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Barsoomian Beat-Down!

Longbox Graveyard #39

I wasn’t going to write this column.

I intended last week’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars column to be my first and last word on the subject. Acknowledge my love of the property, excoriate the Marvel Comics run for being so crappy, express my anxiety over the movie, and finish things off with a one paragraph review of the film.

Done!

But today I got into one of those protracted geekfights that makes you think about things, and reevaluate, and get worked up all over again. So what the heck … one more John Carter column isn’t going to kill anyone. This subject does matter to me and I am seething with nerd rage.

I stand naked before you, beneath the hurtling moons of Mars!

Hear my cry!

Disney’s John Carter pierced me through my fanboy heart!

(all art in this blog by the immortal Frank Frazetta!)

As I noted in my update to last week’s column, John Carter gets more things right than wrong … but the things it gets wrong are so wrong that it torpedoes the whole enterprise. Even worse — barring some miraculous international box office — the movie is going to perform so poorly that it will turn the entire property into a toxic tire fire. There won’t be a sequel, there won’t be a John Carter movie franchise — just this single, flawed, oh-so-promising misfire.

And that’s a cosmic shame.

I am severely conflicted about this movie. My personal grade of C+ puts me a little ahead of the the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, and only one letter grade behind John Carter’s CinemaScore rating by audiences exiting the theater. Put a radium pistol to my head and I will admit that the movie was … good.

(Some of the time.)

(When you look at it just right.)

The problem is that with all the money, talent, and ambition that went into John Carter, “good” isn’t good enough. This picture deserved to be GREAT! Anything less is the cinematic equivalent of a Barsoomian airship captain leaping from the prow of his doomed flyer — a symbolic act of surrender.

I do love John Carter. Not as much as I love Conan, or The Lord of the Rings, but I do love the series. It’s probably not top ten for me, but it is comfortably in my top twenty. When the Conan movie tanked last August I reached back to the books and offered up a fist-full of suggestions about how the Cimmerian might be better treated on film, but I have no such prescription for John Carter. The books frankly aren’t that good — and I say this as a fan! Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ novels are full of wonderful ideas and imagery, but as fiction they are a tough read. In the run-up to this movie, when I read that director Andrew Stanton was picking and choosing from the books, and throwing out what didn’t work … I felt great! That’s exactly what this series required! Mine the books for ideas, find the heart of the series, and make a movie for 21st century audiences!

I had faith that Andrew Stanton — the flat-out genius behind Wall-E — would do justice to the sentimentality and the heart that is at the core of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian romances.

John Carter was never deterred by long odds

But I knew.

I knew the moment I saw that first brown, tepid, dirge of a teaser trailer last year that this picture was in trouble. That trailer was all about loss, and mourning, and dust. There was no adventure. There was no romance. There was no attempt to connect this movie to contemporary audiences. From the creator of Wall-E and Finding Nemo! From the writer of Tarzan! Pixar’s first live-action movie!

None of that was on display in this first lifeless trailer:

And it is not too much of an exaggeration to report that it was all down hill from there, with an increasingly off-kilter marketing blitz just muddying the issue right up until the movie was delivered, dead on arrival, at theaters this past weekend.

I was one of the few Americans who turned out for this picture on opening day, watching the film in IMAX 3D, and my militant optimism turned to dismay almost from the opening curtain. The film opens in a strident rush of yelling and explosions and over-amped action that left me lost — and I’m a guy that’s read all the books, and blogs about this nonsense. Incoherent action, sky ships blasting anything and everything, characters we don’t know snarling at each other … then McNulty is confronted by three flying dudes who give him some kind of nanotech wonderweapon and I am supposed to care because …?

