Tuesday, April 17, 2012

John Carter and the Politics of Yesterday’s News

Yeah. It’s April. March is long gone.

Something I noticed: One of the big stories in the month of March was how the John Carter movie was somehow predetermined to be the biggest box office flop in history. Even Disney, the company that released it, made a prediction that it was going to dig a financial hole of about 200 million dollars. Why did they say that during the first week of release? Why predict your own disaster? What can be gained from that? It’s like they were trying to wreck their own film!

Of course, that was all in March. Which might as well be a thousand years ago. You will notice that no one is really talking about John Carter anymore. It’s yesterday’s news. But here’s what they aren’t saying in April: John Carter is nowhere near the biggest box office flop of all time. In fact, it did amazingly well overseas and has more than earned back it’s production budget. And by the time the DVD and Blu-ray releases are rolled out, it will probably not be a loss at all. It won’t make piles of money for the company, but it’s not going to sink the company either. And yet, people were saying, way back in March, as if it were a done deal, that this movie was absolutely sure to be the biggest flop in history.

There was clearly something malicious going on in the media. I don’t know why. I don’t know what encouraged the behavior, but it was weird. Was it an anti Disney thing? It was almost like what happens during elections, where people are told what to think, and then they simply submit to it. No one likes negative advertising, right? So why is there so much negative advertising during elections? Because it works. And, strangely, it worked to crush John Carter in a very similar way. Some media whoevers seem to have purposefully misled people about the film with what amounts to a lie. And no one is talking about it. Like no one talks about all the lies the politicians say during a campaign. They can say anything, but once the campaign is over, no one goes back to assess what they said and hold them accountable. Nobody cares.

Making John Carter was always going to be a bit of a risk because the source material has pretty much gone out of the popular culture. But Star Wars and all of the movies that have resulted from the Star Wars phenomenon over the years – every one of those films owes a lot to the John Carter novels. John Carter was there first. In the end, it was a risk that didn’t pay out like they wanted. But what’s life, or art, without some risk?

I asked a few people if they had seen the movie. They said, “No.” And then they would add something to the “no” along the lines of: “I heard that movie was horrible. It’s lost so much money!” I found this response strange. Since when does the average person decide how good a movie is by rumors of the first week’s box office? What is going on? All kinds of great movies didn’t make a lot at the box office! In every case where someone told me they heard it was “horrible” they had not heard it from someone who had actually seen the movie. It was just rumor, based on the contagious news reports, based on articles, which were driven by assumptions. And, oddly enough, reinforced by Disney itself. Very, very strange.

I am one of those people who ignored the negative hype and went to see the movie. What I discovered is what I expected to see. John Carter is a fun, entertaining movie that captures the sense of the original novels (which most of the critics seemed to be completely ignorant of), without succumbing to the archaic things that make those novels hard to read today. Some people aren’t going to like it, especially if they aren’t partial to sci fi or fantasy, but most people will. It is an adventure story, which is what it is supposed to be. The effects are good and some are even groundbreaking. The acting is loose and fun. The characters could have been a bit more sympathetic, but you still care about them. The humor is broad, on purpose. Except for one scene near the beginning with some crude dialogue, it is a relatively clean film with general appeal. The opening sequence seems kind of tacked on, probably because they felt like it took too long to get to Mars. I see why they did it, but I would have preferred the movie to start after the opening. Whatever. It’s not a big thing. It does a good job of combining a simple love story with an action scenario. It’s old school enough to be fun, but new school enough to be interesting.

And there is a battle scene at the center of the film that simultaneously reveals John Carter’s motivations that is crafted by the director into a truly moving sequence. That short section of the film was worth the price of admission for me. Most of the men I’ve talked to who have seen it agree that it stirs an odd set of emotions. The juxtaposition of violence and rage, blended with tragedy and sadness, all to make a point about what moves men, in particular, to risk their lives and care for others – it shows why the director, Andrew Stanton, is such a great artist.

I know. I know. It’s mostly gone from theaters. Who cares. If you want to just see a movie for fun and you don’t hate sci fi or fantasy films, then you are likely to enjoy it. Go see it in a theater if you can because it is a big screen movie for sure. If you think it stinks, fine, but make that decision by seeing the film, not by listening to negative hype, and certainly not by reviewing box office returns and rumors.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011


  1. Hi. I loved your review. I was expecting John Carter since the first trailer. I had read in movie magazines about the bad buzz and how everyone was thinking about how bad it would be. I loved it. Every frame. From the first scene when we are told the real name: Barsoom, to the last scene...Barsoom too. I don´t know exactly why people were lead to believe all the terrible stuff about the movie. It was a massacre. I haven´t seen so much venom, so much stupidity, so much prejudice. They weren´t talking about the movie, I guess because they hadn´t seen it. Guess what? Their loss. Mine too because I´d love to see a sequel, but I can´t believe all the people who´s paid several times to George Lucas to see Star Wars (edited, re-edited, re-mastered, re-packed..you name it), who´s seen Dune, who´s seen Avatar, won´t enjoy this movie. We still live! If there is anyone who want to help us to get a sequel.....check www.backtobarsoom.com

  2. Thanks. I really liked it too. But the only way there would ever be a sequel would be if it had massive sales on DVD/Blu-ray. This happened with Hellboy. It didn't do especially well on release due to competition and poor advertising, but the DVD sales were massive, so they gave it a sequel, which I believe came out against Iron Man, so it couldn't win that battle. But it also did extremely well in the long run. In fact, this longer view of sales should inform the studios about how they should do things, but I don't think it does. All that seems to matter to them is the first weeks return at the box office. Everything, and I mean everything, rides on that. Which seems massively stupid given the huge number of ways media is released these days. But what do I know? I just like movies.

  3. Excellent article, Dave.

    I wonder all of these things as well. I also wonder when agents for big name stars will start to address the early release dates in their contracts.

    I also loved the battle scene, and the shot of Dejah hanging from the front of the battle cruiser... THAT's ERB!

    I've seen tons of promotion for the Avengers, and it has a built in, more current audience anyway. There's $100M floating around out there somewhere that could have fed and clothed a lot of homeless people, instead of going wherever it went.

    I didn't appreciate the language either. I cannot think of any other Disney movie that allowed that. I wonder why that was...


All comments are subject to my approval. All profanity and disrespectful comments will be deleted. Be nice or I will pretend you are not there.