Monday, March 19, 2012

Movie Review: "John Carter" (2012)

I don't do too many movie reviews for my blog, at least in terms of new theatrical movies.  The main reason for that is that since my blog is focused on Stephen King's work, it seems like I'm stepping outside my own self-imposes guidelines for the blog any time I write a review of a movie that isn't based on one of his works.  So, I tend to not do it very much.

That said, my review of Contagion is one of the most popular posts I've had, so maybe there's something there.  And anyways, it's my party, and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to.

In the case of the recent Disney release John Carter, I felt like a review is in order, for two reasons: one, because John Carter is a terrific movie that is getting absolutely slaughtered at the box office (and in the entertainment media), and if I can convince even one person to go see it who wouldn't have otherwise, then I'll have done a good thing; and, two, because there are lessons that can be learned here that will be applicable when it comes time to market any prospective movies based on The Dark Tower.

With those things in mind, let's get into it.


First things first: let's talk about the marketing of the movie.  I loved the movie, and feel a little conflicted about the fact that even in my own review, it's the botched marketing campaign that is getting the immediate attention, but for now, THAT element is the real story.  As for the movie, it's going to be fine.  It's not going to make a profit, and there aren't going to be sequels (that's how it's looking for now, at least), but its audience will be a devoted one, and twenty years from now, you'll hear kids talking about how they grew up loving the movie.



We'll have plenty of time to talk about the movie, for years and years to come.  Right now, it's important to shine some light on just HOW badly Disney fucked up its marketing campaign.


For starters, have a look at the logo art above.  Did you fall asleep while looking at it?  If so, don't be alarmed; it's a natural reaction.


How about that title?  The movie began its production under the title John Carter of Mars, but at some point during the process, the "of Mars" was dropped, and Disney ended up with one of THE blandest titles in film history.  Why not call it Oatmeal: The Movie or Grandpa's Rice Cakes?  Even better: Water.  There is NOTHING memorable about the title John Carter.  In fact, I'd go out on a limb and speculate that Edgar Rice Burroughs was probably emphasizing the ordinariness of the character in giving him so bland a name; it served to highlight the fact that he was in a fantastical setting.  Which works, provided you actually emphasize the fantastical setting.

The original novel by Burroughs -- the pulp genius who also created Tarzan and the Pellucidar books -- was titled A Princess of Mars, by the way.  Disney can perhaps be forgiven for not wanting to give that title to a $250 million potential franchise-starter; it might have scared the boys away, meaning, in fact, that it might have scared the men away.  It might even have been true. I suspect not, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

So, the movie landed the title John Carter of Mars instead.  Then, somebody decided to do some focus-group research, and the results of that research showed that people had no interest in seeing a movie with the word "Mars" in the title.  The anemic-verging-on-nonexistent box office results for the Robert Zemeckis-produced Mars Needs Moms bolstered that opinion, and two essential facts got forgotten in the process: one, that Mars Needs Moms was a cretinously awful movie, one that could have been titled The Dark Knight vs. Transformers Go to Hogwarts and it would have been an abysmal box-office failure; and two, that focus groups may work for some things, but they don't work for titling movies, BECAUSE PEOPLE DON'T BASE THEIR MOVIEGOING DECISIONS ON TITLES ALONE.

If the movie looks good, they will go see if it is called Stumblebum McGillicuddy In Lu-Lu Land.

Don't believe me?  Take a moment and think about how unwieldy the titles Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dances With Wolves, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl actually are.  Try to forget the movies and focus on the titles alone; they kinda suck, in a way.  Didn't hurt any of them.  Know why?  People were sold on the movies because they looked good.

Know why people thought those movies looked good?  Two reasons: one, because they WERE good; and two, because the trailers, commercials, and overall marketing campaign gave people clear ideas of what the movies were about.  They didn't spoil the stories, or pander, they just informed people in a clean and clear way as to what the concept of the movie was, what the tone of the movie was, and when the movie was coming out.  The rest took care of itself.

(And by the way, were the only available title choices A Princess of Mars, John Carter of Mars, and John Carter?  Might another option have been found?  Howsabout Barsoom?  Nobody knows what it means, but do you think that anybody knew what the hell Avatar meant?  They did not.  And it didn't matter.)

