I don’t usually write about movies. Which mostly has to do with the fact that I don’t see a lot of movies. Even the ones I see, my thoughts can usually be summed up in a Twitter post and don’t warrant a blog entry.
This past weekend, though, I went and saw John Carter. I loved it. It was great. Not perfect by any means, but perfectly enjoyable despite its flaws, and a lot of fun. I want to see it again, a rare feat.
When it opened, though, the critics quickly went in for the kill, and now Disney has declared the movie a flop that it lost $200 million on. The film cost $250 million to make, but apparently they also ran a marketing campaign that cost around $100 million. The surprising bit is that they spent so much on advertising, when the overwhelming opinion seems to be that Disney did the worst possible marketing job that they possibly could have.
I mean, here you have the first big-screen production of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ precisely-100-year-old science fiction saga that inspired an entire century of sci-fi and fantasy. Not once did Disney go to the historical and literary importance of the source material. Imagine a trailer that starts out with the following text:
Before STAR WARS
Before THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Before CONAN THE BARBARIAN
From the creator of TARZAN
And the director of WALL-E and FINDING NEMO
Come on, right? But no, nobody could possibly want to know about any of that stuff. And then Disney adds insult to injury by giving it the blandest, let’s-convey-the-least-information-possible title they could come up with. It was originally “John Carter of Mars” (the title card actually shows up as such at the end of the film) but because apparently movies with “Mars” in the title have historically done so poorly, they decided to leave that part off, even though the entire point of the movie is John Carter’s adventures on Mars! Heck, just use the instory native name of “Barsoom”. Something—anything—else! When the Super Bowl trailer aired, my friend Tara asked, perhaps only half-jokingly, “Why are they making a movie about Noah Wyle’s ER character?” (She would be amused to find out, as I later did, that ER‘s creator, Michael Crichton, was a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, and named the TV character after ERB’s hero.) The point is, the average modern moviegoer had no knowledge of John Carter or his pedigree, and Disney spent $100 million doing their best to not tell them. Is it any wonder it failed so miserably?
But it doesn’t deserve to. It’s maybe a little overlong, and unevenly paced, but it’s compellingly enjoyable. It’s complicated and sometimes less than easy to follow, but it doesn’t dumb anything down; it respects its audience enough to expect them to keep up and piece things together, and by and large, by the end, you will. It takes large and numerous deviations from the original text, but is somehow still unfailingly faithful to the spirit of the source material; how often does that happen? It’s gorgeous to look at, it has heart, and it’s just plain fun.
So I say: Screw the critics. Screw Disney declaring it a flop. If you like having any fun at the movies, you need to go see this movie while it’s still in theaters.