The Wire’s own Jimmy McNulty — Dominic West — played the heavy in John Carter, and I put him here because it is probably the last chance I’ll get to reference my favorite TV show at Longbox Graveyard

Look, opening the picture with a bang and introducing the audience to Barsoom is a great idea. But is this the best Stanton could do? My pal and sometimes Longbox Graveyard contributor Chris Ulm pulled a better opening out of his backside. Why not go with a Lord of the Rings opening? Show how distant Barsoom is a dying planet, with less water and less air each passing year. Show legions of Red and Green Men savagely battling over these precious and dwindling resources. Juxtapose the Martian civil wars with the American Civil War here on earth, show John Carter as the peerless Virginia cavalryman, fighting for his doomed lost cause. Have Carter unhorsed by some underhanded Yankee treachery, have him take a bullet in the gut, have him crawl off to die in the night and reach out to the glowing red planet Mars — then, boom, take us there and get on with the tale!

None of this protracted origin story that didn’t make sense in the book, and works even worse on film. None of this Edgar Rice Burroughs framing sequence nonsense. Just introduce the world, raise the stakes, tell us why we should care, and get on with a fast-paced, action-packed, fish-out-of-water adventure on a fantastic world with the homespun, Southern gentleman Carter our anchor against the unreality of it all.

those odds are looking worse

When the picture does get around to John Carter on Mars, things improve a bit. For awhile. But it is here that my greatest disappointment with the movie comes to the fore — Stanton opts for spectacle over character development.

The Green Men are wonderfully realized, and the strongest part of the film. But rather than following the book, and richly developing John Carter’s relationship with the Tharks (and I can’t believe I am defending a book I don’t like all that much!), the film throws characters and situations at us in a rush. John Carter’s slow-developing friendship with Tars Tarkas is central to the series. The Tharks are savages who laugh only when someone is in pain, but through John Carter, Tars Tarkas learns the value of friendship, develops the courage to acknowledge his daughter, Sola, and bravely charts a new path for his people. The friendship between John Carter and Tars Tarkas is one of the greatest in fantasy fiction (and George Lucas pretty much stole it for Han Solo and Chewie), but Stanton gives us no chance to enjoy watching these two characters come together, testing each others’ strengths, challenging each others’ most deeply-held convictions, and emerging better for the experience. Instead we get a kind of rough sketch of Tars Tarkas’ wonder at encountering John Carter, and a couple scenes where Tars tells us how Carter affected him, rather than showing us through action, dialogue, and character development.

ace character actor Willem Dafoe is larely wasted in his role as Tars Tarkas

Sola fares a bit better — and the bit with her body being branded for each crime she has committed is a nice way to externalize her outlier nature — but we aren’t shown enough about Thark society to really understand how special she is for feeling kindness and maternal instincts. And likewise we have little chance to appreciate the unbreakable bond of loyalty between John Carter and Woola — the poor beast set to “guard” him — because the movie is moving at such a breakneck pace that there is no time for the relationship to simmer, to transform from prisoner and jailer to man and man’s best friend in a fashion that could have illuminated character and bound the audience to the story.

Dejah Thoris and Woola (I think)

These oversights are critical because more than flyers, radium rifles, beasts, and aliens, Burroughs’ Mars books are about friendship, love, loyalty, and honor. What makes John Carter special is his compassion — that he wins over an entire planet through his courage, but also his mercy. The kindness Carter offers his foes blows Barsoomian society apart. It turns Sola into a mother, and Woola into a faithful and loving companion. It transforms the Tharks from savage raiders to eternal allies of Helium. And it wins the heart of the “incomparable Dejah Thoris,” in the central romance of this sword & planet romance series.

Dejah Thoris fares a bit better than the other characters in the film. I thought her reinvention as a scientist and woman of action was clever and appropriate. But her romance with John Carter is almost entirely truncated in service of a silly plot contrivance based around Carter wanting to return to his home planet, and playing the world-weary warrior. John Carter is a one-dimensional character in the books, but if he is about anything, it is two things — that he is a fighting man through-and-through, and that he falls in love with Dejah Thoris at first sight.

Why did the movie turn Carter into a reluctant warrior who thinks Dejah Thoris is a spoiled little snot? Again, I never thought I’d be defending the book — where the romance is melodramatic, overwrought, and juvenile — but, sheesh, I would have rather seen Burroughs’ turgid romance brought to the screen word-for-word than the expository partnership we got in this movie. The male/female adventuring almost-lovers dynamic is one of cinema’s most basic archetypes — how did Stanton get this part wrong? Has he never seen Speed, Romancing the Stone, The Princess Bride, or a Thin Man movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Star Wars? Bonnie and Clyde? Ferris Bueller? Anyone, anyone?

