Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In Defense of John Carter


Or How I Learned to stop believing critics and naysayers and loved the movie (even with the shape shifting silliness).

Well at this point it's clear who John Carter is now. According to the box office experts, critics and the Internet he's a bomb. A flop. A critical disaster. An example of directorial ego run rampant and a studio with clueless marketing skills. He's not the Warlord of Mars in their eyes-he's a failed hero who got his butt kicked by a Danny DeVito-voiced Dr. Seuss character. How tough can he really be?

Of course with all of this going on the knives are out, looking for someone to blame, with many throwing director Andrew Stanton under the proverbial bus. The most damaging is a New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/12/business/media/ishtar-lands-on-mars.html?_r=4&;amp;adxnnl=1&hpw=&pagewanted=2&adxnnlx=1331558306-auHYn+T6KW+Fxyutg0fIRg that reports that Stanton wielded his Pixar power to not only get the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' books but he used it to cast who ever he wanted, reshot the movie twice and reworked it until it fit his goal-all the while ignoring advice from those with live action movie experience-and even was responsible for the middling marketing campaign, insisting on the use of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" in the second trailer despite worries that it would make the film seem out of date to viewers (another piece on the site Vulture http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/john-carter-doomed-by-first-trailer.html also has a similiar story concering the first trailer-in this case Stanton had failed to film the needed "WOW" moments needed for the marketing team, insisted on Peter Gabriel's dour cover of Arcade Fire's "My Body is a Cage" and even drove marketing chief MT Carney to tears). Speculation about the careers of those invovled has also become a new national past time, especially star Taylor Kitsch's with sites like Vulture and Entertainment Weekly asking if this could damage his leading man status (the early word-possibly no since he wasn't the main selling point in the marketing, nor is he getting the blame for it's performance).

What is lost in this rush to pan or crucify is some interesting little nuggets. Like the fact that the film had a bump in attendance on Saturday in the US, indicating positive word of mouth. That the film has a B+ approval rating from the group Cinema Score, also showing audiences enjoyed the film and were telling friends. That the film grossed an additional 70 million overseas-and was the number one film in both Great Britian and Russia (where it had the fourth biggest opening day in the country's history). All of that is lost-not unlike tears in rain-on the naysayers and prophets of doom who for months have been calling this a potential bomb. And why is that? Is it some sort of prejudice against Disney? Is it the standard practice of building up our idols-in this case Stanton-and knocking them down with equal glee? Was it the budget? Who knows. I doubt even they could really tell you.

Now I've admitted my problems with the film and its treatement as a Burroughs fan but I also felt that as a movie it was not the worst film ever made. It was an entertaining film, made by someone who was enjoying the experience-not some cynical Michael Bay whose main goal seems to be to aim at the lowest common dominator and insult the audience's intelligence. Granted some of the critics' complaints I did understand-and the film was not perfect. But comparing it to such bombs like Heaven's Gate, Ishtar or Battlefield Earth-films that were just dreadful-is pretty unfair. Those films failed because they were awful movies. John Carter isn't. Now I'm not defending Andrew Stanton-and if those articles are true they don't paint a flattering portrait but you know what? I don't know the man and I wasn't there so I can't say if it's true or not. I'll give him a benefit of the doubt and wait and hear his side of the story first before saying he was out of control or not.

Also let's consider for a moment. As some have pointed out at this point a film's box office performance is no longer just confined to the US alone. International ticket sales have become big business-and John Carter has yet to open in China and Japan, two huge markets-so it could still recoup its investment and turn a profit. But how much seems to be the issue. At this point unless there is a major upswing at the box office I will concede it will be hard for John Carter to make the needed amount to convince Disney to go forward with Stanton's sequel plans. And let's not beat around the bush here-Disney isn't known for making sequels to films that don't make a certain amount of money. Despite a respectable box office worldwide-and the desires of star Jake Gyllenhaal-there is no Prince of Persia sequel in the offing. The studio dumped their interest in the Chronicles of Narnia series after Prince Caspian failed-a failure that Disney head Robert Iger accepted responsibility for due to it's bad release date. And while they've reportedly hired writers, they've been dragging their feet on greenlighting a third TRON movie-with only a recent 2014 release date being announced. So I will admit that any hopes of Stanton tackling The Gods of Mars probably did evaporate this past weekend.

That said I still feel this movie has gotten an unfair bum rap. It's not the complete disaster it's being made out to be. The naysayers are just ignoring what they need to tell their story-not the entire complete truth. So if you haven't go see it and decide for yourself. Also and to end this with a positive note for ERB fans-a recent post on Entertainment Weekly's site talked about Stanton's decision to add the needless back story of a dead wife and child to the story http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/03/12/john-carter-origin-story/. The writer of this piece-and some others I have read-said they preferred Burroughs' idea of not giving the character of John Carter a history. In fact with all of the negative press, I've seen quite a few pieces giving Burroughs credit for his imagination and how good his work is. So how's that-while the film is getting beat up, Edgar Rice Burroughs is getting praised. At least something good did come out of this then.

1 comment:

Duncansguide said...

It does seem very strange how the Disney execs especially, have sabotaged the film. It appears that a lot of people in high places 'wanted' it to fail, which seems pointless and absurd. The only thing I can thing of, is insurance reasons. Perhaps as soon as it was clear that it was failing and that what little potential success there was wouldn't be enough, it was better to clamp down and 'make the most' of the failure for some strange financial reason?

Having said that, I really can't defend the film. From what I saw, it had good reason to flop, even if it had had the best marketing and will from Disney's top brass.

Good to hear that some reviewers/writers are making a point of praising ERB's original story and writing in the face of the film. That was one factor that has bugged me enormously in all of this. The number of people decrying the film and, having never read the books, stating how they must be cheesy outdated rubbish judging them from the movie. They're anything but, and it's reassuring to see that made clear.