Starting with the head-scratcher of a title change, Disney's gameplan was to obscure as completely as possible the fact that the movie takes place almost entirely on Mars.  One senses that if Disney could have made it stick, they'd have taken down Mars's Wikipedia page, and launched a viral campaign designed to make people think that Jupiter is the fourth planet in our solar system.  Mars?!?  What's a "Mars"?!?  Never heard of it, nervouschucklenervouschucklenervouschuckle...

So, the ad campaign offered you imagery instead, all of it disjointed, free of context, and presented with such uninspiring touches as focusing on Edgar Rice Burroughs for half of the trailer while Peter Gabriel sings an Arcade Fire song considerably less well than Arcade Fire themselves sang it.  "My Body Is A Cage" fit thematically; why not use the version that has some energy behind it?  Later trailer used a bogus version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and that worked better, although the trailer overall still did nothing to clarify the story.

Here's an imaginary conversation between Pete and Rick, who see the trailer in front of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and talk about it later:

Pete:  What about that one movie where it's got the big monsters in the arena from that one Star Wars movie where Nick Fury showed up and said "This party's over!"

Rick:  Heh.  I love that guy.  That was a terrible Star Wars movie, though.

Pete:  I don't know why the guy who played Gambit in Wolverine -- also a terrible movie -- is in this one, but it looks like he's in Arizona or something, and I guess aliens invade, because there's alien cricket people and they're all, like, warriors or something.

Rick:  So is this the sequel to Cowboys & Aliens?

Pete:  I don't know, it might be.  They got Gambit instead of James Bond, though.  That's weird.

Rick:  I know, right?  And why is he dressed up like He-Man?

Pete:  Beats me.  But you know what?  If he had a pet dog, I'd go see it.  I like movies with dogs.

Rick:  Did you hear the music?  They were totally ripping off that one Puff Daddy song, the one from Godzilla.

Pete:  I know!

Rick:  So, you gonna go see it?

Pete:  What, the Star Wars ripoff with Gambit in it?

Rick:  Yeah.

Pete:  Fuck no!  Are you?

Rick:  Fuck no!

Meanwhile, all the women in the audience are busy checking their iPhones to see when Hunger Games tickets go on sale, because they are all ready to see a movie with a woman who kicks ass in it.

Let's check in on some of the poster images released for the movie, and see if they did any better.


Okay, it's He-Man, looking bored as hell, with some dudes riding hippos behind him.  The dudes' arms look weird, and I don't know why the sun is so big or why it turned everything red, but this does not interest me.  Also, what's up with the Jesus Christ logo in the bottom right-hand corner, and why is it sitting on top of a pine-cone?

Beats me.

I'll skip this movie.


Well, THAT'S going to be a short movie.

Why does King Kong have no eyes, and why are there two of him?

Is this Attack of the Clones II?

I think you can see that guy's dong.  I think he's totally hangin' brain.  I don't want to see a movie about a guy who's hangin' brain in the arena from Attack of the Clones.

Skip.


Here's the Spanish one-sheet (that's industry jargon for "poster").  It's an improvement, but not much of one.  He-Man looks bored as hel; there's an eclipse happening, and yet everything is still brightly lit; E.T. is in the movie and apparently fatter than before; and ... is that a girl way in the background there?  Ewwww; I don't want to see a movie with a GIRL in it!

No, gracias.

Now, posters are a tricky business, so I can understand how Disney had a hard time finding a way of encapsulating in a single image an idea that was plainly giving them trouble in terms of how best to encapsulate that same idea in a two-and-a-half-minute trailer.  But these posters all fail utterly.

Here's a suggestion.  If you have an asset in your movie such as the one in the following image, and you don't put it on every poster you make, you have failed:


 
That's Lynn Collins playing "A Princess of Mars," Dejah Thoris.  We'll talk more about the mind-numbingly beautiful Collins later, but for now, suffice it to say that if your movie has a red-skinned, tattooed, raven-haired, sword-wielding, take-no-prisoners, "get-behind-me-if-you-want-to-live"-spouting heroine in it, YOU MARKET THE FACT THAT IT DOES!!!!!  Know why?  Because it makes women want to see the movie (especially when the character has as much charisma as this one has with John Carter), and because men -- straight ones, at least (the gay ones have Taylor Kitsch in his He-Man outfit to keep them entertained) -- think chicks like that are hotter than hell.  Because they are.  If Twilight had a few of them in it, we'd be interested, I promise you.

