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Posts Tagged ‘John Carter’

This Property Should Be Condemned

July 3rd, 2013 No comments

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger opens today at a theater too close to you. The reviews are as scorching as a summer’s day in Monument Valley. And I am going to take a cheap shot and smugly suggest that spending 250 215 250 million dollars* to fully realize the exotic world and complex backstory of a cowboy with a mask may have been a poor decision.

Why does this film even exist? Who, in 2013, was clamoring for the return of the Lone Ranger? Hey, I watched reruns of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Ranger and Tonto as a kid. And I’m pretty sure that I enjoyed them.** But–and this is worth emphasizing–I am old.***

Some poor marketing executive has probably spent the past year trying to figure out how to make “Hi-yo, Silver!” a thing with Kids Today, and I place the blame for that on our general unwillingness to let old “Intellectual Properties” ride off into the sunset. I attribute this to a combination of nostalgia, the desperate search for exploitable pop-culture franchises, and the realization by the estates of long-dead creators that their cash cows are down to their last teats.

I say this as someone who enjoyed John Carter and adored Speed Racer, but maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to let some old IP die. Not everything stands the test of time, or deserves to.

Some characters are simply outdated. Some concepts have been supplanted by more sophisticated treatments. And some ideas probably weren’t so hot in the first place.

We’re not as in love with the mythology of the Old West as we were when the Ranger first rode the plains in a cloud of dust. And our racial sensitivities have evolved enough**** that we have to perform conceptual backflips to make the stereotype of a faithful Indian sidekick palatable.

I’m not saying that we have to consign Silver to the dog-food factory. These are cultural artifacts, worthy of our study and our love. But perhaps we don’t need to reboot them for modern audiences. Perhaps we shouldn’t spend a quarter-billion dollars trying to convince ourselves that we still deeply care about The Lone Ranger.

*Disney cut the initial budget to a slightly more manageable $215 million, but the runaway production eventually cost as much as the original estimate…and that’s after they dropped the werewolves. Yes, “werewolves.”

**There wasn’t much on TV back then, so regular watching of a show was not necessarily an endorsement of same.

***Okay, I’m nearly 49, so I’m not the Highlander. Still, I’m old enough to have seen The Brady Bunch in its network run. I get to play the “you young whippersnappers” card.

****Well, not nearly enough, but enough for this, at least.

Box Office Of Barsoom

March 22nd, 2012 No comments

I know that there’s no way to spin the second weekend box office for John Carter into anything good. Even Disney has already stopped trying, announcing that they expect to lose $200 million on the film once the Martian dust has settled.

However, I want to take a few moments to write about expectations and reality.

We all know that John Carter was a flop. Boxofficemojo.com began its March 11 weekend report with this: “After months upon months of box office speculation, John Carter finally opened and as expected was a huge disappointment.” They noted that it earned only $30.2 million domestically during its initial weekend. The report continued, “Disney’s marketing department has been beat up on pretty good for the lackluster John Carter campaign, and to their credit the movie doesn’t really lend itself to an easy sell. Still, making the movie is the responsibility of production, and selling the movie is the responsibility of marketing, and in that regard they clearly failed.”

Fast-forward a week.

On March 18, Boxofficemojo.com reported “With its broadly-appealing premise, popular lead actors and well-executed marketing campaign, 21 Jump Street cruised in to first place at the box office this weekend ahead of two-time winner The Lorax.” So, how much did 21 Jump Street make? $36.3 million domestically. Just $6.1 million more than the mega-flop that is John Carter. We can now quantify the advantage of a broadly-appealing premise and well-executed marketing campaign*.

Looking at the international box office–where the real money is made–John Carter grossed $70.6 million in its opening weekend, and was up to $126.1 million as of Monday morning. 21 Jump Street made $7.2 million…one-tenth of Carter‘s first weekend. Granted, the comedy played in far fewer countries, but–as the article I linked to in the opening paragraph explains–that’s because action films are an easier sell in foreign-language markets.