Why on two worlds did the movie devote screen time to the deadly-dull interplanetary Thern conspiracy when there was so much basic character work that went undone?

That’s the kind of nonsense I’d expect from Zack Snyder or Michael Bay. From Andrew Stanton — it was a shock. And a bitter disappointment.

Andrew Stanton should be thrown to the banths for messing this up!

In my naive, fanboy way I came away from the film constructing a best-case scenario. After all, there was so much to like! I thought the Tharks were terrific. I loved the look of the film — the architecture, the technology, the costumes, jewelry, and makeup. I even mostly liked the cast. And there was a part of me that still had faith in Andrew Stanton, cleaving to the notion that his vision of the film had been subverted by interference from meddling producers, and undone by criminal marketing.

But then came this long story in Vulture magazine about how this film is 100% Andrew Stanton’s vision — including the marketing campaign — and all hope evaporated. Because even if by some miracle this film does well enough overseas to justify a sequel … that sequel is going to be the vision of the guy who so missed the center of the target this first time around. And if the movie doesn’t pull off a box office miracle, then it is going to be so toxic that John Carter will never see the screen again … and it will likely drive the final stake through the heart of a steampunk fantasy genre already savaged by movies like Wild Wild West, Cowboys & Aliens, and Jonah Hex.

So in John Carter we have a film that kills not only a franchise, but an entire genre, and sullies the esteem with which I held the director for his work on Wall-E. As a movie, John Carter is just mediocre — but as a missed opportunity, this movie ranks among some of the most disappointing genre films I’ve ever seen, right alongside pictures like The Phantom Menace, Watchmen, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Like all of those movies, it is disappointing enough to make me reassess why I liked the original vintage so much in the first place.

fortunately, there is still SO MUCH to love about the original vintage

My advice to Disney — have faith in the franchise, get Jon Favreau for the sequel, and slash $100M from the budget of the next picture.

My advice to Andrew Stanton — get back to Pixar and make movies with bugs and fish and robots … you know, things with heart.

My advice to Longbox Graveyard readers — go see John Carter! Ack, I can’t help myself! This moment may never come again, the chance to see John Carter — however flawed — on the big screen. Go see the film, and with your wallets keep the flickering hope of a sequel alive. And let me know what you think of the movie in the comments section.

In the name of the Ninth Ray, that we have come to this! Chris Ulm’s daughter decided she hated the movie, sight unseen, and reports that the kids are calling it, “John Farter.” A century in the making and instead of taking a victory lap, John Carter needs mercy tickets to get a second time at bat. And here I am still holding out hope for this hopeless mess of a movie. I guess I really do love John Carter, after all.

“A warrior may change his metal, but not his heart.”

Sigh.

Thank you for indulging my rant. Next week I will get back to comics with my WonderCon report (and if you will be at the show, come see the panel I am moderating Friday at 4:30 — “Triumph of the Small Screen!”).

Until then … Kaor, my Barsoomian brothers, and blessed be the shell of thy first ancestor!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #40 WonderCon Wrap-Up!

 

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on March 14, 2012, in Other Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I saw it opening night IMAX 3D. Nine people in the theater. 3d made Everything look like green screen, and I’m getting tired of bald British villains, not to mention accents from all over the board.

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    • I know you are a John Carter loyalist, Tom; pretty sure we traded my Science Fiction Book Club editions of the tales back and forth when we were kids. Certainly I remember you and I and our dearly-departed Sam debating the merits of the stories, greeting each other with “Kaor!” and encouraging one another to press on with the books because we just HAD to experience the Kaldanes and Rykors for ourselves (or Phor Tak’s Flying Death!)

      But apparently the ONLY guys in the world who carried those fond memories into the theater were you, and me, and Andrew Stanton (and I’m not so sure about Stanton). Which is a shame. I wanted to like this movie more than I did and most important of all, I wanted plenty MORE John Carter films to disappoint me in the future. And that future looks cloudy, brother.