Instead, Disney determinedly decided to avoid marketing this movie to women.  Women, who make up roughly half of the world's population.  Women, who line up by the millions to see the Twilight movies at the first available opportunity, but who also were instrumental in turning Avatar into the biggest hit in movie history.  Women, who LOVE going to the movies.  Nah, why bother trying to get WOMEN or GIRLS to go see your movie?

Has nobody at Disney ever been to a sci-fi convention?  Those places are crawling with ladies.  I, too, was shocked by that fact when I first discovered it, but I'm just a dick on a blog, not someone who holds the keys to a $250 million car and is about to take it for a spin; maybe a bit of research might have called for to determine whether women like sci-fi (hint: they do).  The notion that women don't like sci-fi and/or action and/or adventure films is so laughably outdated that it may as well be written on a sign right beside the one advertising a "Colored Only" water fountain.  Ridiculous.

I could complain about this for hours, quite frankly.  I'm going to wrap up this segment of tonight's show soon, though.  Before I do, I want to make a final point or two about this marketing debacle.  It's going to sound pretentious, probably because it IS pretentious, but I'm okay with that: it's also true.

Movies are important.  It may not seem like it, but they are.  They are dreams brought to life, pulled right out of the heads of visionary storytellers and put onto a big screens -- and, later, smaller ones -- for anyone and everyone to enjoy.  Movies -- and I'm referring specifically to movies like this one -- give children something to pretend when they're running around in the back yard, or the playground, or just in the hallway of their apartment.  Movies entertain them, but they also educate them, and inspire them, and scare them, and teach them how to fall in love.  Sometimes that's a bad thing; frequently, it is not.

Movies give people something to talk about when all other avenues of conversation may have failed.  EVERYONE loves movies, or as near to everyone as is possible.

A good series of movies is something that can help define a generation.  Do you honestly want to tell me that my generation was not influenced in a major way -- in terms of our feelings, our dreams, our beliefs, our values, our goals, our fears -- by Star Wars?  Of course it was.  The current generation will grow up with their worldview informed by, amongst other things, the Harry Potter series; they'll be better for it, too.

Disney went into the John Carter business because they felt they could make money by doing so.  That sounds crass, and sometimes it is; sometimes, it's ONLY about making money.  But in the Barsoom stories, Disney had hold of tales about how it's important to fight for the things you believe in, even when you don't want to.  Disney's grandest hopes must have been to make a series of movies based on those stories, and if they had been able to do so, we might have seen a generation of children who grew up with that core value a part of their lives, even if only in the form of four or five or six movies about an Earthman on Mars and his four-armed friends and his Martian princess and his Martian dog.  That generation would have had a lot of fun learning about that value in that fashion.

It's probably not going to happen now, and a HUGE part of the blame for that has to rest with the nitwits who shot their company in the foot so badly by failing to realize what they had, and failing to accurately sell it to the people who were primed and ready to eat it right out of their hands.  They've lost Disney a lot of money, but that's only part of the story.

They've also deprived an entire generation of the experience of growing up dreaming of Barsoom.

What a shame.  What a miserable shame.

*****

Alright, I'm sick of talking about that.

Let's instead talk about how great the movie is, because it's pretty fucking great.  And the fact is, whereas an entire generation won't be dreaming of Barsoom, there will almost certainly be boys and girls here and there -- the ones who manage to see the movie -- who absolutely DO grow up loving this movie.

For those of you who were late coming in, here's a brief overview of the story: John Carter, a former Confederate cavalryman who has lost his wife and daughter in the war, is spending his post-war life searching for a mythical cave of gold.  And when he finally finds it, he also finds a mysterious bald stranger, who attacks him.  Carter kills the stranger, who is clutching a metal device.  The stranger whispers a few dying words, and John Carter passes out, only to wake up ... somewhere else.  He eventually learns what we learned in the movie's prologue: that he is on Mars (or "Barsoom," as the locals call it).  Those locals are at war, with two factions of red-skinned humanoid Barsoomians fighting it out for supremacy of the world, and a third intelligent species -- the Tharks, a race of four-armed, nine-feet-tall warriors -- waiting to see which will be the victor before making their move.  Captured by the Tharks, Carter soon makes the acquaintance of Dejah Thoris, the princess of one of the warring factions, who is running away from an arranged marriage to the leader of the other faction.  Can she help John Carter get back to Earth (pardon me, back to Jasoom)?  Can John Carter help her people in their fight against tyranny?

