John Carter and Company: Hype, Expectation, Forgiveness


Andrew Stanton’s latest film John Carter is the talk of the town. It cost somewhere between $250 and $300 Million and it didn’t actually make that much money on the opening weekend – at least in the U.S. There is hope that it might become a slow grower and eventually make back its budget, but in the industry’s eye, it can be considered a flop. Many critics also didn’t like it. They felt it was all over the place storywise, campy and simply not interesting enough.

It’s a misjudgment, however, to think that nobody liked John Carter. For one, I liked it, even though my best friend didn’t. I sided with Matt Zoller Seitz and the other half of the critics (on Rotten Tomatoes) who forgave the film its faults and its crappy marketing and simply let themselves be entertained.

The film’s opening weekend controversy, to use a big word, got me thinking. Thinking that maybe forgiveness is the only way to deal with films like John Carter, that it should be the sentiment with which we enter the theatre and which we should dial up when we review the films in our heads later on. Why? Because a film of the John Carter kind will never ever please us, if we’re not prepared to forgive.

First of all, what do I mean by “the John Carter kind”? I’m talking about films that come with attached baggage from three sources: 1. expectations from those that know and love the source material; 2. expectations toward a director with a certain credibility or track record; and 3. hype generated by the singularity and finality of the event, supported by marketing.

The three criteria are certainly true of John Carter. Many people love the source material, they have read the books as teenagers (I haven’t). Andrew Stanton is a respected director, who created Finding Nemo and Wall-E, among the more unconventional Pixar-Films (and two of its Oscar winners). And the long list of trials of bringing John Carter to the screen for twenty and more years certainly also made the fact that it finally happened very momentous.

So with all that expectation (and the amounts of money mentioned in connection with the movie), could John Carter do anything else than fail? Yes. It could have been a Lord of the Rings, a Dark Knight or an Avatar, tentpole films of the last ten years that somehow managed to meet the expectations set in them, were lauded by critics and audiences alike – despite obvious weaknesses.

But what if we forget about the expectation and the money for a moment? What if we forgive Andrew Stanton his major error of trying to tackle a property that is clearly something that you might enjoy as a child but raise your eyebrows at, when you’re an adult. In all seriousness: John Carter is not a bad movie by a long stretch. It’s heaps of illogical fun with charismatic leads. It builds a rich world that for all its preposterousness feels somehow believable. And it sustains several mysteries for much of its running time. People were willing to forgive Avatar its cheesy exoticism and enviromentalism (and possible racism). They were willing to forgive The Return of the King its many endings and endless battle scenes. I am willing to forgive John Carter its convoluted story and superficial worldview – and just enjoy the movie.

And I hope that forgiveness will be on my mind, when The Avengers roll around soon.