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  2. Count me in on being disappointed in John Carter.

    Considering Thor had a budget of $150m, Captain America was $150m, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was $93m, Star Trek was $150m, Cowboys and Aliens was $163m, Inception was $160m, Revenge Of The Sith was $113m and MI: Ghost Protocal was $150m, Disney had no business setting the budget of John Carter at $250m. Each of the films above “felt” about the same as JC in terms of special effects.

    John Carter was a crazy bet on a completely untried film property with considerable baggage (because JC had been so thoroughly mined by Star Wars and other SF movies over the last 100 years).

    There was not a still that you could have taken from the film that would not have been confused with Cowboys & Aliens or Star Wars. This was a fundamental problem in re-imaginging the property. Because the filmmakers were in love with John Carter Of Mars as it was originally written, I guess they could not reimagine the world of the film in a wholly original way and steer clear of the all the properties that had already riffed on it. I can only assume that they thought the IP value of JC was so great that the audience would understand that THIS film was the original, not that Star Wars thing.

    The second thing which hurt the movie was the faithfulness to backstory at the expense of the primary relationship to the main characters. It was hard to care about most of the backstory stuff that was thrown around and I had real trouble following the plot and understanding the motivations of the different factions.

    Lastly, most of the performances, especially that of JC himself, had green screen disease and while not at Phantom Menace levels, were still flat.

    It’s too bad. I really wanted to like John Carter and I admire Andrew Stanton’s Pixar films – they are all classics and among my top twenty movies of all time.

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    • Like John Carter weaving a web of steel you have sliced me to the quick, Ulmus Chrisus, Panthan of Zodanga! I can’t disagree with any of your conclusions and the budget comparisons are illuminating. The Vulture article I linked in the blog suggested that Stanton got his way and got his budget because no one wanted to cross him or alienate him … which means we can add hubris to this film’s many sins, all the more tragic because Stanton was such a fan himself. This misfire gets more Shakespearian by the moment!

      If the creators really did think the property had such intrinsic value and recognition that it could carry the project … then, holy cats, what a miscalculation. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the bulk John Carter’s fans died over fifty years ago! Did they really think there was some Twilight, Harry Potter, or Hunger Games-level pent-up fanbase for this movie? I thought John Carter got green lit because it had enough “unaided recognition” to give it a leg up on marketing while at the same time being enough of a blank slate that it could be reinvented for contemporary audiences, but instead it looks like it was a fanboy wank from the get-go.

      Which normally would be fine, because I am one of the few genuine John Carter fanboys still breathing Jassomian air but even for me the movie was confused and ill-focused. I was about to compare it favorably to that last disastrous fanboy wank — Sucker Punch — as John Carter is vastly superior to that terrible film … but I see that the budget for Sucker Punch was “only” $82M, which means you could make that film three times over for what Carter cost Disney.

      It keeps getting worse.

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  3. Hate to tell you this, Paul, but you actually just talked me out of seeing it. I have never read a John Carter book in my life, though my oldest brother is a lifelong and devoted ERB and John Carter fan, so whatever I know about the seires I got through sibling osmosis. (He has yet to see it: i think he’s freaked out over the possibility of them having totally screwed up his boyhood fantasies.) But every nerd I know in the world has told me to ignore the horrendous marketing, the knee jerk critics and the misguided doomsayers and to go see it because it’s actually a wonderful film. I never had much desire to see it even before the doom and gloom, but I got to thinking, “okay, maybe I need to show my support for the filmmakers and stick it to those dreadful marketing people, who are the true villains here.” But yours is now the second similar evaluation I have read so instead I’m back to thinking that it’s time to work through my Netflix queue instead.

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    • Jim, first of all — so groovy to see you reading and posting here. Welcome!

      In my own twisted way I am trying to rally the troops for this picture but … well … in your case it might be best to give the picture a miss. That way, when it comes around on home video, your expectations will be sufficiently deflated that you might enjoy the movie. Especially if you aren’t already a fan, the virtues of taking this in on the big screen are limited. It is a legitimate spectacle (and as-such benefits from a large screen), but there are no lack of effects spectacles these days, and if you miss this one, another will be along in a week or so.

      The last thing I want on my conscience is releasing an (Angrier) Angry Jim on an unsuspecting world! Maybe wait on your brother’s verdict?

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  4. Glenn J. Smith, aka "Worse Than Hitler"

    It’s of interest to me how these cherished tales encountered in our formative youth
    seem to mostly all…SUCK. Seems to me we bring an energy to the written word, comic, or movie that drives the experience far beyond whatever the creator of the work could ever truly deliver.
    Thanks to my brother Paul, I’ve been able to witness how these stories stay with us & still hold their charge, even if we now find them horribly flawed. A work of art, though it may be
    experienced in a theater with hundreds of others, is still a secret gift that no one else can appreciate or even WITNESS. Seeing or reading the same thing does not mean we saw or read the same thing…obvious, yes. But we get lost, & feel let down by these things that once set our course. Hurt that we can’t break the sky like we did when we first found the Uru Hammer. But you might be surprised, boys & girls, what can happen if you try to pick it up just one. more. time.

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    • My first-world-problem of being disappointed by John Carter has been compensated, with interest, by the collection of rarely-seen commentators chiming in on this thread … first childhood pal Tom Keefer, then the artist on my first published comics series in Jim Chadwick, and now elusive Twitter correspondent Glenn Smith. It’s like a triple Bigfoot sighting! Or Bigfoot, Elvis, and the Loch Ness Monsters riding a UFO in the Rose Parade!

      I get what you are getting at here, friend, but I actually think I am doing OK in the senseawonder department. Last night I took my boy to see Citizen Kane and got swept right up in it, my disbelief more than willingly suspended. In no way do I hold John Carter to Citizen Kane standards (OK, maybe I do), but when a picture works — whether it is Citizen Kane or a Brave & The Bold cartoon episode — I can buy in and happily enjoy it for what it is. I went into Carter fully expecting to enjoy it, ready for flaws and prepared for it to be less than perfect, but was shocked that it so failed to service it’s core character development (and I am doubly shocked now that I see Michael Chabon had a screenplay credit, that guy is usually gold). Andrew Stanton, John Carter, and Michael Chabon in the same lineup is the geek equivalent of the 1927 Yankees, but they played more like the non-Eddie Gaedel St. Louis Browns (there’s a little Wikipedia fodder for you, Glenn!)

      Everyone has an off day and maybe these guys have earned a pass … but when you screw up your core competency at the expense of a favorite property (from childhood or otherwise) and oh by the way spend $250M of the Mouse’s dollars then you should expect to be Standing Tall Before The Man. A stern rebuke from Longbox Graveyard isn’t going to make any of these guys miss a meal, but it does make me feel a bit better.

      Plus I get a triple Bigfoot sighting!

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  5. You were a John Carter enthusiast before seeing the film, which might partially explain your disappointment. Like when I went to see Iron Man and was subjected to a tediously predictable plot and another origin story. Hello, I know who he is, I read the Romita/Michelinie run in the 80s; let’s see something like Ultimate Iron Man for the big screen.

    With John Carter, I went in as a blank slate, and really enjoyed the heck out of this flick. The bad guys were stale, but nobody’s perfect. Loved the heroine. Girls who kick ass… well… they kick ass! The aliens? Ruled. White Apes? Awesome. Framing sequence – very cool, tying it all together. The Thark civillization and hardcore values – totally got it. The male lead sold me on his heroism the whole way through, even if he forgot to sound like a Southerner.

    I remember how fun it was to see the original Star Wars trilogy as a kid. Those movies seem very flat to me now, and the sequels are worse. They’re for kids, though, and kids love them. But watching John Carter, I felt the way I felt as a kid watching Return of the Jedi. I cared about these characters and their epic adventure. I was drawn in and disbelief remained suspended for 2 hours. And that was thrilling. It worked for me. I might even go see it a second time just for kicks.