Can you imagine a reason not to see that movie? Me neither.

It was directed by Andrew Stanton, the genius who previously directed the classic Pixar films Finding Nemo and WALL*E.  No slouch, Stanton, and he brings his storytelling capabilities to John Carter with only an occasional misstep along the way.

director Andrew Stanton with Taylor Kitsch
That's not to say there are NO missteps.  I saw the movie twice, and the first time, I was mildly befuddled by the sheer array of alien terminology, not all of which is easily spelled mentally, and some of which gets muddled by the sound mix occasionally.  This concern was lessened considerably by a second viewing, but I'd like to point out something: the first adult novel I ever read was Frank Herbert's Dune, which is no lightweight in the weirdo terminology department itself.  I'm a massive Star Trek fan, too.  Point being, I'm used to goofy made-up words in sci-fi/fantasy movies.  So if I'm seeing a movie like John Carter and struggling with the terminology, it's not a good sign for what must be happening to the rest of the audience.  It's likely that this resulted in some viewers who are not prone to enjoy that type of thing ended up feeling disconnected to it all; this is a possible reason for the seeming lack of positive word-of-mouth on the film.  (Let's not blame the failure entirely on the marketing!)

If you can keep up, though, or just go with it, what you get is a preposterously fun movie that mixes elements of Star Wars, Avatar, Dune, Lawrence of Arabia, Flash Gordon, Superman, classic Westerns too numerous to mention, and who knows what all else.  Edgar Rice Burroughs started writing this stuff a hundred years ago, too, so don't call it a rip-off; call it a reclaiming.  Stanton just runs with it all, providing nearly flawless visual effects, good characterizations (for most of the characters, at least), a consistent sense of fun that is wrapped around a core of genuine human pathos and yearning, lovely epic alien landscapes (which do look a bit like our own Western landscapes, but not to a harmful degree), and a kick-ass old-Hollywood score by Michael Giacchino.


Some reviewers have complained about the movie's lead, Taylor Kitsch.  On the one hand, I can understand where they're coming from: Kitsch is best at playing laconic, and sometimes that can seem more like "asleep" than laconic.  It doesn't always work in still images, for example.  But personally, I thought Kitsch was terrific in this role. I don't think the movie succeeds in spite of him; I think it succeeds (partially) because of him.  That's a big distinction, and I want to be very careful to make you understand that that is what I mean.

I've been a Kitsch fan for a while now, thanks to his role as Tim Riggins, my favorite character on Friday Night Lights who wasn't Coach Taylor.  I think Kitsch has a big future in movies, assuming the failure of this film -- and the looming failure of Battleship, his second big-budget sci-fi movie as a lead -- doesn't sink his career before it's properly begun.


One of the best aspects of Kitsch's performance is that he's got terrific chemistry with Lynn Collins.  You want to see what happens in a movie like this when the romantic leads have no chemistry?  Witness Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in Attack of the Clones.  Better yet, don't.

It's not an issue here, because frankly, every time Kitsch and Collins are on screen together, you feel like there's a good chance they're about to stop acting and start humping it out.  And frankly, you feel like you'd probably be okay with that development.

I talked for a while about Collins earlier, and I want to clarify something about the above image: it looks a bit as if Dejah Thoris is pleading with John Carter in some way.  She isn't.  She's just killed a bunch of dudes, and is using his loincloth to wipe the blood off of her sword.  My friends, if that doesn't qualify her for the Badass Character Hall Of Fame, I don't know what does.  Wait, yes I do: Collins is also extremely charismatic in this movie when she's on her own, or in her scenes with Ciaran Hinds and/or Dominic West.  She's beautiful, yes, but she's also smart as hell, and strong, and funny, and determined, and basically everything anyone could possibly want in a woman.  Plus, she has red tribal tattoos all over, and lives on a warm planet so doesn't feel the need to wear big frumpy sweaters; instead, she favors metal bikinis and dresses that would make Angelina Jolie raise an eyebrow in approval.

