Geek Wars: JJ Abrams vs. Joss Whedon

jjvsjossThere Can Be Only One

Are you a Joss guy, or a JJ guy?  Do you worship at the Altar of Abrams?  Or are you a Worshipper of Whedon?  As all nerds are well aware, this pair of storytellers effectively has a monopoly on, oh, about 80% of our collective geek-outs.  And though we have no evidence of any sort of blood feud between these two talents, isn’t it fun to imagine the two of them battling it out, movie by movie, TV show by TV show, to see once and for all who is the king of all pop culture?  But since it’s unlikely that these two genuinely nice guys will ever compare themselves to each other, I guess it’s up to us fans to find out which one of them comes out on top.  So let’s settle this once and for all.  Face off, style!

jjvsjoss2

Pedigree

Abrams’ parents were both TV and film producers, with numerous credits to each of their names.  His father produced numerous television programs in the 1970’s and continues to work in Hollywood today.  His mother won a Peabody award for her TV movie, The Ernest Green Story.  Whedon can trace his TV roots all the way back to the 1950’s, as his grandfather wrote for The Donna Reed Show, and his father wrote for The Electric Company and The Golden Girls.  Three generations in Hollywood?  That’s good enough for me.

Edge:  Whedon

 

jjvsjoss2TV Success

I have to try and be impartial here, since Firefly cracks my top 5 TV series of all time.  But Firefly aside, Joss can add the iconic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and the underrated Dollhouse.  He also gets credit for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but judging by early fan reaction, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.  Abrams gets full credit for Felicity and Alias, but I can only give him partial credit for Lost, since he passed the reins off to Damon Lindeloff and Carleton Cuse after Season 1. More recently, Abrams has Exec Produced Fringe, Revolution, Person of Interest, and Almost Human.  Abrams would win this category on sheer volume, but I have to dock points for the few duds Abrams has on his TV resume (Alcatraz and Undercovers, anyone?).  And in the end, quality outweighs quantity.

Edge:  Whedon   

 

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Box Office Success

J.J. would have won this one in a walk a few years ago.  But then The Avengers happened, and Joss could now claim a director credit on the third highest grossing movie of all time, with a surefire blockbuster sequel on the way in 2015.  Joss also gets points for writing/producing the underrated “horror” movie, The Cabin in the Woods, and directing the Firefly swan song, Serenity.  Not to mention his foray into independent films with Much Ado About Nothing and the fact that he co-wrote the original Toy Story.  But The Avengers notwithstanding, Abrams still dominates this category.  As the current caretaker of two of science fiction’s most beloved franchises (Star Trek and Star Wars for those who didn’t know, and if you didn’t know, then what are you doing on this site?), Abrams holds pretty much all of nerd-dom in his sway.  Throw in his work on Mission Impossible III, the underrated found footage movie Cloverfield, and the excellent throwback sci-fi film Super 8, and it’s hard not to give this one to Abrams decisively.  The fact that he is also attached to two video-game adaptations (Portal and Half Life) is just icing on the cake.

Edge: Abrams

 

jjvsjoss2Launching Pad 

It is fair to say that Whedon pretty much launched Nathan Fillion’s career.  Though Fillion had built up a solid resume playing smaller roles in soap operas and comedies, it wasn’t until his breakout performance as Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly that he became the star he is today.  It is also not a stretch to say that Clark Gregg owes more than a little of his recent career surge to Whedon.  His turn as Agent Coulson in the various Marvel films led to a larger role in The Avengers, which of course, led to one of the hits of the new fall TV season.  And though Sarah Michelle Gellar was probably on her way to becoming a star, her time as Buffy certainly helped.  J.J. helped bring Keri Russell and her iconic hair into the limelight with Felicity, resurrected the career of Matthew Fox with Lost, and paved the way for Jennifer Garner’s movie career with Alias.  He also harnessed Michael Emerson’s creepy vibe and turned him into Benjamin Linus, one of the most iconic villains of television as the leader of “The Others” in Lost.  But in my opinion, Abrams greatest success was turning the world onto the musical brilliance of Michael Giacchino.  Giacchino was the composer for a number of video games in the mid 90’s.  Abrams heard his work in these games, and asked him to write the soundtrack for Alias as well as Lost.  This led to additional work in feature films.  Which ultimately led to this.  Yes, Giacchino is most famous for producing the Academy Award winning score in Pixar’s Up.  And so, I’m giving the nod to the person that had even a little to do with the creation of one of the greatest montages ever shown in a movie.

Edge:  Abrams

The Office (US)The Office Directorial Skills

Indeed, both Abrams and Whedon directed episodes of the US version of The Office.  Back to back episodes no less, to make for even easier comparison.  Whedon’s effort, entitled “Business School” has Michael Scott giving a talk in Ryan’s business school class, while Dwight attempts to capture a bat that is on the loose in the office.  The Office usually gets by on the strength of its writing, but Whedon does a fantastic job of getting some truly genuine moments from the stellar cast.  Most notably, the final scenes between Pam and Michael at Pam’s art show.  J.J. directed the next episode, “Cocktails” which centers on a cocktail party where Jan and Michael plan to take their secret relationship public.  There is nothing overtly “J.J. Abrams” about how this episode was directed (not a lens flare to be seen).  But much like the previous episode, Abrams jumps right in with these actors and pull out some great performances from them.  I have a slight preference for “Cocktails” as an episode overall, so I’m giving this round to J.J.

Edge:  Abrams

 

jjvsjoss2Extra-Curriculars

So what are these super-writer/producer/director/multi-hyphenates doing when they aren’t, well, writing/producing/directing?  Adding more things to hyphenate of course.  Whedon co-wrote comic books that extended the Firefly and Buffy universes, as well as a 24-issue run of The Astonishing X-Men.  He is also the writer/director of the cult favorite web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  JJ Abrams recently collaborated on a mystery-meta novel entitled S that has gotten some great buzz.  But given the variety of non TV/movie projects that occupy Whedon’s time, this one has to go to Joss.

Edge:  Whedon

 

jjvsjoss2Future Box Office Success

Joss has got the upcoming Avengers sequel, which will surely clear one billion dollars in global box office receipts.  But let’s not kid ourselves here.  Between the Mission Impossible and Star Trek franchises, and the first Star Wars movie in 10 years (and the first good one in 32 years), J.J. is going to claim the box office crown for the next decade.

Edge:  Abrams

 

jjvsjoss2Kick-Ass Female Characters

Both Whedon and Abrams have made a habit of creating some of the most compelling and badass female characters on the small and big screen.  Whedon has Buffy, a high schooler who, you know, slays vampires.  And then there’s the no-nonsense XO of the Serenity, Zoe Washburne and the child prodigy/assassin River Tam.  And then there’s Echo, the “doll” from the short-lived series Dollhouse.  Some may construe her character as a proverbial prostitute given that she is basically paid to serve a client’s needs.  But I prefer to see it as a showcase of a strong woman slowly breaking free from their indentured servitude to become their own person.  J.J. has superspy Sydney Bristow in her corner, but let’s not forget that Felicity decided to give up a scholarship to Stanford to chase after a boy.

Edge:  Whedon

***

So what is the final decision after this long and extensive face-off between two of our preeminent guardians and creators of our cultural zeitgeist?  It’s a 4-4 tie.  So I guess we haven’t really settled anything after all.  But regardless of who ends up victorious in this epic battle between two creative geniuses, we in the audience are the real winners.

 

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Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister