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.

RePotter PostScript #1 – The other RePotters

I was obviously not the only one who looked back at the Harry Potter films this summer. I read some other interesting retrospectives and wanted to share them.

The most thorough retrospective I found was “Slant” Magazine’s “Week with a wizard”. Author Ted Pigeon examines each film in a separate blog entry with film scholarly expertise – and comes to many similar conclusions as me and my interviewees. There is no easy way to link to the series, so here are the individual blog entries:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

A friend pointed me to a more humourous take at the “Guardian”, where Charlie Lyne sat through a marathon viewing of all but the last film.

And then there is my favourite one: Matt Zoller Seitz sitting down with his teenage daughter. They mostly discuss the last film, but also try to look at the larger picture of what the Harry Potter movies did for the Potter generation, something I was very interested in in my podcast series.

If you find any other good Potter Retrospectives, be sure to point them out in the comments.

Stuff I learned this week – #7/11

The “Slate” Movie Club: Critic vs. Critic

There’s a lot of stuff that’s great on the internet and one of them is metacriticism, especially when it comes to movies. It allows me to delve into my two writing passions – film and media – at the same time. I don’t think there ever was a time when critics were able to interact with each other as throughly as now. And it’s incredibly interesting.

It took me until this week to come across the “Slate” Movie Club’s Critic vs. Critic series, in which great writers about film (among them one of my recently-discovered favourites Matt Zoller Seitz) discuss their craft. This year, they deal with top ten lists, defend their choices and the making of lists in general.

Dan Kois uses a flowchart to explain why he liked Black Swan. Stephanie Zacharek discusses the misogynism behind panning Somewhere. Matt Zoller Seitz wonders what critics’ scepticism about Inception says about their fears. And that’s just the beginning.

I will only say this once: Read it.

Stuff I learned this week – #44/10

This is the attempt to install a new weekly link feature in this blog, similar to the way Worte zum Wochenende used to be.