Biggest pro of being the unpaid Monkey Intern: Having an excuse to go see 3-d action movies.
Biggest con of being the unpaid Monkey Intern: I did mention “unpaid”, right? Can I at least use this as a tax write-off? I mean, it was $13.50 for primetime with a 3-d upcharge…can’t someone toss the interns of the world a bone here?
Let me make one thing clear: I’m not defending John Carter to the grave. I’m not here to tell you it’s the greatest movie of the year, let alone the decade. But (despite my above rant to the contrary), I don’t regret paying a small fortune to see it in theaters.
Let me point out the things I really liked about John Carter. And don’t worry, I’ll leave this spoiler free.
- I enjoyed the action scenes. Yes, I feel like there could have been more. No, I don’t feel like they did anything particularly memorable with the fights. But the film pulled off what every action blockbuster is supposed to pull off: the fight scenes were fast-paced and sensory-engaging. I didn’t feel overloaded, and I didn’t feel underwhelmed. Probably the biggest reason I like to see action movies in theaters are the enhanced visuals and sounds of the movie theater experience. Most dramas don’t lose much with a home DVD viewing—the plot and dialogue are the major selling points. Action movies thrive on dazzling action sequences. I think John Carter succeeded here.
- The framing narrative was entertaining without being distracting. It risked being cliché or corny. It toed the line, in the same way that Matt regularly toes the line of questionable body hair grooming. But when the movie closed, I smiled at the set-up rather than groaning with the potential gut-wrenching “…Really?”.
- The whole flick is based on a pulp serial series nearly a century old! I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and that kind of premise hooks me.
- Unlike most movies today, John Carter didn’t feel the need to beat viewers about the head with political nonsense. I didn’t see an inherent “Capitalism is the bane of existence!” theme (which I’ve always found ironic in major motion pictures, but I digress), and I didn’t feel my own beliefs questioned. The bad guys were clearly bad, the good guys were clearly good, and their motivations were straightforward. I found that…refreshing.
So, why do I think the flick tanked so epically in theaters? (Trolls, get ready…) I actually chalk it up to marketing. In particular, I think the marketing for John Carter failed in a few specific ways:
- Poor trailers. Far too many fans (myself included) had this vague sense that John Carter was going to be (at least unofficially) “Avatar reloaded”. The trailers didn’t shed enough light on the plot, the world, or the influences to let me know just who in the heck John Carter was. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, I wasn’t familiar with…
- The movie’s source material—Edgar Rice Burrough’s work in the early 20th century. I said earlier that I’m a sucker for that kind of nostalgia—I love me some Conan. (I’ll always pronounce it Co-Nan, and nothing anyone can say or do will stop me. I like to think of it as my niche [that’s “nitch”, not “neesh”.]) The movie advertising didn’t give me enough lead to know the movie’s roots. I didn’t really grasp the story’s history until a friend suggested I look up ERB’s works online…and once I did, I got much more excited to see the movies. Shame on Disney for dropping the ball there.
- Speaking of Disney…I think it was a big mistake to include “Disney” in the movie advertising titles. Apparently there might be some ancient feud about the movie’s rights? Frankly, I don’t know and I don’t really care. But insisting on throwing “Disney” before “John Carter” in the title just seems self-aggrandizing. More importantly, though—it turns off the movie’s key audience. Right or wrong, I felt myself drained of a pint of testosterone when I asked for my ticket. Not only that, but the target audience for the Disney buzzword—parents of young children—would have been immediately turned off by the intensely combative trailers. So Disney turned off their target audience (action movie, nostalgic fans who might not have known enough about John Carter’s roots) to either appeal to a demographic that wouldn’t take the bait (parents of kiddos) or to prove a point of ownership (who really cares?).
I think most movie-goers failed to do much homework before going to see John Carter, and they really shouldn’t have to. The misguided marketing campaign set their expectations inappropriately, and viewers didn’t really appreciate aspects of the film that they probably should have. In turn, word-of-mouth advertising didn’t do John Carter any favors. Disney screwed the pooch from both direct and indirect marketing perspectives… to the tune of $200 million.
Since this is, technically, a review, I should probably close by with a rating. Overall, I give John Carter 3.5 “random Robert grading factors” out of a possible 4 “Matt’s ill-conceived theories”.