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    • It’s great that you liked it — ultimately I really do wish the best for this film, as I want more John Carter … I want to see banths, Plant Men, and the Synthetic Men of Mars! But for all that you enjoyed the film it isn’t connecting with audiences as well as it might, and the marketing campaign can’t be solely to blame for that. Yes, Star Wars isn’t anyone’s idea of great acting, but by the end of that first picture I had a firm idea of what Luke, Leia, Han, Darth, Chewie, and the droids were all about. Star Wars is a simple picture — three acts, a big boom at the end, off-the-shelf space opera action, but the characters did have heart, and depth, and connections to one another that were as much a part of the film as the X-Wings and Tie Fighters. I don’t think it’s too lofty a standard to hold a science fiction film to George Lucas level plot and characterization, but sadly, for me, John Carter fell short even of that mark.

      Maybe my feelings will change when I see it again! I will likely take the kids the weekend. Remember, my anger isn’t that the film is average so much as it is that it is not GREAT, and that as a consequence this favorite series has likely seen it’s last film.

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  6. I’ll confess to being more of a Robert E. Howard fan, but I’ve read John Carter and the Carson Napier. I enjoyed both. Yes, the romance was over-wrought, but they were still enjoyable reads for me. My biggest complaint with the film was the pacing (too much action at the expense of character development) and the characterization of JC himself. Reluctant warrior? John Carter? Where the hell did that come from? He was a fighting man, willing to die for what he believed in. I only wish they’d had him in the movie.

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    • We are kindred souls, in that I too am far more of a Howard fan (and when the latest Conan movie tanked last year, I wrote about how the character had been done a disservice HERE).

      Funny thing was that I walked out of the theater thinking they’d done a good job of adding dimension to John Carter! But that’s an indictment of the character from the books, who is humorless and without a lot of insight about himself. Getting stuck inside Carter’s head is one of the most deadly aspects of the original books for me — as a narrator, he just puts me to sleep. And because he is such a stiff, the minimal degree of humanization afforded him by Kitsch in the movie made him seem to come to life … but of course, by any other standard, Carter was a block of wood.

      I, too, am puzzled by this film’s particular departure from the fighting man of Mars … many of the reviews say that the movie suffers for following the books too closely (and as I have already stated, I’m no great defender of the books), but honestly, the film would have been better off if it actually stuck to the first book, in terms of the Thark-centric plot, the melodrama, and the critical character development between Carter, Tars, Dejah Thoris, and Sola. And since they went to all the effort to retain Carter’s American Civil War origin, maybe he should have been, like, actually a veteran of that war? With a Virginian accent and a cavalryman’s sense of action and initiative? It’s strange that they left so much in (and did nothing with it) while taking so much out that would have addressed the movie’s weaknesses.

      And thus my disappointment with what might have been!

      Thanks for reading and posting!

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  7. I’m deeply torn. I want to enjoy what little the film probably has to offer – the visual design – but I don’t want my treasured memories of this series of books – one of the few things passed down to me from my father – tainted by stultifying Hollywood ideas on what’s required for “modern” sensibilities. May as well make it all about Carter having some abolitionist epiphany. Actually I’m not that torn. Thank you for seeing this so I don’t have to, it’s very Christ-like of you.

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    • Didn’t realize you were a John Carter fan, Chris (and thank you for reading and commenting). That’s one more thing for us to geek out over the next time we are together. A copy of the SPI John Carter game moved through my library at one time, but maybe it would be worth tracking it down on eBay … I recall it was a flawed game, but no more so than this movie, and it has that 1980s SPI cool. Remind me too to show you my vast, unpainted collection of John Carter miniature figures. When the half-life of disappointment from this movie cools off, I will have to resume my great Barsoom-in-Miniature project.

      The John Carter of this film isn’t one ounce a Confederate. In the tradition of poor screenwriting, we know that Carter was the greatest soldier the South could offer, that he fought and bled for a lost cause and his debt is paid in full, that he nearly turned the tide of The War … only because they tell us so. Nothing is shown, aside from a small bit of cavalry daring-do near the beginning of the film. The Carter in this film is a generic action hero whistled up out of the casting department. He doesn’t even have a Virginian accent.

      Wait til it is out on video, then do a John Carter/Zardoz mash-up video. It will be better that way, for both of us.

