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The road to Hollywood is paved with ideas that work. Sure, there are side streets of exploitation movies and potholes of flavor-of-the-month flicks, but generally speaking, it's the consistently good ideas upon which careers are built. So who's coming up with the good ideas in science fiction film and TV and -- more importantly -- who's driving them to masses? Who will be the next Rod Serling or Gene Roddenberry?
Ask this question now and you would invariably hear the names of Ronald D. Moore, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat and George Lucas. Moore, the creative force behind the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica has received praise not just from previously doubtful scifi fans, but also the uninitiated critics beyond its borders. Whedon, the genius behind Firefly/Serenity and the more recent Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, has one of the largest fan followings anywhere (the super-dedicated browncoats). Moffat, meanwhile, is lead writer for Doctor Who, one of the longest running scifi properties ever, also adored by a massive fan base. Lucas' creds are even more undeniable; Star Wars launched the modern era of science fiction films.
But what about that other relative newcomer has joined these revered ranks of scifi leaders? The one who has leapfrogged most of these well-knowns on his way to the top: J.J. Abrams.
A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Away
J.J. Abrams' rise to scifi fame started from humble beginnings. (Let's ignore his non-scifi film and television work because, who cares?) His earliest scifi-ish project was 1992's Forever Young starring Mel Gibson as a 1939 test pilot cryogenically frozen to await his coma-bound true love. Abrams served as both writer and producer for that film, an early indication that he was a man of many talents. Over the years, he has in fact worked as writer, producer, director and has even dabbled as a composer.
Abrams is not only a man who wears many hats; he's also a man of many media: He has established credits in both film and television. In 1998 he wrote the Bruce Willis action-fest Armageddon as well as episodes of television's Alias, a show on which he also served as producer. And -- one for trivia fans -- in 2002 Abrams wrote a script treatment for the Superman franchise reboot called Superman: Flyby. The script outlined Superman's origins, but ultimately never saw the light of day.
The Past Through Tomorrow
Despite previous successes, or perhaps because of them, Abrams only recently grabbed the attention of scifi fans. On the movie front, Abrams generated huge buzz with his monster hit, Cloverfield. A keen sense of Internet culture, both in-film and through its marketing, led to a multimillion dollar box office take. On the television front, Abrams followed up the success of Alias with Lost, a show that became a small-screen hit. Lost won Abrams the respect of many scifi fans who otherwise only had Battlestar Galactica and Firefly DVD viewings to ingest.
But what of Moore, Whedon, Moffat and Lucas? Mostly falling stars, I'm afraid. After a spectacular and hopeful beginning, Battlestar Galactica has slowly fallen out of favor with fans as the show slowly spirals towards its belated end. Whedon, despite recently wowing fans with the wonderful web-based Dr. Horrible, is mostly standing on past glories, though next year's Dollhouse may change that. Moffat, the only player who truly maintains mass influence, has great scifi creds but they are confined to the small screen. As for Lucas, well, many diehard fans loathed the prequel films and recent box office numbers for The Clone Wars are, shall we say, less than stellar.
Meanwhile, Abrams is poised to continue his multimedia winning streak.
Going Where Few Men Have Gone Before
Hollywood's power ranking sees more turnover than the Enterprise's contingent of redshirts. So while past credentials may get you to the top, only future projects will keep you there.
Although Abrams' Superman reboot didn't take flight, his next reboot project, Star Trek, may be just what the ailing franchise needs. The latest film boldly takes a cast of mostly-unknowns and casts them in the role of the characters made famous in the original television series. Star Trek gives Abrams a handhold on one of the most universally loved scifi franchises and solidifies his ranking.
In the more immediate future, Abrams is once again setting his sights on television. Next week will see the premiere of Abrams' latest project, Fringe. In the series, an FBI agent, an institutionalized genius and his estranged son search for answers to a pattern of strange X-Files-like events that leads to a larger, unfolding, season-long puzzle. Clues lead to an Evil Corporation that has ties with so-called "fringe" science, a speculative examination of scientific principles methods not generally accepted by the mainstream science community. Think mind-reading, telekinesis and reanimation and you'll get the idea of the science fictional flavor they're going for. I've seen the pilot and it's quite good, not just for its science elements, but also for its fast-paced storytelling.
Given his past successes and current and future projects, it's safe to say that scifi fans have a new overlord... and his name is J.J. Abrams.