Look, here she is again, trying to decide whether to murder that guy who played McNulty on The Wire.  I support her no matter what decision she makes in that regard.


And, for good measure, another of her with John Carter.


She actually is kinda pleading with him in that scene.

Let's see some of those alien cricket-people I was talking about earlier.  Here's their leader, Tars Tarkas -- he's played by Willem Dafoe -- who is meeting John Carter for the first time in this scene:


If you had shown me this when I was twelve, I'd have shit my pants; that's how awesome it is, I'd've just crapped it all out right there.

Even better: Woola, a weird Barsoomian dog-like creature who looks a little bit like a caterpillar and a lot like a two-hundred-pound pug.  Here he is with his pet, John Carter, right before one of the movie's best scenes:


Disney concentrated shockingly little of their marketing efforts on this character, whom kids will adore.  ADORE.  This is Disney, the king of animal characters.


Honestly, how does a company like Disney drop the ball so badly?  You've got a six-legged alien pug, you put that sumbitch in ALL the commercials.

I'd also like to talk briefly about the score by Michael Giacchino, who is one of the best composers in the business right now.  He's a relative newcomer in that he has only been making serious waves in the industry for about a decade, but he's actually been around in one capacity or another since the mid-'90s.  In that time he's done terrific work on Piaxr films such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up, J.J. Abrams movies such as Star Trek and Super 8, and television series like Lost and Alias, as well as video games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty.  I loved his music for Speed Racer and Cloverfield, and he did good action-movie scores for both of the last two Mission Impossible flicks.  He's got a style that can, and does, change from one project to the next, but in this movie he -- very appropriately -- seems a bit to be channeling John Williams, who once tossed scores like this off at the rate of two or three per year.  That's no knock to Giacchino, by the way; Williams was and is the best to ever live at what he does, and most film composers would be lucky to be able to get within shouting distance of one of his scores even once during the course of their career.  Giacchino has gotten very close indeed with his score to John Carter (which actually reminds me of David Arnold's awesome Stargate score as much as it does anything else).

I've got more to say, but the time has come for me to close out the review proper, and I'd like to do so with a plea: go see this movie.  It's too good to be failing as miserably as it is.  And if you don't want to go see it in a theatre, check it out on Blu-ray or on Netflix when it's available in those formats.  You won't be sorry.

IMAX promotional poster for John Carter's midnight show; art by Mondo


*****

I promised at the outset that a big part of the reason for wanting to write this review was that I had some things to say about the ways the lessons of John Carter's shabby marketing can point toward how NOT to handle the marketing of the Dark Tower movies, when and if they ever get made.

In some ways, King's Dark Tower mythos is easier to understand and easier to summarize than the Barsoom mythos of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  However, in other ways, it's even more complex.

One thing that I think can be fairly said about Disney's marketing of John Carter is that it seems evident that the company had no idea how to sell what they had.  All of the elements that they shied away from -- the Martian setting, the warrior princess, the loveable alien "dog," the inner struggle Carter has over whether to become a soldier again -- are the elements that give the film its heart and soul.  Those elements ARE the movie.  Trying to pretend they don't exist bespeaks a reluctance to tell people what the movie is actually about; it's almost as if Disney wishes it had never made the film.

It' would have been an understandable choice to not make the movie.  If Disney had looked at it and said, "I don't think we can sell that to people," well, it'd be hard to fault them too much.  I think the insane success of Avatar speaks to the contrary, but hey, what do I know?

However, once the movie was made, it was a fatal mistake for Disney to act as though they were ashamed of it.  The reek of failure came rolling off of the project; everyone smelled it, and stayed away by the millions.

In the case of The Dark Tower, there is a huge amount of potential for the same thing to happen.  Presumably, the first film in the series would be The Gunslinger, and if the marketing geniuses in charge of the John Carter campaign were to get ahold of it, you might end up seeing nothing but shots of Roland in a saloon.

In order to sell The Gunslinger to a mass ticket-buying public, it will be necessary to sell them on who Roland is, what he's capable of doing, what it is he's looking for, and how far he's willing to go to get it.  If you do anything else, you are selling something other than The Gunslinger; you're selling another film entirely.  (By the way, I'm basing this on the assumption -- possibly a very faulty one -- that Ron Howard will essentially remain true to the first novel.)

