The eclectic genius of J.J. Abrams: From book art to ′Star Wars′ | Film | DW | 14.12.2015
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The eclectic genius of J.J. Abrams: From book art to 'Star Wars'

J.J. Abrams, director of the new "Star Wars" episode, is one of Hollywood's major players. For those who prefer books to Hollywood blockbusters, he's also conceived a magnificent avant-garde album.

J.J. Abrams is hardly known in Germany. "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible" fans might be familiar with his name, as he directed some titles in those series. However, for these blockbuster productions, fans are usually into special effects and the latest trends of modern computer animation, and not necessarily very interested to find out the name of the director: They seem to be almost interchangeable.

A director emerges from the dark

Even fans of the "Star Wars" saga, who have been reading about "The Force Awakens" in anticipation of the new film, are more likely to be familiar with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo than the director's name, J.J. Abrams.

J.J. Abrams, born in New York in 1966 and raised in Los Angeles, has played an important role in Hollywood around 20 years already.

He started out as a screenwriter in the early 1990s. In 1991, he wrote the screenplay for "Regarding Henry" for Harrison Ford. In 1998, the disaster space movie he scripted, "Armageddon," became a box office hit. Abrams' screenplays for TV series such as "Felicity," "Alias," and most particularly "Lost" were huge successes.

"Lost" tells the story of a group of people who, following a plane crash, have landed on a deserted island where they experience all sorts of mysterious events.

From scriptwriter to director

J.J. Abrams also produced several TV series and films and staged his first major motion picture in 2006. Tom Cruise, a fan of Abrams' TV shows, was looking for a director for his "Mission: Impossible" series, so he asked him to come on board. It turned out to be a good decision for both of them: "Mission: Impossible III" obtained several million dollars at the box office.

Star Wars The Force Awakens, Copyright: Disney/Lucasfilm

Special effects

Abrams was praised by critics for breathing new creative life into blockbuster productions. On this basis, he was chosen to direct the latest episodes of "Star Trek" - as well as the new "Star Wars."

J.J. Abrams and the story of a miraculous book

Two years ago, Abrams published "Ship of Theseus," described as "the most beautiful book I have ever seen," by a critic of the "New York Times." It was recently released in German. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, it was celebrated as the prototypical saviour of printed works in an age of digital books.

Book by J.J. Abrams, Copyright: dpa - Bildfunk

Recently released in German: "Das Schiff des Theseus" ("Ship of Theseus") by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

"Ship of Theseus" is indeed a marvel of modern book printing. Actually, it's rather three books in one. J.J. Abrams has written the weighty novel together with US writer Doug Dorst, both of them hiding behind the pseudonym V.M. Straka.

Experimental print work

The classic adventure story is told in the tradition of writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne. It's the story of a man who has lost his memory and gets drawn into mysterious as dangerous adventures. That's the first level of the book.

On a second level, Abrams and Dorst have also designed the novel as a pseudo-scholarly edition: The text is accompanied by the comments of an equally fictional editor.

On a third level, the book is filled with numerous handwritten and partly colored comments by Abrams and Dorst. Here, two students, a woman and a man, discuss about the plot of the novel, while commenting on various details and wandering off here and there. All that turns the book into a seemingly never-ending mingle-mangle of text modules, references, comments and annotations.

To top it all, the complex work has then been equipped with postcards, memos and other papers by the editor. Even a scribbled-on napkin is to be found in each single edition.

Book by J.J. Abrams, Copyright: dpa - Bildfunk

There's even a napkin a scribbled napkin included in the book

In addition, the book covers and single pages have been created in such a way that they seem to be old, stained and yellowed, and on the back of the book cover, the insignia of a library makes you believe that you borrowed it out. The result of all these unusual efforts is a total work of art: a book that plays with the medium and that draws its readers into a whole universe of literature and book art.

The fact that this strange and fascinating book experiment was the work of a successful Hollywood director, whose new "Star Wars" movie brims with computer-animated special effects and digital tricks, is remarkable indeed. And it's likely to induce the public to keep a close eye on what is yet to come of the interesting career of J.J. Abrams.

"Ship of Theseus," by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, published by Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

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