be inside another box and another box and another, I can imagine a lot of people not wanting to go to that party anymore. Consider it a cousin to the classic "the book is always better than the movie" syndrome. Side: You have similar filmmakers like Nolan who use similar yet not the same tactics, however with Nolan, his films tend to exceed expectations with audiences and so the device resets. Yet, that's another editorial all together.

So, again the question remains, every time J.J. Abrams decides that he's going to make a movie and not let anyone know what it's about until the reels are rolling, it makes me wonder if we'll collectively be just as excited one after another… or will this gimmick eventually wear off? Sure, there will always be a group of devout Abrams adherents… but will they always be the masses?

It seems to still be working at this point, with most major sites jumping on the aforementioned "news", which is essentially nothing more than, "Hey, these two guys are working together on something that will come out in the future and will have a Paramount logo play in front of it." I'm sure we can expect news story after news story to follow, whenever there is some sort of advancement in the production, no matter how significant or insignificant. And looking at the numbers, Super 8 did well for the most part, as it's Certified Fresh with 81% on the Tomatometer with a close 78% from the audience. As for how it did at the box office, that's hard to accurately say, as many have claimed that the film's price tag of $50 million is more than generously below the final bill (for the record it has made $127M domestically and $258M worldwide so far) but we can assume it did well enough to keep people coming back for more with this next one. For now.

So, the answer to this question remains a mystery itself… but it's the question that matters and deserves to be asked. For now, all we're left with is "Untitled J.J. Abrams/Billy Ray Adventure Project" and another big box on our figurative doorsteps. I hope for Abrams sake and ours that, when it's opened, we like what's inside more than just the pretty wrapping paper. Let the discussion begin! What do you think?

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  • I don't like great movies to be spoiled for me. Keeping everything under wraps til I see is fine with me. I think trailers today tend to give too much away.  I don't think hype is a huge factor since JJ doesn't build our hopes up with saying to the press, "it's going to be amazing - don't miss this".  Maybe I'm a purist that doesn't like his movies spoiled, but I bet any person that's excited to see The Avengers" doesn't need to see 8 different movie trailers to confirm that they're going to see it. 
    • Sure, no one likes their movies spoiled. But it's the element of not knowing what it is about as a selling point, which is then built upon thru viral marketing, etc, that's the question. Is this something you dig and play along with or does that get old for you? Curious. 
      • Yes I dig it. I think it gives viewers that 'reward' of taking the time to interact and use a bit of intuition to get a glimpse of insight on what the movie's going to present, but yes, it's rooted in it's marketing campaign.  I think if people are willing to play these interactive, viral exchanges, I wouldn't think they're expecting amazing results. The point is to leave you wanting more.  As for JJ, he's already made his name, so any viral 'hush-hush' marketing released for his next movie; I know it would leave me feeling excited and curious for the film, so, I'm not bothered by it.  Though I am a huge LOST fan, so I'm used it 😉
        • Anonymous
          Totally agree! I think I will always love Bad Robot for this, because Abrams mystery box-like concepts essentually make us think and give us a child like sense of hope!  ...whether I read a spoiler or not, I am always excited and surprised about the way things get written and shown across the screen. I love it because you can always compare the works to each other and go back and rewatch any series or film and think about it yet again in another way. At any rate I think it's fun and intrirging to market this way. I give them stones for actually doing it!
  • I don't like *any* movies to be spoiled...
  • John
    James, isn't this what usually happens in the business?  There is an announcement about an upcoming project in development, but it doesn't yet have a title or release date.  They never give us plot or story details this early on in the process. I'm not sure that Abrams (or Nolan for that matter) are intentionally trying to build hype around their projects.  I think they just want to preserve as much of the experience as possible for the theater.   I thought both Super 8 and Inception were marketed perfectly - they told/showed us enough to make us interested, but without giving away the entire movie.
    • John
      But I should respond to the specific question: I do enjoy knowing as little as possible about a movie when I walk into the theater.  I like the viral marketing strategies that have been used on films like Cloverfield and The Dark Knight - they are unique and I think they were clearly successful at building anticipation.
    • Of course. Every project evolves this way.  The bit that I was focusing on was the "mystery" part and how, with every original Abrams film, we start this game over and over leading up to the release. I was more interested in if this has a negative effect on people overtime with film after film or if people are still as excited to play the game every time a new film is announced?  You raise an interesting question about building hype. I agree with you when you say they are trying to preserve the experience...and that's something I celebrate them for. But I also think directors certainly want hype built around their film because hype = audience. So, while they may not be directly doing so (in fact both Abrams and Nolan seem to be rather reserved), things like viral marketing and this whole expanded universe idea are exactly what builds that hype...gets people talking. Buzzing (the two directors in question happen to be two of the most buzzed about in modern filmmaking). Everyone is wondering "What's in the box? What's in the box!" You go to the movie just to find out what it's about.  And that's the question I'm asking...does this ever get old to you or is it what keeps you coming back? Furthermore, can you see it getting old?
      • Anonymous
        joining this discussion a bit late, but... this hasn't got old to me yet, James. i'm not a fan of the endless stream of featurettes, out-takes, and all the other dvd extras that now come out *before* the film. i do enjoy the mystery and anticipation that Abrams gets, for me it's positive rather than negative. the standard, non-Abrams way is like the watching a rollercoaster on-ride video before you go on the real thing, instead of going on with no details of how the ride is going to play out. i suppose it could get old. but this way of selling a film is not revolutionary, it just used to be done with less panache and no internet. it's only relatively recently that studio's think we all apparently need to see the whole film before we'll consider paying for a ticket. enjoyable piece, James, thanks!
  • WMDimes
    It's just a cool way to create buzz and market a movie. Chill out.
    • Oh, I'm very chill. If you notice, I'm not so much critiquing these methods as much as I am raising questions about their effectiveness over time. 
  • Yeah the mystery of the project creates zero hype for me. I don't dislike any of J.J. Abrams movies, but it just feels like the more hype a project gets the less I am in a hurry to see it. Hype very often has nothing to do with the quality of the final product.
  • Not knowing doesn't make his films any less turdolas. Just kiddin. Star Trek was good. For Star Trek. That alien one was good in the trailer. Super 8 was like ET and the Goonies had sex, but the baby never lived. Don't get me started on Lost.
    • Anonymous
      I agree... and is it just me or does the Super 8 alien look a lot like that 'immigrant' alien from the 1st scene in Men In Black.
  • Josh
    its refreshing going to the theater not knowing what to expect rather than know the entire plot beforehand. why find something else to complain about? 
  • ELeuvennink
    I think I get what you're saying. I liked Super 8, but due to the mysterious way it was marketed, I subconsciously created my own storyline and direction for the film based on the teasers/trailers/news etc. It's a dumb thing to do, but I can't help trying to put together a story for the imagery they present, which is of course seen out of context. But it's something I think all people do subconsciously anyway. It left me feeling a bit underwhelmed as the marketing sort of left me to my own intentions. Don't get me wrong, a little bit of mystery is good, but I think it needs proper context.
  • rocKKicker
    being part of the cloverfield viral, or any good viral at that (dark knight, cloverfield, tron, terminator salvation, killer bees, the crazies) is exciting to me. it makes you feel like a part of the movie without actually spoiling any of it. the interaction is what sets it apart from just a trailer and news updates.

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