I can imagine marketing execs who get nervous about the fact that Roland is an unlikeable character.  I can imagine them being scared to death of the idea of a sci-fi/fantasy western, especially after the dismal failure of Cowboys & Aliens last summer.  I can imagine them being worried about the relative lack of resolution to The Gunslinger.  "Can't," they'll ask, "Roland have to fight some zombies at the end?"

I sympathize with all of those concerns.  I really do.  However, if the studio that makes the movies is scared of those things, they should do what Universal did and say thanks but no thanks, and simply not make the movies.  That's good, solid conservative business practice; only gamble on a sure bet.

What you don't do is place a large bet and then walk away from the table.  That's what Disney did with John Carter.

So, Warner Bros., if you end up moving forward on The Dark Tower with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman, don't hide what you've got.  When it comes time to cut that trailer, let people know that in a world where time has moved on, there is a single man -- the last remaining Gunslinger -- who seeks what others dare not seek: the Man In Black, who holds the key to the Dark Tower ... which holds the key to possibly restoring the world that once was.  Let people know that Roland meets a town full of people who he has to kill.  Let them know that he meets a young boy named Jake, and that the time may come -- MAY come, mind you; it's not a certainty (don't spoil the whole plot!) -- when Jake has to be sacrificed in order for Roland to catch the Man In Black.  Let them know that in order to gain the Tower, Roland will kill whole towns, have sex with demons, carry jawbones around with him, and do pretty much anything else he needs to do.

LET THEM KNOW WHO ROLAND IS.  If you don't feel comfortable with that idea as a 150-second trailer, then don't make the movie.  It's just that simple.

11 comments:

  1. The Kitsch and Collins humping it out made me spit coffee all over my new laptop from laughing - you l'il mind reader you... As a woman I totally enjoy him and liked seeing a woman with pretty decent guns and a small waist that wasn't all GI Jane.

    Good points, good review

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well...I admit you're right when you say movies are important, you're also correct about movies and business. A good book I'd recommend on the subject is Edward Jay Epstein's The Big Picture. It's about the whole meeting place between commerce and art, and he even accurately I believe points out the true Hollywood legend who revolutionized the industry. Walt Disney. Serious, his decision to market his empire through toys and TV led to what is now the real Hollywood.

    As for the movie itself, well, Collins is nice. Sorry. I will say is that when I read what you said about womem and Sci Fi conventions? That was interesting, although to be fair, I wouldn't know, I've never been to one.

    I will say this, when i read that part I flashed back to hearing Bruce Springsteen sing the lyrics to "Be True" for the first time. My thought was: Well, all's I can say is you better be right about women on that score, Boss, else you, me and every other guy on this planet is more &%#!ed then this year's Thanksgiving turkey.

    ChrisC

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  3. Now that I think about it, I don't know that my feelings about the intersection between art and commerce really came through in this review. My knee-jerk reaction is to say that it's a complicated situation, but that really isn't true. It's actually a very simple situation: without the business side of things functioning well, the art can't function AT ALL, at least as far as epic filmmaking goes.

    A lot of people feel that that side of the industry is crass and ought to be talked about only with an arched eyebrow. I'm not one of them. I'll freely admit that in many instances, big-budget filmmaking focuses SO much on being commercial that the studio totally forgets the part about making the art worthwhile. I'd list "Green Lantern" and the "Transformers" movies and the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" as being prime examples of that, and in a way, it's hard to argue with the results: of those, all except "Green Lantern" made HUGE profits.

    I loathe movies of that nature. They feel empty, crass, and worthless. And the thing is, they don't HAVE to. Writing is cheap. It doesn't cost much to hire someone to write a screenplay; if the screenplay they give you sucks, then it doesn't cost much to hire someone to write a replacement; and so on.

    All of this just makes the case of "John Carter" even more galling. Disney clearly believed in the vision director Andrew Stanton had, and clearly gave him all the time and money he needed to realize it. So for them to have screwed the project up so badly in the marketing -- the equivalent of fumbling the ball on the one-yard-line and having it taken by the other team -- is simply infuriating to someone like me who treasures big-budget, epic sci-fi/fantasy movies. Because Disney got it SO right ... up until the point when they made everyone in the world think they'd gotten it wrong.

