An interview, John Carter and what is wrong with Hollywood these days

First of all, I am interviewed by John Warner at the Indie Book Spot today. Come on over and say hello.

Furthermore, I am also quoted in this Huffington Post article by Jim Kukral about the pros and cons of KDP Select.

The pop culture site Vulture attempts to explain how the John Carter movie was damned by the first trailer (found via Jay Lake). Now it turns out that the trailer that so underwhelmed me was the second, action-packed trailer. The first one actually looks all right to me. At least, it looks like John Carter to me, even though Mars still looks like Monument Valley. The second trailer, however, looks just like a generic, special effects laden action film.

However, instead of telling us what went wrong with John Carter and its trailers, the article instead tells us what is wrong with Hollywood today. First of all, the author seems to assume that nobody knows who John Carter is. All right, so John Carter is probably not a household name anymore, but he’s far from obscure. However, the people who know who John Carter is and would have loved to watch a film about him – people like me – are not the sort of people who are attracted by generic, special effects laden action films. So the first trailer was probably the better choice.

Secondly, the author expects that the name of the director Andrew Stanton would be a huge draw. Now I had to look up who directed John Carter for my last post on the subject, wherein I lamented that Robert Rodriguez didn’t get to do it. I literally had no bloody idea who Andrew Stanton was and that he had won an Oscar. And “that Pixar guy” is not exactly a selling point for me, since I don’t get the appeal of Pixar films at all. Now I know that a lot of adults, including accomplished writers and critics, adore Pixar films, but all of those writers and critics are Americans. And there is something about Pixar films that hugely appeals to Americans. However, they don’t work nearly as well for German audiences, German audience above the age of 10, that is. I’ve never met a German adult who had something positive to say about a Pixar film – though I have met German adults who fell asleep in Pixar films after being dragged there by their children. And coincidentally, other CGI-animated films such as the Ice Age series, Madagascar or Kung-Fu Panda have been a lot more successful in Germany than most Pixar stuff.

And even if I had been a huge Pixar fan, I still wouldn’t necessarily think that someone who does great CGI animated films for kids would automatically make a good John Carter film, even though Andrew Stanton apparently is a huge fan of the source material. In that light not playing up Mr Stanton’s involvement was probably a good move. I don’t think the Disney logo should have been so prominent in the trailer either, because again most people associate Disney with kiddie movies.

Finally, there’s this little gem of cluelessness:

Though great directors may fondly remember the first 1917 John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars, and his subsequent adventures in the Barsoom series, the protagonist has little pop-culture currency among most moviegoers; they were more likely to hear the title and wonder why Disney set a movie about Noah Wyle’s ER character in space. And all the visuals did was bring back unhappy memories of recent failed blockbusters: The brown desert palette and Taylor Kitsch’s long locks evoked Disney’s largely ignored dud, Prince of Persia. The old-timey Western hero facing off against strange, birdlike spacecraft was reminiscent of last summer’s biggest bomb, Cowboys & Aliens. And, most strangely for an action movie, the John Carter teaser was largely devoid of action. There were only few glimpses of its costly special effects, mostly dwelling on the budding romance between Carter and someone who seemed to be … Princess Leia’s imperiled second cousin?

Now the Noah Wylie character from ER always brought to mind John Carter from Mars for me – and apparently the name similarities are no coincidence, since Michael Crichton apparently was a fan. As for the bit about the desert palettes bringing back memories of Prince of Persia (somebody actually watched that film and remembers it?) – uh, it’s set in Arizona and on Mars. How on Earth is it supposed to look except like a desert (though Mars should have been redder)? The old timey western hero fighting aliens brings to mind Cowboys & Aliens? ‘scuse me, but John Carter was the original western hero gone into space. And apparently, every scantily clad princess is now reminiscent of Princess Leia, who didn’t even wear the slave girl outfit all that long. Sigh, this sounds like someone who has never even seen a movie made after approx. 1995.

Another John Carter article from Vulture confirms these suspicions. “The names are silly and you cannot possibly take a planet named ‘Barsoom’ seriously.” Wow, this makes the author officially as mature as my fourteen-year-old students who randomly giggle at English words which sound vaguely like a mildly dirty word in German. And while Edgar Rice Burroughs was a bit weak in the naming department, those are the names of the characters and the planet. You cannot just change them.

In short, these articles – while claiming to analyse why John Carter failed – inadvertedly sum up what is wrong with Hollywood these days, namely that films of the blockbuster/wanna-be blockbuster variety are increasingly made only for fourteen year olds whose sense of cultural history begins sometimes in the mid 1990s.

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