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J.j. Abrams (#110 of 15)

Review: Cloud Chamber

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Review: Cloud Chamber
Review: Cloud Chamber

Cloud Chamber is the perfect game for Neil DeGrasse Tyson groupies, those into the comic books of Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore, and anybody willing to watch Primer more than once. It’s a non-competitive social experience, ideal for those who prefer roleplaying to combat and speculative analysis to puzzle solving. Much like J. J. Abrams’s recent experimental novel, S., Cloud Chamber uses a familiar framework—in this case, a manipulatable database and a gamified version of Reddit’s upvote/downvote crowdsourcing—in order to tell the story of a missing (and potentially mad) physicist, her sour documentarian, and her brilliant audio engineer/lover. The uncertainty of the narrative reflects the quantum mechanics posited in the premise, just as the nonlinear assortment of data nodes—be they video clips, diary entries, cached emails, blog posts, etc.—challenge players to research, engage, and ultimately challenge the material, rather than to simply accept and plow through it.

Box Office Rap Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

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Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma
Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

On May 22, 1996, Mission: Impossible opened in 3,012 North American movie theaters. That weekend, it made $45.4 million and marked the highest opening weekend ever for a Tom Cruise starrer, a record that would stand until Mission: Impossible II opened in May 2000. Cruise has since used that franchise as a staple for his box-office résumé, allowing him collaborations with the likes of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird, with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol marking the highest-grossing film of Cruise’s career with a whopping $694 million in global receipts.

But back to 1996. Then, that $45.4 million also marked the highest opening-weekend gross for director Brian De Palma; in fact, with the exclusion of The Untouchables, no prior De Palma film had made as much in its entire run as Mission: Impossible managed in just its first three days. The film was considered a critical success as well, receiving “two thumbs up” from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, though they, like several other critics, reserved most of their praise for Cruise’s performance and were skeptical of the film’s [sic] convoluted going’s on. Even in commercial success, De Palma’s fervid formal artistry has few boosters—an unfortunate trait that has inexplicably followed the great filmmaker’s entire career.

Critical Distance: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

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Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>
Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>

As commercial cinema goes, animation and live action are seen as divergent modes of filmmaking sharing the mutual goal of aesthetic cohesiveness; they only achieve it by different means. While Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin achieve a melding of live-action and animation techniques, other examples suggest that the sensibilities of animation and live action are more disparate and incompatible. If the static shots and deadened rhythms of the big-budget fantasy films John Carter and the first two Chronicles of Narnia entries are any indication, the qualities of animation may not so easily translate to live action. These films were directed by animation veterans—Andrew Stanton and Andrew Adamson, respectively—whose authorial voices evaporated under the conditions of live-action filmmaking.

All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service

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All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service
All About Kirk: Space Opera as Fan Service

There’s a quick, but relatively lingering shot of outer space in the first few minutes of J.J. Abrams Star Trek that illustrates why his “revamp” of Gene Rodenberry’s essential science fiction franchise works so well. In it, several seemingly microscopic ships are fleeing from a monolithic Romulan mining ship in front of an enormous sun. It comes hot on the heels of a glitzy, fatal encounter which establishes the ostentatious mood that elevates the origins of James T. Kirk to the heights of grand space opera. The awe that this image inspires succinctly relates how Abrams’ film achieves its goal of restoring the enormity of the universe these characters inhabit.

One Beep for Yes: Star Trek

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One Beep for Yes: <em>Star Trek</em>
One Beep for Yes: <em>Star Trek</em>

I’ll cut to the chase and say that as a fan of Star Trek for thirty-five years, I enjoyed the new J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Sure, my first edition Star Fleet Technical Manual is now useless. But, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.

The long promised (or dreaded) “origins” movie goes back to the Star Fleet Academy days of the Enterprise crew. And by Enterprise, I mean good old “NCC-1701” (no bloody A, B, C or D). Old-school fans like myself were up in arms when rumors about the proposed prequel started circulating a few years ago. The main complaint was that such a storyline would require a major reworking of Star Trek canon (and if you’ve ever had your canon majorly reworked, you know how painful that can be). In the original series episode “Shore Leave,” dialog between Kirk and Spock makes it fairly clear that they didn’t know each other at the academy. I could go on (and on and on) with other examples, but I won’t (and I’m sure no one really wants me to).