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  8. Great post. I’ve never read the books nor had any interest in them. I read one Burroughs book as a teenager – The Rider – and tried to get through Tarzan and failed. I’m a sucker for a good trailer and neither trailer I saw for John Carter looked interesting. My head couldn’t even make the “Wait for the DVD” argument. However, I’ve seen the Wrath of the Titans trailer a couple of times and the Kraken definitely gets me to open my wallet: it’s an exciting trailer and it delivers proof of concept, in a way that JC didn’t even though both movies share many similar elements.

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    • Thanks, Tom. I read a lot of Burroughs when I was a kid — all the John Carters, several Tarzans, a Pellucidar, and some others — but I found him tough sledding and never enjoyed the books as much as I thought I should. I like the Ape Man but for the most part Burroughs’ characters leave me cold, and the understated, uptight, psuedo-Victorian first person narration of the John Carter series is especially impenetrable. Once every couple years I resolve to read the John Carter series again but inevitably gas out after the first couple books. There are great ideas and character relationships in there — which is why I had such high hopes they could be mined for a modern film series — but, alas …

      I agree that Wrath of the Titans trailer looks good, aside from Sam Worthington’s catastrophic haircut. I thought the first film one one or two monster fights short of being a good effects picture, hopefully this new film has more monsters and less farting around in the desert.

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  9. Agreed on almost all points, save one:

    Suggesting Favreau for the sequel indicates a stunning penchant for masochism. I don’t think the man behind Cowboys & Aliens (very much a product of his “I made Iron Man, bitches!” diva behavior) is the go-to guy to resurrect this property.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting, O Mad One. I hope you will subscribe to the blog and become a regular.

      I’m going to give Favreau a pass for Cowboys & Aliens and blame the non-existant source material for that particular failure. With Iron Man, Favreau proved command of character and effects, which puts him in a select class of filmmaker. Plus Tony Stark was every bit as much an empty vessel as John Carter before Robert Downey Jr. and Favreau turned him into the most valuable Marvel movie asset. Favreau also proved a love of space pulp with Zathura, and he had a Carter project of his own in development before Disney secured the license. I’d like to have seen what he would have done with the gentlemen adventurer from Virgina.

      The epic failure of John Carter did do Favreau a favor in that he will no longer be remembered for Hollywood’s most recent effects picture disaster. Maybe that will speed his return from the TV movie wilderness in time for Marvel to pick him up on the cheap to do Doctor Strange.

      As regards Carter, though, it is a moot point. With the film now regarded as the biggest flop in Hollywood history, the franchise is dead as Julius Caesar. We’re more likely to see Jimmy Carter on Mars before John Carter returns to his beloved Barsoom.

      I’m still bitter.

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  10. You’re a kinder soul than I am. My worry is that the C&A Favreau may be closer to the “true” Favreau, the one we get when the 800-lb gorilla flexes his “auteur” muscles. As much as people (myself included) like to dump on “the suits,” the truth is that some people can benefit from oversight. (Paging Mr. Stanton…) Akin to children with good parents who know when and how to say no, as opposed to those that let their hellions run wild and finger paint all over the movie screen.

    Here’s hoping that a wiser and humbler Favreau can restore his mojo. And I think you’re on the money with Dr. Strange — there are definite possibilities in a second- (third-?) tier hero and a director with something to prove.

    Unless they decide to do Strange for $250 million and it blows up in their faces…

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    • Two of the things Marvel has done well are to keep the reins on auteur directors and also keep their costs in line. They’ve actually made some bold choice in the directors they’ve picked, and been (for the most part) well-rewarded for it, but they have been loathe to give directors a second shot at anything, which might be their way of getting their retaliation in first against a diva director.

      More impressive has been their handling of budgets. If John Carter had been made for Thor’s $150M instead of Carter’s $250M we’d be talking about it being a marginal disappointment instead of the town’s biggest disaster since James Dean bought a convertible. We’d also be looking at “Green Lantern” math where a sequel might make sense despite a disappointing outing because the studio needs franchises and so much heavy lifting had already been done to market the first picture. Instead we have an Ozymandias moment for Andrew Stanton and Disney that no one will learn from or remember until that “sure thing” $210M Lone Ranger picture tanks next year.

