Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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I Saw John Carter

A few weeks ago while I was still on vacation, a friend rented John Carter from Netflix. Initially, I didn’t want to watch John Carter at all. The movie just didn’t interest me all that much. But I decided to check it out anyway, mostly to satiate my own curiosity in failed films. Upon watching, it was hard to ignore the fact that this film has a well-deserved reputation for being a gigantic box office bust. I spent my time watching John Carter wondering why exactly it failed, and I think I have hit on a few reasons. I’ve decided to compile those reasons here into this review, in an attempt to better understand and convey just why I think John Carter was such a failure. In doing this, I also want to point out what I liked about the film as well.

This awful Blu Ray cover will surely do the film no favors during its second chance on home video.

Problem #1

Theoretically, I should be extremely drawn to a movie like John Carter. It is, first and foremost, a science fiction adventure story in the vein of something like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or even any of the Indiana Jones movies. It has fantastical elements, exotic locations, super powered heroes, and other genre conventions that are normally very interesting to me and match my movie-watching tastes. John Carter, however, is shot and directed like it was made 60 years ago or something. Just watching the movie, I noted the bombastic, epic filmmaking, as if John Carter was Charlton Heston from Ben Hur or El Cid resurrected. The problem is that by now, this style of filmmaking is extremely dated. John Carter is considerably cheesy in many places, evoking filmmaking of old rather than 21st century blockbuster movie-making.

Problem #2

Acting in John Carter is a primary problem. I realize that Taylor Kitsch is well-liked in a few circles on the internet. His television program Friday Night Lights, while not a huge hit, was a critical darling with a fervent following on the internet reminiscent of shows like Community. But Taylor Kitsch is miscast here. His surfer-looking blonde hair and lack of charisma as an action star don’t help his case, and fail to endear the audience to Carter as a character. While it can be difficult to portray generic archetype Hero Protagonist in this type of film, Kitsch just doesn’t work, nor does he do himself any favors. He never appears to soak in the wonder around him, and is way too moody for the tone of the movie as a whole. The supporting cast isn’t much better. Mark Strong, who really needs to stop playing villains for a while, just seems kind of bored throughout, not that I can blame him in some cases. Dominic West and Lynn Collins, however, are both good in their supporting roles.

Problem #3

This is a problem that isn’t exactly the fault of the filmmakers per se, but remains an issue throughout the film nonetheless. The issue at hand is that no one in contemporary culture cares about John Carter. This may have been difficult for director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) to grasp. According to an expose by Vulture, Stanton steadfastly refused to acquiesce to marketing suggestions for the film, instead choosing to essentially market the movie his own way. What Stanton didn’t realize is that no one has the affinity anymore for the character that he has. Years of Avatar, Star Wars, and many other big budget action films have taken away from what John Carter did in novel form a hundred years ago. The marketing for this film was such a disaster that it reportedly led to the dismissal of the head of Disney’s movie marketing division. No one knew what to do with either the character of John Carter or his movie.

John Carter is an admirable movie in that its chief creative source, director Andrew Stanton, clearly felt an immeasurable love for the source material. Unfortunately for Stanton (as well as Disney), no amount of old-school style filmmaking, bad advertising, or feverous love for the character by the director was going to put audience’s butts in seats. Stanton, in the end, failed to realize that he had a no-win scenario on his hands. Not even a Super Bowl ad blitz, 3D post-conversion, or late effort Carter marketing blitz was going to save this movie. John Carter is long, has a meandering plot, is boring for many stretches, is considerably cheesy and hokey, and looks in places like that made-for-Syfy version of Dune from about ten years ago, despite the fact that it cost an absolute fortune to make. Even though I didn’t like the film, I still found it admirable filmmaking. I hope Stanton continues to get chances to make big budget movies, because he is clearly a director with passion. I just hope he learns his lesson from the failure of John Carter.


8 responses to “I Saw John Carter

  1. r361n4 July 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Good review, I love the clarity of your presentation. Is it just me or did you find John Carter to be really really similar to the Prince of Persia movie a few years back? Anyways, I like Stanton as a director too but I feel like his confort zone is still mostly Animation so I’m curious to see if he manages to break out of that.

    Feel free to check out my review if you want, I always love feedback from a fellow blogger 🙂

  2. Nick! July 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    That’s too bad that this movie failed. It looked interesting. I applaud the idea of old-school filmmaking, but it just doesn’t work for today’s audiences. It’s also too bad the marketing for this film was awful. Not that this movie was an “original idea”, but was a far-from-mainstream property. “Unpopular” things can work, but only if they they have a name attached to it. For example, Inception and Tintin were successes largely due to the names of Nolan, Spielberg, and Jackson. Stanton, despite being a solid director, is not a name people flock to.

    • CultureCast-Z July 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Too true, Nick. I applaud Stanton greatly for his effort. I actually think, having seen John Carter, that Stanton would be a great choice for a Superman movie. Your thoughts?

      Tintin wasn’t a domestic success, though it did well overseas. Any news on if they’re going through with that sequel?

      • Nick! July 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        I have no thoughts for Stanton as a Superman director mainly because I haven’t seen anything he’s done that would automatically suggest he’d be match for it. Nemo and Wall-E are very different from what would be the expected norm for a Superman movie (I haven’t seen John Carter).

        I guess success is relative. Considering that Tintin is more of a “Europe thing” and it was released in the midst of winter movie season, the movie nailed the target they were shooting for (from what I have read anyway). From what I’ve heard, the script is done and/or is being polished with Jackson jumping on for the motion capture shoot once he completes The Hobbit this summer. Its happening.

  3. Paula Balza July 24, 2012 at 1:22 am

    I really like prince of persia because the story is very good and about heroism. My kids really love the Prince of Persia game and movie. :`:;:

    Warm regards“>

  4. Pingback: John Carter Movie Review, Filed Under Movies the “Real” Critics Don’t Want us to Like. | Pop! News Online

  5. Pingback: What Went Wrong?: Vol. 27 – Jack And the Giant Flop Edition | The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

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