Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kreegah! Kevin Bundolo! (or "John Carter: The Post-Mortem")

True confessions. I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes, just then re-released in paperback, was the gateway drug. But soon I was enthralled by all of Burroughs' universe, both the steady stream of reprints that started appearing everywhere (Ace and Ballantine must have kept the presses running 24/7 for a few years -- there seemed to be new Burroughs reprints every month), and DC Comics' masterful adaptations that started filling the spinner racks at local newstands, particularly Joe Kubert's raw, visceral version of the Ape Man. Weird words and place names soon began to pepper my vocabulary (Barsoom, kreegah, Pellucidar, tarmangani, Opar, etc.), as a steady stream of Burroughs pulp began to fill my pre-adolescent brain,competing for space with a swelling interest in girls. For a few years, my dreams were as much about Carson of Venus, the Mucker, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, Korak and all the other manly men of adventure and derring-do as it was about Susan in History, Diane in English, or Pam in art. 

Of course, in the end, the girls won, but then they always do. And to tell the truth, a steady diet of Burroughs for a few years eventually wears thin, and that adolescent rush of fantasy quietly slipped into its cave.

But it emerged periodically, that heady mix of awe and discovery, of heroes and perfectly realized new worlds to discover, mostly unleashed by film: the first Star Wars, Bladerunner, the first Alien, the occasional Stephen King novel, Lord of the Rings, Justin Cronin's Passage. The whole sparkly vampire thing didn't do it, and I thought Avatar was lunkheaded and self-conscious, high-minded silliness and self-indulgent ego wrapped up in the Emperor's new 3D clothes.

Last year's JOHN CARTER from Disney brought me right back. It was a hoot. It might not have always been faithful to the text, but the magic was. It wasn't as awe-inspiring as A New Hope, perhaps, and I could have done without the cutie-pie dog beast (although from a marketing standpoint it makes sense -- after all, R2D2 was cute too), but there was enough rousing action, imaginative artistry and oh-my-god-is-that-cool! moments to keep both my the Girl Detective and I mesmerized -- with ot without 3D. 

The "critics" hated it. Well, not real critics, for the most part, who were mixed about it, but those bandwagon jumpers who think they're critics simply because they have a blog or Twitter account and an over-developed sense of snark. The same high-minded critics who drool regularly all over such sub-par but superbly hyped flicks as Sin City and The Avengers. No, John Carter wasn't perfect, but the vitriol unleashed against it -- even before it was released -- via Twitter and the blogosphere and in second rate "review" sites all over the web was spectacular. 

It was like a concerted effort to destroy the film. Bad press piled upon bad press. Almost every "review" I read rushed to mention how much it cost , how much it was losing and how poorly it did on its opening weekend. It was like a sports analyst describing a hockey game by reading only the final score.

I mean, really. "Taylor Kitsch is no Mark Hammil"? Is that the best you can do, kid?

In his new book, John Carter and The Gods of Hollywoods, film makmer Michael Sellers contends that yes, there was indeed a conspiracy to destroy this film, and most of the damage was done long before most of the Blogosphere Sheep got their bleats in. Not so subtly subtitled "The True Story of What Went Wrong With Disney's John Carter and Why Edgar Rice Burroughs Original Superhero Isn't Dead Yet," it's a sobering tale told by an insider of corporate stupidity, inept marketing, studio politics and petty rivals and jealousies, and an angry indictment of all that's wrong, not just about Disney, but Hollywood (and corporate America) itself. 

For those of you who defied the Snark Week Attacks and the Gods of Hollywood and saw the film anyway, and enjoyed it (or even if you didn't), this is still a fascinating and intriguing look at the inner workings (or non-workings) of Hollywood's Dream Factory. And for Burroughs' fans, it's worth it just to bear witness to the long, sad march to the screen of a much-beloved book written over a century ago. 

It will leave you wondering not why Hollywood makes so many God-awful movies but how they ever manage to make any good ones. 

A version of this post appeared originally on Books of Interest and Other Stuff...


Blogger Unknown said...

Hey thanks for talking about this. I really liked the movie, best seen on the big screen. I'll check out the book, but I've got to cut down on my Kindle buying.

2:22 PM, March 17, 2013  
Blogger Guillaume said...

i read Tarzan last year, the only book from Burrough I read, but what a great read it was. I remember when John Carter of Mars was released, I barely noticed it to be honest, all I remember is that Dominic West was in it. I might actually have a look at it now.

11:29 AM, March 18, 2013  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

It's no lost classic, but it was fun. I dunno. Maybe it's us...

We also liked ONE FOR THE MONEY, the film adaptation of Janet's Evanovich's first Stephanie Plum book, which was also unfairly slagged, we thought.

Again not some lost classic, but an enjoyable little crime flick/romantic comedy that swapped dialogue and character for the usual exploding buildings, poop jokes and heavy artillery. Certainly hardly deserving of some of the vitriol tossed at it, particularly since the film seemed so determined to not indulge in the excesses the genre usually offers.

12:42 PM, March 18, 2013  
Blogger Guillaume said...

It seems to be for you what The Phantom was for me a few years ago: not a great movie by far, but unnecessarily dismissed by the critics at the time, who enjoyed much lesser movies (the dreadful Batman Forever). I hoped for a sequel that of course never was.

3:12 AM, March 19, 2013  
Anonymous Joel Lyczak said...

I thought it was odd that the studio would not allow the director to lend a hand with the trailers for JOHN CARTER. The trailer{s} are that important first impression on viewers. Everyone seems obsessed with the cost of movies now, like it was their money. THE LONE RANGER is in the same boat. Yet, many of the reviews on IMDb for both of these films are positive.

8:39 AM, August 14, 2013  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

I HATE the way movies have been reduced to a sport, with the box office returns treated like baseball scores, and the soul indicators of its quality. And I'm not so crazy about how film criticism has been reduced to pot shots delivered by some Dorito-stained know-nothing convinced he's the next Ebert simply because he has an over-developed sense of snark and an internet connection.

I don't care how much a movie did on its opening weekend. Is it any good? Will I enjoy it? And why?

10:22 AM, August 14, 2013  

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