‘John Carter’ hits the screens today. It is tracking to open up at around $25 million for the weekend and may even lose out to ‘The Lorax’. “John Carter’ is a much better film than the animated kids film that tries too hard to be cute, but that won’t be the story on Monday. The story on Monday is how a $250 million film did so little money. As usual the story will be wrong.
The Andrew Stanton film is an obvious labor of love, albeit an expensive one. It is also pretty good. It’s just not great and has several problems that hurt its chances before it was even made.
The first thing wrong with ‘John Carter’ is the source material. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ popular novels are quaint to modern audiences. They almost seem like Horatio Alger stories set on another world. The modern audience is more sophisticated than that for a large epic. Although if that were the only problem, the film might be able to overcome it.
The second problem is Mars. We all know what Mars is really like. A dusty planet that may have supported life at one time, it is essentially lifeless now. This is known and understood. The ability to enter the world of Barsoom (Rice’s name for Mars) is hampered by known facts.
The third problem with the film has nothing to do with the film itself. It has to do with the laziness of the audiences. Since it is not a well known comic book or has immediate tie-ins to a fast food restaurant, awareness is limited. The marketing folks over at Disney, the distributor, made several key mistakes in raising awareness of the film.
The result, ‘John Carter’ will be considered an ill-conceived flop. John Carter’ starts off with three strikes against it.
But it is not a flop.
It has lots going for it. Taylor Kitsch works well as John Carter, Lynn Collins as the Princess will remind many of a Frank Frazzetta warrior queen. The special effects are solid. The plot doesn’t carve out new territory, but is solid. If you push aside all the strikes, ‘John Carter’ is a pleasant, matinee-type diversion, far more deserving of a kinder fate than it will receive.