Tuesday, April 3, 2012
JOHN CARTER - A Mistitled Film That Did Not Deserve To Flop
When I first heard that Disney, of all studios, was going to be the people that finally brought Edgar Rice Burroughs' wonderful Barsoom books to the big screen, my feelings were as mixed as anyone's. Of course this would mean that the violence would be sanitized, that Dejah Thoris and the rest of the Red Martian gang would be wearing far too much clothing, but, I told myself, with the Mouse calling the shots, we might actually get a good treatment of that chivalrous pulp hero, John Carter, in all his uncomplicated and hokey glory. And this thought pleased me: cynicism and sarcasm were old and stale long before David Foster Wallace pointed out the dreariness of the tyranny of irony. A nice, earnest do-gooder would be just the thing to perk everybody up again. Plus, modern special effects technology would do visual justice to the wonders of Barsoom and the beings inhabiting it.
Well, I was mostly right. I'm quite gutted not to see Captain John Carter of Virginia in this film -- he's been replaced by a bog-standard cynical Hollywood anti-hero who has the same name -- but pretty much everything else about this film is so right that when I'm watching (which I did again today, bringing a pal who had never read the books)* I don't care. The Green Martians look great. The Red Martians look great. The White Apes are far scarier and more awesome than I'd ever imagined them. The airships are nothing like I'd imagined at all, but are so cool that I'm going to write to Santa Claus and ask for one for Christmas. And, too much clothing or not, Lynn Collins made a perfect Dejah Thoris the titular** Princess of Mars whose beauty is really the least of her qualities -- she's a top-notch scientist and a leader and a spectacular fighter, really a more rounded character than she ever gets to be in the books (wherein she is often reduced to a thing that must be rescued). Which makes up for a lot, as in maybe even making up for the substitution of an unshaven pretty boy asshole for the manly and upright Captain Carter.
But, while you get glimpses of the airships and the Martians in this trailer, does it in anyway convey the sheer awesome action and pulpy goodness of the Barsoom books? Go read one, any one you can get your hands on, if you're not familiar with them, then watch this trailer again. Your head will spin from the disconnect, the moody, dreary music, the dirge-like tone of the dialogue clips, the emphasis on Carter as a dude walking in the rain in New York and on the fictionalized Burroughs' loss of him. Would you want to see this film based on that trailer? Would you know you were in for a glorious bit of fantasy and action and old-fashioned romance? No. "Find your destiny." I'm gonna hurl.
Seriously, though, there is so much to like about this film it makes me all but gnash my teeth when everyone focuses on how much money it's losing. Because Disney made a pretty good film despite themselves, and have only their marketing department to blame for its commercial failure. And this makes me mad, because there are so many other good Barsoom stories that would be fabulous on the big screen (and better than some of the dreck that is getting greenlit, judging from the previews I saw today. Battleship? Really? Talk about something that needs to be a flop...) and now probably won't ever get made unless Disney decides it needs another big fat loss leader or tax write-off or whatever it is they thought they were going to get when they decided to make John Carter.
So I'll just have to dream. And of course, get the DVD when it's available, because screw you guys, it was a fun movie.
*And who told me as we walked out of the theater that he'd liked the movie very much indeed and it wasn't what he'd been expecting at all.
**Well, should be titular. This film adapted the very first of Burroughs' Barsoom books, A Princess of Mars, and what moron had the idea of changing the film's title to just John Carter and how the hell did he/she persuade all the other morons that this idea was a good one? I want to kick that person's ass all day long.