    Oh, well. I've got "The Avengers" and "Prometheus" and "Brave" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight Rises" to look forward to, so maybe one or more of them will have a more felicitous fate.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll be fair, you got a point, and one thing to keep in mind is (painful as this is to admit) there's just not that many good ideas to go around.

    Someone once said there are just ten real ideas floating around out there, and another said that if a hundred monkeys at a hundred typewriter etc.

    For every Spielberg or Hitchcock there's a Michael Bay. And another factor is that, contrary to what King thinks about it, sometimes it is the teller as much the tale that's told.

    Critic Edmund Fuller once observed, when you read a any book or see a film, you are at least in some sense seeing what and how an artist thinks. Figuring out why an artist thinks what they do is the real challenge.

    I'm a professional High School English Major, do not try to tell these kinds of lies at home.

    ChrisC

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  5. That's a great point about it being the teller moreso than the tale sometimes; I agree totally, although I also take King's point.

    The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: it is the tale, which must be told well.

    I should probably also admit that while "John Carter" is the latest movie of its type -- a big-budget commercial failure -- it's hardly the only one ever. "Blade Runner" was a big failure in its day, but it's revered now (as it should be). "The Rocketeer" was a similar case, and while it's nowhere near as well known as "Blade Runner," it's got its admirers.

    I'd guess that "John Carter" will land somewhere between those: it'll be remembered by more people than "The Rocketeer," but not by as many -- nor as fondly -- as "Blade Runner." I do think its cult will grow, though: it's been so publicly-maligned a commercial failure that a lot of its fans will be moved to campaign for it a bit ... which is what I seem to be doing!

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  6. By the way, in the interest of fairness, it's worth noting that -- and I apologize for not having the source of this close enough to hand to link to -- stories have begun to break that are clarifying some of the marketing decisions on this movie. Apparently, the marketing campaign was mostly the result of the ideas of the director himself, Andrew Stanton.

    The word is that Stanton was extremely confident that the public was already well-informed as to who the character of John Carter is, and therefore there was no need to go too far in introducing him via the marketing. If true, then clearly, this is a case of Disney not wanting to interfere with the director's vision.

    So, if this is true (and it might not be), give Stanton credit for making a terrifically entertaining movie, and blame for fucking it up by having no clue how to market it. And if that's the case, he will probably find it difficult to ever get another job directing at any place other than Pixar.

    What a shame all of this is.

    And, by the way, it continues to serve as a model for how NOT to handle "The Dark Tower."

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  7. I think you're right, I think the truth is somewhere between tale and teller, it all comes down to tenuous give and take.

    Best is example is the Shining, while it might be the tale and not he who tells it, in On Writing King admitted that while he didn't know it while he was writing the book, he now sees he was writing about himself.

    Personally, while I believe the statement, I think he's a bit too hard on himself.

    As for audience familiarity, well, I'd like to believe when it comes to entertainment at least people know film existed back before Star Wars. Then again how many know Tarzan as a book and not a Disney movie?

    ChrisC

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  8. The answer to your question about Tarzan is this: at a minimum, more than would have known about it without the benefit of the movie. (Which I enjoyed parts of, but did not love.)

    It's impossible for a movie to make anyone forget about the books; therefore, it can only have brought awareness. Was it a significant amount? Probably not. But I don't see any way it can have hurt.

    Good point about "The Shining," by the way. I've always suspected that the apparently intense connection between King and Jack Torrence is the reason why he continually trash-talks Kubrick's movie, whereas in most other situations he looks at movies based on his work and just kinda shrugs.

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  9. You know I hadn't really factored that into what he says about Kubrick's Shining, interesting.

    ChrisC

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  10. I think the movie that told all things are the truth. because when i was hearing that the movie was being made based on by 102 aged book. however i do not know exactly that who wrote it. as far as everyone is pretty interesting about the extraterrestrial in these days. i am usually search the fact that i spend time to search those things to make fun. so i think, and i assure that. this movie is based on the writer's real telling story. and that was made in nearly 1912, and the writer cannot imagine such things to write that before he had experienced seeing or contacted with some sorts of the alien.

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