J.J. Abrams’ Sci-Fi Pet Peeve

The filmmaker tells TIME what turns him off a future-set story

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J.J. Abrams attends the "Star Trek: Into Darkness" Galaxy Carpet event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Miraikan, on Aug. 14, 2013, in Tokyo

The man behind the latest Star Trek films is going back to the future. J.J. Abrams, 47, is exec-producing Almost Human, a police procedural set in 2048 (premiering Nov. 17 on Fox).

In this week’s issue of TIME, he spoke about the show — and the subject of his sci-fi pet peeve came up. Find out what it is below:

TIME: Is Almost Human’s vision of the future, with all that crime, where you see society heading?

Abrams: I see it as a valuable story element in a cop show.

Right, you do need crime for that.

The doughnut scenes can only go on so long. But I do think that the future is hardly only one thing. While the crime rate has gone up, so has the potential of medicine. Like with any technological evolution, the advances exist both in what is positive and helpful and good and what is dark and evil and scary. So I don’t think it is any more bleak than it is hopeful.

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the future?

I don’t often kick my feet up and ponder what it’ll be like 50 years from now, but I find myself — whether it’s been working on movies like Star Trek or a series like Almost Human — I do find myself asking what do I believe about what could happen. Frankly, one of my biggest pet peeves is the use of certain phrases that I just can’t for the life of me believe will exist five decades from now.


Even little things. If you read a story about a hard drive, it’s like, There won’t be a hard drive! I’m not saying there won’t be a version of a memory cartridge or some obvious equivalent. If you’re telling a story about the future, we’re going to be bipeds, we’re going to be wearing clothes, we’ll live in structures, we’ll consume comestibles, we’ll inhale oxygen. They’re all things we know we’ll maintain. The truth is that almost every relationship — whether it’s between people or people and their work — there will always be these analogous situations you can get. The thing that drives me crazy is when it’s a literal connection to what exists now. When you think on a day-to-day basis how many little things we might say or refer to that if 30 years ago someone had said to you, “You know, I’ll text you in 10 minutes,” you’d be like, “What’d you say?” It would almost be like alien talk. You have to think in terms of practical dialogue. Producing a TV show or movie, there are just going to be certain phrases and terms that will be completely alien to us now, if we heard them from the future.

So, the opposite of finding anachronisms in Downton Abbey.

Right. And by the way, there are references to things in Downton that you or I might not understand, but you go, “Oh, I kind of get what that is.” And that, to me, is the beauty of a story set in the future. You get to reference things without having to explain them, and it lets people do some of that process themselves.

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