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J.J. Abrams vs. Joss Whedon

Duel for Media Master of the Universe

Wendy Sterba

J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon are two of the most imaginative and accomplished men in Hollywood. As writers, directors, producers, and series creators, their credits have straddled the mediums of television and film and range across several genres, from science fiction and horror to action and drama. In addition to spearheading original projects like Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each has also made his mark on some of the most successful franchises in popular culture—from Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and Star Wars (Abrams) to Alien and the Avengers (Whedon). Their output—both oddly similar and yet also wildly different—stand at the heart of twenty-first century film and television.

In J.J. Abrams vs. Joss Whedon, Wendy Sterba compares the parallel careers in film and television of these creative masterminds—pitting one against the other in a light-hearted competition. With in-depth discussions of their works, the author seeks to determine who is the Spielberg (or perhaps the Lucas) of the twenty-first century. The author looks back upon the beginnings of both men’s careers—to Whedon’s stint as a writer on Roseanne to Abrams’ early scripts for films like Regarding Henry—and forward to their most recent blockbusters, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This books also looks at non-fantasy successes (Abrams series Felicity; Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing), as well as commercial failures. At the heart of this study, however, is a tour of their genre-defining hits: Alias and Buffy, Lost and Angel, Super 8 and Serenity along with Whedon’s Avengers films, and Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek adventures.

Filled with sharp-eyed analysis, illuminating anecdotes, and unexpected connections, J.J. Abrams vs.Joss Whedon will appeal to fans of either (or both!) of its subjects, and to any fan of well-told tales of the fantastic, on screens large or small.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 304Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-6990-3 • Hardback • December 2016 • $36.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-6991-0 • eBook • December 2016 • $35.99 • (£24.95)
Wendy Sterba is professor of film at College of St. Benedict/St John's University in Minnesota. She is the author of Reel Photos: Balancing Art and Truth in Contemporary Film (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).
Sterba, a film professor at College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, compares the careers of J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon to muted effect. The goal of the comparison is supposedly to determine who will be the next Spielberg, but Sterba admits almost immediately that this competition is simply meant to be a fun way to experience both men’s oeuvres. As a collection of anecdotes about the directors’ early careers, the book works, offering insights into Whedon and Abrams’s early experiences on, respectively, the sitcom Roseanne and the film Regarding Henry.... Sterba says her work is ... for fans ... [and they] will clearly feel the most strongly about it.
Publishers Weekly

Film professor Sterba pits two of the biggest entertainment auteurs working today against each other in this critical examination of their work. While Sterba acknowledges at the outset that the 'competition' for 'Most Royal Geek Leader' is really just a conceit to compare their work, she grades them in each chapter on merits such as creativity, profitability, and popularity. Sterba sets her book up chronologically, so she compares their early careers in script doctoring before moving on to the feminist shows that put them on the map, Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Whedon, Felicity and Alias for Abrams. The depth and sophistication of Buffy puts Whedon ahead, but things even out a little more as they move into later TV projects, including Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse for Whedon and Lost and Fringe for Abrams, and their respective blockbuster movie franchise contributions, notably Whedon’s The Avengers for Marvel and Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sterba even provides a chapter that contemplates which is Spielberg’s heir apparent. A smart, fun analysis for film fans.

By comparing business acumen, creativity, popularity, and other metrics, Sterba (Reel Photos: Balancing Art and Truth in Contemporary Film) pits TV and film directors J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon against each other. 'Media Master' isn't the only title at stake; Sterba is determining which of them will be the next Steven Spielberg. The author admits it's conceit, but it's useful for analyzing the parallel rise of these two creators. Comparing TV shows (Abrams's Alias and Whedon's Dollhouse), who handles female characters better? What does Abrams's hands-off approach to Lost mean when contrasted to Whedon's deep involvement with the Buffyverse? Who handles billion-dollar franchises better, Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars) or Whedon (The Avengers)? The author provides a helpful and approachable discussion of scripts and describes camerawork, composition, and lighting with fannish enthusiasm. This title is most successful as an overview of both men's careers to date.... Sterba supports her analysis with solid research. Plus, there are nitpicky details, which movie geeks love. VERDICT Recommended for readers looking for a brainy take on pop culture.
Library Journal