There's a fine line between being mysterious and being annoying. And lately, it feels like J. J. Abrams is in danger of slipping across it.
By now you've probably seen the YouTube trailer for the latest project from Bad Robot, Abrams' production company. The 67-second clip, simply called Stranger, shows a man stumbling out of the surf as a throaty narrator ponders imponderables. "Who is he? Soon he will know. Because what begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin." Whoa. Deep stuff, hey?
Already near the 2 million views mark, the clip has sparked a tempest of speculation. Why? Because this is J.J. Abrams, the man behind everything from Lost to Mission Impossible to the Star Trek reboot to the impending Star Wars: Episode VII. When he teases, we squeal.
Is it something related to a rebirth of Lost? Could it possibly be connected to Star Wars? Is it a new TV show, movie, or some amazing transmedia project? Who is the stranger? Why is he in the water? What's the deal with the creepy dude with his lips sewn shut at the end of the clip?
Here's the thing: I'm finding it hard to care.
Don't get me wrong, I really like Abrams. Not everything he swings at is a home run - Super 8 and TV's Alcatraz are a couple recent examples - but he's done amazing stuff. And sure, this little teaser is mildly intriguing, as are most stories about (apparent) amnesiacs.
But Abrams' love of mystery is starting to work against him.
With 2008's Cloverfield, Abrams and director Matt Reeves released a trailer made up of camcorder scenes of a party being interrupted by destruction, the distant roaring of some kind of creature and the head of the Statue of Liberty skidding down a Manhattan street.
With nothing more than a release date - no cast, not even a title - people lost their minds. It was an ingenious way of building buzz for the movie, the name of which wasn't revealed until months later. And even then, images of the monster itself were never shown before the movie's release. If you wanted to know what this force was attacking New York City, you had to see the movie.
But not everything warrants or deserves this treatment.
Keeping Lost's mysteries a secret was one thing, but when Abrams tried to recreate the Cloverfield effect with Super 8, people shrugged. And his dogged insistence on not revealing that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness bordered on lunacy.
Wouldn't longtime Star Trek fans have been even more interested in the film if they'd known that? And if they weren't Trek fans, was the "secret" not completely meaningless?
In his famous 2007 TED Talk, Abrams spoke at length about his love of mystery: "I find myself drawn to infinite possibility and that sense of potential, and I find that mystery is the catalyst for imagination."
Fair enough. But just as telling the same joke over and over makes it less funny each time, trying to constantly keep audiences in the dark might just end up with them walking out before the lights come up.
And the Stranger clip? Internet sleuths have pointed out the typeface used in the video matches that of a promotional postcard for S, a novel developed by Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, due out in late October. So, this is most likely a trailer for a book.
It better be a very good book. Or else we're going to be annoyed.