      Hooray for Hollywood!

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  11. Six months later, the final results are in: $75 million US Box Office, and about another $200 million worldwide. But I reluctantly, sort of enjoyed it. The DVD is on my birthday wish-list. There is a filmmaker commentary, and that notion has me intrigued.

    In preparation for the movie, I read the first 2 Barsoom novels last year, which had been on the “eventually get around it” list for years. And although being overwritten and overwrought, I could see what has made them so popular. I was stoked. Cautiously optimistic. I saw it the first weekend.

    The movie did have some things going against it — it was a cross-genre book, because genre had not really been “invented” by publishers yet in the early 1900s. So it is unabashedly a sci-fi novel, a fantasy novel, a romance novel, and an adventure novel, all at the same time. And that does not really work these days, or perhaps Stanton

    And the marketing was horrible, of course. Dropping ” .. of Mars” from the title makes no sense. I heard Stanton speak of his love for John Carter, and I think he thoroughly overstated the world’s memory of this character — he loves John Carter, considers him an iconic character on level with Tarzan and Conan, but he’s not. John Carter is known only to the geekiest of literary geeks, and naming the movie “John Carter” simply did not resonate with moviegoer’s collective memories. But to be fair, if the movie itself had been awesome, it could have overcome the poor marketing.

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  12. I guarantee you if The Movie John Carter was released on video shelves in the early 80s that would have been one the greatest movies of the time. Just got around to finishing the movie and it did not deserve the beating it received in theaters and in reviews.

    Has that seen it before vibe especially the gladiator pit scene looked directly from Star Wars Attack Of The Clones. Heck they even have a podrace style chase that could have been cutting floor material from Star Wars Phantom Menace.

    I did not hate this movie.. it was somewhat enjoyable. There ya go… my two cents!

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    • And there is the insidious thing, of course, in that John Carter was certainly referencing those Star Wars movie sequences … which were themselves referencing John Carter! Our poor gentleman from Virginia just couldn’t win!

      If the movie cost half as much it would have been a quarter of the disaster. Alas …

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  13. While I enjoyed the rant, I just can’t agree with most of it because I truly believe that Stanton’s magnum opus pretty much hit all the marks. Tars Tarkus clearly shows his budding regard for John Carter from the moment he witnesses the first jump, through John’s first battle with the Zodangans and later when he entrusts his only child to him. (And nothing proves it more than that slap to John’s head as they arrive in Zodanga). I wish that others who saw the film on opening day with the sparse attendance (which was all due Disney’s deliberate marketing blunders) had been able to follow it through its entire run, as my sister and I did. All told, we saw the film 39 times, from March 9 through its final day, June 28. Once the film hit the second run cinemas, a miracle occurred: Word of mouth kicked in. Many times, the house was completely packed–especially in the 3D houses with 200-300 seats. (I once thanked a theater manager for holding the film over and he said, “No–thank YOU for getting the word out! It’s selling out every night!”) Those audiences were so enthusiastic: They cheered, clapped, sighed at John’s proposal to Dejah (a favorite scene for the largely female audiences), began an instant love affair with Woola and, at many screenings, the film received an ovation at the end, even AFTER its release on DVD on June 5. I can’t count the number of people who have said to me, “I wish I’d seen this movie on the big screen but I didn’t know it was out.” That’s what a lousy marketing campaign does to an amazing film—and this is one amazingly beautiful, enjoyable and inventive film. You will never see Disney acknowledge the acclaim that we witnessed, which is why we documented that entire run, but “John Carter” was a hit all over Europe, Asia and in the second run houses of the US. Somebody Thark-slap Disney ’cause we want our sequel!

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    • I salute your dedication but doubt your sanity.

      And don’t stand around on one leg waiting for a sequel, either. Whatever your anecdotal experience in seeing the picture with audiences, the numbers are all that matters. John Carter is one of the most expensive busts in motion picture history. There isn’t an executive alive who will green light a sequel. They killed the brand.

      Sic Transit Gloria Barsoom.

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