Nevertheless, 21 Jump Street is a hit. You can bet that they’re already planning the sequel, and that everyone else will be looking to dust off other ’80s cop shows to remake as comedies. John Carter, however? Floparoo. Only $180 million worldwide. What a stinker.

Let me be clear here. I’m well aware that John Carter cost an insane amount of money to make and sell: somewhere upwards of $350 million. And according to Boxofficemojo.com, the production budget of 21 Jump Street was a mere $42 million. In terms of return on investment, there’s a clear winner here. (Jump also received significantly better notices, but I suspect that the most brutal reviews of  Carter had less to do with its actual merits than with its bottom line.)

As an audience member, why should I give a shit how much the studio spent? Theaters don’t offer discount pricing for inexpensively-made movies. Marketing budgets and production overruns matter to bean-counters and entertainment reporters. The only real difference any of this makes to me is the extent to which the return on investment influences future film production. When movies I like are perceived as poor performers, studios are less likely to make movies I like.

There, unfortunately, the market has spoken.

*I have nothing against 21 Jump Street. I haven’t seen it yet. By most accounts, it’s pretty funny.

Categories: Movies Tags: ,

Get Carter

March 14th, 2012 No comments

Look, I get it. My tastes and yours rarely overlap. Your eyes glazed over for Speed Racer. When Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow premiered, you said that you were washing your cat. And you don’t even own a cat. So I wasn’t surprised that you didn’t even meet the film industry’s tragically lowered expectations for the opening weekend of John Carter. But, really. Fewer of you showed up for the first-ever film adaptation of the century-old, seminal work of sci-fi adventure than did for Battle: Los Angeles10,000 B.C. or Cowboys & Aliens. Cowboys. And. Aliens.

I’m ashamed of you.

Oh, we can blame Disney’s marketing department for not understanding how to sell you on it. They went so far as to castrate John Carter of Mars to plain ol’ John Carter after they concluded that you avoided last year’s expensive boondoggle Mars Needs Moms because of the word “Mars.” (Instead of the more likely offender, “Moms.”)

We can also look at the disappointing history of films that appealed first and foremost to hardcore geeks. But heck, even Watchmen nearly doubled John Carter‘s $30 million weekend. You really, really didn’t want to see this one.

What truly gets me are the reviews, many of which are as scorching as the desert wastes of Barsoom. I feel as if you didn’t even see the same film I did, that perhaps the theater accidentally screened some early ’80s leftover starring Reb Brown. Because while I won’t claim that John Carter was Raiders of the Lost Ark, it wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull either.

What I saw was a good-humored adventure with visual spectacle, a scantily-clad and muscular cast, plenty of PG-13 bloodletting and an adorable slug-puppy companion that should have been the Breakout Animated Character of 2012.

I’ll grant you that it has a slow build in the way that action films once did before Steven Spielberg strapped them to the front of a runaway mine car. It takes a while to get to the action, but once John Carter, sword in hand, begins leaping Martian airships in a single bound*, the movie becomes giddy fun.

I feel that John Carter is perhaps the purest distillation of early pulp sci-fi we’re likely to see. It even works in some of the quirkiness of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantasy worlds. We all know Burroughs from Tarzan, but his other series–such as those set in the inner world of Pellucidar or the prehistoric island of Caprona–have some very weird shit going on.  You get a taste of that in this film, what the mysterious energy source of the “Ninth Ray” and the hyper-advanced Therns who use its power to shape the development of civilization on Mars (and beyond).

The brutal criticism and–more importantly–your apathetic response have pretty much scuttled any hope of a follow-up, and will probably send former Pixar director Andrew Stanton back to making features about animated dustmops, but you can’t take this film away from me.

*While the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian stories on Star Wars and Avatar is obvious, I previously hadn’t given much thought to the connection between John Carter and the original incarnation of Superman. They even have the same rationale for their strength and super-jumping ability: the relatively lower gravity of their adoptive worlds.



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