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Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter: Science Fiction Adventure Lives?

When George Lucas made Star Wars: A New Hope, he was partially motivated by a void in the entertainment industry. Those high flying Science Fiction adventures from his childhood had failed to evolve into something that matched what was in his mind's eye. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and other icons from early movie making were long gone, or had suffered bad remakes.

Star Wars brought about a short-lived era during the late 70's and early 80's that featured a glut of Science Fiction adventure films that attempted to imitate the energy and spirit of George Lucas' vision. Everyone from Sean Connery to David Hasselhoff starred in films that studios hoped would capture the imaginations of audiences like Star Wars did. A few efforts did lead to some good entertainment (example: Battlestar Galactica), but that wasn't the norm.

When I saw previews for John Carter (of Mars), I was hoping that it would be successful, and infuse television and movie studios with the desire to start making more science fiction adventure movies. The critics and many loud-mouths of the Internet gleefully attacked the film based on the trailer alone, which is common these days, I realize. Normally that sort of thing doesn't hurt a film very much, people aren't stupid, most of us pan pre-emptive negativity.

The over-zealous critics and eager social media mavens of the Internet did do some damage in this case, however. John Carter suffered from ineffective advertising, and it's been released in the action movie dead season, too far before the summer blockbuster window. The guerrilla marketing was mismanaged as well. You can find it if you look for it, but that's not the point of guerrilla marketing, it should be everywhere, and people should be talking about it in a positive sense before the movie arrives. People should be excited, even if they're not entirely sure why yet. That didn't happen. The razzle dazzle fizzled in grand fashion, especially after one or more name changes.

I've seen the film, and I can tell you that it's a great adventure movie. The special effects are spectacular, the story is solid, and there are some interesting twists. The book will be better for some, but if you're looking to have a fun, adventure filled night out at the movies, it's a great flick. I really did feel like I was watching an old 1936 episode of Flash Gordon with new special effects, a more sophisticated story and slightly better acting. The high-flying-adventure feeling was there for long stretches.

I forgot it was in 3D by the end, but that's my average experience with 3D films. It's a good adventure romp with or without it.

It seems that, between Disney's poor advertising effort and misrepresenting this film, perhaps event trying to sell it to the wrong audience, John Carter (of Mars) won't even earn it's budget back. $250,000,000.00 is a lot to gamble on anything. I suppose John Carter may earn its cost back after Blu-Ray and PPV release, but studios don't consider that a success. A loss like that will most likely discourage other film makers and studios from investing in Science Fiction Adventure films.

That's the opposite of the effect Star Wars had in 1977, and there was a time when I would say the glut of SciFi B-Movies was a bad thing, but these days I find myself in the opposite camp. Special effects and movie making isn't as expensive as it once was. Serenity (Joss Whedon, based on the Firefly television series), cost $35,000,000.00 and, while it didn't have as many special effect shots as John Carter, it certainly was enjoyable. I would put it above John Carter or Avatar any day in terms of how much I enjoyed the movie.

In fact, I would rather see seven $35,000,000.00 Science Fiction Adventure movies in the place of one $250,000,000.00 any time. Some may say that the comparison between films like Serenity and Avatar is unfair, but I believe the days of depending on special effects selling a movie instead of story craft and great filmmaking are coming to a close.

Perhaps the failure of John Carter will lead studios to the same conclusion, and we'll see better writing combined with an appropriate budget for special effects. Someone get Joss Whedon on the phone, I hear he's finished making that Avenger movie.


[What did you think of John Carter?]


Claudine said...

I loved it. I have yet to read the book. The feel of the film is as you say, a 1930s romp. I loved the fact that while it has all the modern features of the standard sci-fi / adventure film (great CGI), the dialogue was old fashioned and really likable. For once there was no need to decipher slang, or wade through mumbling of words. It was a good way to spend 2 hours of my time on a Saturday afternoon.

Daleus, Curmudgeon-at-Large said...

I've been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books for 35 years. Over those years.

The movie was everything I had hoped for! It is faithful to the original adventures Burroughs wrote and I agree with the reviewer here that it was a fun adventure romp in the best style.

I too despaired when the huge waves of internet negativity descended on the not yet created corpse of this movie. Truly, unbridled cynicism may the greatest ill humanity faces in this new century.

I never have and never will abide people who shoot their mouths off about something they haven't even seen/read. Fortunately, I have been on the internet longer than *all* of it's current millionaire stars have been alive, and I already knew it for the den of scum and villany it is.

I had to ignore the self-appointed naysayers/critics and see the movie myself. Glad I stuck to what I know is good stuff.

I hope all of you out there will ignore the naysayers and go see this movie - make an opinion for yourself, don't let others put words into your mouths. Even batter, haul your asses over to Project Gutenburg and grab the books themselves. I think you all deserve a special treat!

Kathleen said...

Oddly enough this whole debacle reminds me of original StarWars. I was there on day one in an empty theater. POTC-1 also had a rough start with Disney. Hopefully John Carter (of Mars) will continue to gain fans. I fear crummy marketing is standard fare these days for the mouse house. Haven't seen a good promo, even for animation, since Beauty. I've got my request in to pre-order the DVD. JC is a film to watch again and again!

Marcus said...

Just went and saw it today. I gotta say I really enjoyed it. It was a great adventure movie. Over 2 hours long I hardly even noticed. It kept my attention and didn't fill any the film with random parts that make you scratch your head and ask "Why am I watching this person do this? Is it important later?" Only to find out it wasn't important.

Another thing I liked about it, which movie makers seem to be getting better at, is the CGI. It wasn't over the top "Holy Crap look what we did with a green screen!!! Wooo!" it was well done and felt natural, and the interaction between the actors and the CG environment looked real.

I definitely recommend going to see it. If you are a fan of sci-fi adventures you won't be disappointed.

David said...

I read the (Barsoom) book(s) as a kid and loved it. I really looked forward to seeing the movie and I enjoyed it. If done again, I wouldn't see it in the theater; I would rent it. It dragged on at times and the 3D effects were not impressive.