J.J. Abrams: Genius Or Hack?

Here's the most awesome moment from Mission Impossible III, where Tom Cruise improvises a homemade defibrillator to deactivate the bomb in his brain, while teaching his fiancee how to shoot a gun. Since J.J. Abrams wrote and directed this instant classic, he's become one of science fiction's major creators, directing the new Star Trek movie, producing Cloverfield , and creating Lost and his new show Fringe. But is he a brilliant auteur, or just a great huckster who knows how to keep people guessing? Click through to find out.

Once we've seen Abrams' Star Trek and his new X-Files revamp show Fringe, we'll have a much better idea of whether Abrams really is brilliant — or just a clever hack. But already, there's plenty of evidence for both sides of the argument. Here's our list of reasons to believe either point of view:


- Cloverfield. Once you got past the hype, it really was a great ride, and the nihilistic ending was sort of awesome in a Blake's 7-y way. For once, the fact that everything's a mystery didn't seem to matter, because the mystery was just in the background. In the foreground, you had this you-are-there spectacle of the city falling into ruins and Rob struggling to find Beth despite the pointlessness of it all.


- Lost. It's another thing we won't really be able to evaluate yet, because a lot depends on how well it ends, and how much sense it actually makes in the end. But last week's time-travel episode recharged our faith in the versatility of the concept. When the show works, it's intense and Hobbesian. The whole flash-forward tapestry storyline thing has the makings of a compulsive DVD rewatch.

- Mission Impossible III. Okay, so the make-your-own-defibrillator thing was sort of wack. And what the heck was the rabbit's foot that Tom Cruise has to find anyway? But considering this was a movie starring Tom Cruise, with "III" in the title, it was way better than we had any right to expect. It was sort of a goofy extended episode of Alias.

He hires geniuses. This is probably the best argument for J.J. Abrams being a genius — he recognizes genius in others and hires appropriately. Case in point: Drew Goddard, the Buffy scribe who now writes for Lost and also wrote Cloverfield. Another case in point: Brian K. Vaughn, another Lost writer who also created Y: The Last Man.


- All the viral marketing. During the long Lost hiatus, we were bombarded with "clues" on viral sites, where you could track down a phone number that led to another web site that led to a riddle. Did any of it add up to anything in the end? Meanwhile, Cloverfield was two movies: the stark masterpiece you saw in the theater, and the over-complicated version all the online fans were privy to, with all the clues about Tagruato and Slusho! and news reports in Spanish.

- Armageddon. Abrams co-wrote the script of this Michael Bay splode-fest. I watched it recently, and it's just as nonsensical and bizarre as I'd remembered... but much slower moving.

- Alias. It was a fun show at first, but after a while all the daddy issues (and then mommy issues) and the endlessly spiraling "everything you know is wrong" plots started to give us a headache.


- Forever Young. I pretty much covered this one yesterday. But the treacly plot, with the nonsensical motivations — why would being in suspended animation make his girlfriend's supposedly impending death easier to handle? — is pretty hard to take. The film pretty much slides into the ick zone the moment two cute kids revive Mel in the present day. And then there's the fact that he starts to age rapidly, as a side effect of cryogenic suspension. Wha huh?


- Just the fact that he's so prolific. Besides Lost, Fringe and Trek, he's got a show about cancer patients, a show about a notary, and Cloverfield 2 on his plate.


So is he a genius or a hack? Decide for yourself, and then vote in our poll.



Charlie Jane Anders

@picardia: I don't think there's any sneering here. Just analyzing Abrams' career, since he's such an important science fiction creator. Would you seriously want our blog to be just: "here's a thing that's awesome! Oh, and here's another awesome thing! And you know that awesome thing we mentioned? It's awesome!!"?