Battleship vs John Carter: Why Some Losers Lose More

OK, so JOHN CARTER tanked. The media had a feeding frenzy. Disney chopped some heads and a good time was had by all, sort of. The film cost more than $200 million to make. It scored a measly $73 million in the States while doing better internationally to the tune of $232 million. Remember, what the studio takes in after the theaters take their taste runs around 50%. So the film, not even counting advertising and hype, lost at least $50 million. Tack in the additional costs and that number is heading towards $200 million.

Then along comes BATTLESHIP. It cost north of $200 million. It took less than $50 million domestically, but did slightly better than CARTER by taking in over $250 million internationally. It looks to lose at least $150 million., but to hear the quietude from the media, that’s chump change and hardly worth mentioning.

So why does JOHN CARTER get blasted and BATTLESHIP gets a pass?  According to the LA Times, the reasons are as petty as the movie industry itself.

First is one of spite. The media does not like the folks over at Disney. Disney is tighter than a miser with a penny and getting something other than what the handlers hand out of Disney is nigh impossible. So when bad things happen to them, the media just loves it. They get their pound of flesh.

Now toss in the pre-opening machinations. The film’s title was changed because Disney’s marketing mavens knew they had trouble. So rather than blame the film itself and its attendant egos, and blame the name. The MARS NEEDS MOM disaster had them convinced that the Red Planet evoked ill will with audiences. A similar theory was held for years about the name of Paris in a title. All the films that had Paris in them tanked until Woody Allen’s last film. The name Mars got tainted as well, at least by the guardians at Disney.

There is also the unwritten law of Hollywood,  “the first shall always gets the biggest slice.” If there are two competing film films along similar themes, the first out of the gate will usually do much better. The same is true for bad news. The first film to cost a ton and then lose a ton will get the majority of the negative ink.

And finally, BATTLESHIP’S studio, Universal, seems to have done a much better job of mitigating the bad news by handling the flop more gracefully. The folks at Disney went into panic mode and heads started rolling. If heads are to roll at Universal, it will happen sometime in the fall, long after the disaster has become a memory.

Is there any other lessons to be learned from BATTLESHIP? Not exactly or more precisely not just yet, but if there are more mega-flops like BATTLESHIP and DARK SHADOWS, (yes, Virginia, Barnabas has bitten the big loser) we may be looking at a re-thinking of the summer tentpole. Here’s a suggestion for this omnipotent studio heads. Get better writers. Have your seen BATTLESHIP? The opening is too long and since when did poetry theirs become officers in the Navy? The film was on the shoals before it started.



BATTLESHIP will sail into megaplexes this weekend with guns blazing and ocean spray invigorating anyone in its way this weekend before it sinks or consigned to the cinematic equivalent of a mothballed ship. Of course, this entire review could be awash in inane naval jargon.
Let’s make this simple. The makers of this $215 million special effects laden take on a simple game from Hasbro is not very good. Yeah, it’s loud and yes, the special effects are state of the art. The movie is forced, contrived, full of holes and poorly written. Sadly Peter Berg, the director, compounds this by spending way too much time trying to set things up. And that set up suggests he actually has a plot to work with warranting way too much time with the ‘chicken burrito’ incident, an incident we all know will come back to haunt us, probably with indigestion.

Our hero is named Hooper. He is played by the badly named Taylor Kitsch. He is a rebel, lost in some unnnamed meandering sorrow. His older brother is a naval officer. On a birthday evening, the younger brother tries to pick up a blonde babe.  The babe is played by Brooklyn Decker, the new blonde ‘it’ girl with breasts that normally are not found in nature. In the course of his apparent love/lust antics he steals a chicken burrito from a closed quickie mart. Gallantry, a police arrest yields undying love. Before you can say, “Heading to the concession stand? Get me a popcorn”,  the next you know the rebel is an officer in the US Navy. Hmmm, I didn’t know that officers in the navy could be criminals, but that fact is elided over by a simple quick cut to the future when the two brothers are serving in the same fleet headed by Liam Neeson.  It’s a good thing they aren’t on the same ship otherwise I would have to send Mr. Berg a copy of THE FIGHTING SULLIVANS.

To say that the plot is telegraphed or that it is hackneyed wastes everyone’s time. And in a film like BATTLESHIP, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a bad movie. Many ‘epics’ of this sort have stupid plots, just don’t make us think that the writers have never seen a film before or they think we have never seen a film before. By the middle of the first act,  I expecting Erica Eleniak and Steven Seagal to appear in cameos. They don’t, but many other tropes from UNDER SIEGE do.

All that aside, the film does have some small charms although some of those charms border on pandering. They are more than a few nods to veterans of World War II and of more recent conflicts.

Looking at the film a couple of days after the fact, the supporting cast is more than adequate. Of particular note, Rhianna,  the pop thrush, has a strong affinity for the camera although the advisability of getting tattoos is always suspect. Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard as the older brother should find plenty of acting gigs. He has a nice presence.

So what’s the takeaway? The film will most likely gross about $150 million in the US. It will be touted in week two as “America’s #1 Film”. It’s all smoke and mirrors. BATTLESHIP has already grossed $250 internationally and with a $400 million total, it will not break even. What does that say about the state of finances in Hollywood?

The film will mildly entertain people until something better comes out and then it will quietly, quickly slip into the ocean, forgotten, thankfully.