Three months ago I would have scoffed at the idea of writing this article.
After all, nobody wants to see a movie called John Carter. Nobody. That’s because it’s a boring name. Utterly boring. How Disney – Disney – didn’t see this from the get-go is beyond even its own wild imagination.
And the trailers were poor. At best, Muppet Man-impressions of Avatar, at worst a long zoom-out of a logo (if only that wasn’t true), the promo videos are a modern day marketing marvel for all the wrongs reasons.
They didn’t just fail to get popcorn-chompers interested; they made them swear to never, ever see the film. Ever.
Then came opening weekend. Then came the stories about opening weekend. Then came the following weeks. Then came the stories about the following weeks. It wasn’t long before everyone knew that John Carter was one of the biggest box-office flops of all time.
And it was at that point that I swore I would never watch it.
But I’m fickle.
Months later, after the digital poster had stared at me every night on iTunes for a week, it only took the slightest bit of encouragement from a barely trustworthy source for me to overlook the whirlpool of crap that was (a), (b) and (c) and spend the £4.49.
Movie marketing isn’t just about getting bums on seats; it’s about promising something that you can deliver. By having its promos pretend that John Carter was this edgy, epic event flick, Disney made a promise it couldn’t keep. Audiences thought they were getting Avatar 2 but they ended up with… something else. Betrayed moviegoers don’t evangelise well.
What makes this worse is that Disney didn’t need to make it so difficult – because John Carter is better than any Na’vi-riddled drivel. It warranted confidence, but instead caused confusion.
The protagonist is too humourless, that’s a fact, and there is a hefty lull before the third act. The ending is weak, and there are some plain wrong tonal shifts. But John Carter is a good movie.
For the most part it rockets through Burroughs’ pulpy plot with just the right amount of tongue in just the right amount of cheek. There are swashbuckling swordfights and alien craft attacking alien craft. There are goodies and baddies, a princess and portals, big battles with giant white apes, cute jokes with Martian puppies, myths, war, loss and love. It is unabashed fantasy that takes a hosepipe to the grit-smothered sci-fi of recent years.
It wants to be fun, and it is. This a movie for boys, not teenagers; both boys who are young now and boys who were young then, be it when matinee adventures were a holiday highlight or when Eternia was the only kingdom that mattered.
Yes, it’s flawed, and it may only be half as good as a cross between Pirates Of The Caribbean and Star Wars, but at least it’s half as good as a cross between Pirates Of The Caribbean and Star Wars.
So here I am, trying to be to you the barely-trustworthy source that someone was to me, asking you to give it a go. Enjoy.
Because actually – and here’s the crux – the alternative is too sad to bear.
Think about what I said earlier: I chose not to watch a film because of how it was marketed (which is absolutely fair enough, obviously) but also – criminally – because I didn’t think it had made enough money at the box-office.
What a cynical, bottom-line bunch of bull. I am a nincompoop, plain and simple. And if you’ve allowed the movie’s box-office draw to factor in to your decision to avoid the movie, then you are too.
It’s a growing problem. More and more, a chunk of us are confusing financial success with creative success. It’s why Avatar is now considered quality despite it being dreadful and why everyone incorrectly assumes that John Carter is junk.
Across the world, geeks are becoming accountants, rushing to Box Office Mojo on opening weekends to see if Movie X beat Movie Y. If we’re not careful, we’ll become franchise cheerleaders, offering unwavering support to a series regardless of quality. And then we’re just part of the machine, as predictable and controlled as a whirring cog.
The movies are made for us, not with us. We shouldn’t let the world’s obsession with the green stuff affect how we measure quality. But right now it is, in TV, videogames as well as movies, and you’re probably missing out as a result. I know I was.