Saturday, March 17, 2012

Covering Carter

Despite the modest hope that my positive review last week would singlehandedly turn the tide of bad buzz, John Carter opened last week to just over $30 million domestically and a $100 million global total, which isn't a total embarrassment, but it does signal a long road to recouping the considerable investment (to the tune of $250 mil) Disney put into launching this franchise. And even though word of mouth has leaned positive, that hasn't stanched the flow of tsk-tsk'ing in the industry press, most of it fixated on that aforementioned ginormous price tag, as if the writers of said articles are shouldering the cost personally.

Given the size of its budget and the unfamiliarity of its subject matter, was John Carter a considerable risk? Yes, but it also represents a studio and filmmaker (director Andrew Stanton) taking a chance to bring a passion project to the screen. Instead of applauding them, the collective response has been to damn their hubris. When you consider the creatively bankrupt spectacles released annually that are given a free ride simply because they end up making a profit, the media dogpile on John Carter becomes even more baffling. It's the old ad crumenam fallacy writ large: "This thing cost x, and it didn't make y, so obviously it sucks. Duh."

In a piece earlier this week for AICN, correspondent Jeremy Smith (a.k.a. Mr. Beaks) went into greater detail on why the barrage of Carter attacks are so shortsighted:
John Carter has myriad issues, but it is transporting and cinematic and the kind of go-for-broke epic that's likely to inspire some eight-year-old dreamer to pick up a camera. It just bums me out that, at some point, that kid is going to run up against the vision-limiting tyranny of studio executives - who'd rather blow a fortune on carefully-calibrated product that will open big and please no one. And this is the problem with savaging a film like John Carter: yes, it's ungainly and clearly flawed in ways that no Andrew Stanton film has been before, but it's at least the work of a visionary who loves pulp entertainment. It's not a by-committee cash-grab like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
I haven't seen Pirates 4 (or any Pirates flick other than the first one, for that matter -- one of these days!), so I'm not really equipped to address that last point, but his overall thesis is an important one. The relentless savaging of films like Carter, which -- success or failure -- are at least trying to bring some artistry and passion to the medium, makes it that much harder for artists down the line to bring their dream projects to the screen. Of course, beyond the larger implications on future Hollywood creatively, this is simply a solid movie that's worth watching. It's still got a few weeks of theatrical life left, so give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.

1 comment:

Patrick Ditton said...

I was at the movies last night to see 21 Jump Street (which I really enjoyed) and, here in Tasmania at least, John Carter seemed to be drawing a steady audience. Granted it was a Saturday night and this city only has 4 screens, but it's showing both 2D and 3D versions of thd film. I still hold out hope that international box office coupled with DVD sales will bring this movie back to even, at least. The thing is, with films of this sized budget, the studio doesn't necessarily produced it for instant box office bucks. It seems unrealistic to expect the required $700 Million to break even from an untested product. I suspect Disney may milk this film for years and years on their various networks etc. Not having to fork out tens of millions in broadcast rights for a film to fill time slots is the same, for bean counters, as making tens of millions. I suspect, for Disney, John Carter may do okay -- just not as great as they would have liked. When is the DisneyXD animated John Carter show coming....? :-)