Monday, March 19, 2012

Undeserved Failure

I tend to avoid opening weekends. I don't much like crowds and long lines. This time, I'm regretting it, because had I gone to see a certain movie opening weekend...

Let's just say...some movies flop that deserve it. Others succeed when really they deserve to fail (generally sequels).

Sometimes a movie fails that really deserved to fly.

I'm talking about John Carter. I would add the caveat that I have yet to read the books (something I really should fix). Why is this movie not selling tickets like they are going out of style? Why are so many critics hating it?

When I watch a movie, I pull it apart. It's in my nature. The slightest thing can throw me out of it. I often leave the theater with a list of six to eight things (if it's a good movie) that I would have changed...scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor, science errors, special effects stupidities, etc. I left John Carter with two.

Two 'mistakes' in the entire movie. The first was that they made Phobos and Deimos way too big. The second was that Lynn Collins' lenses were far too bright - they looked fake. I did notice a couple of other things, but those only came to mind after serious contemplating and active searching for errors.

Taylor Kitsch was a brilliant Carter. He's an action star and it shows, but he did a very good job. I'd also give a shout out to Daryl Sabara for a perfect young Rice Burroughs. Oh yes, and Lynn Collins was a bad-ass Princess Dejah Thoris (I have to wonder if she's as bad-ass in the books...Nobilis, I know you've read them).

The special effects were something else again. It's rare to see female aliens that are instantly and recognizably female...without the artists giving them mammary glands. Oh, and Woola is completely adorable. He could easily have become this movie's Jar Jar, but somehow they avoided it. The visuals of Mars itself were incredible. I saw the 2D print, but have been told the 3D one was even more out of this world (I didn't waste money on the 3D because it was a conversion, but they seem to be finally cracking conversions that look good).

Yet, it was enough of a flop that the planned sequel listed on IMDB will almost certainly never materialize. It did better overseas, but not well enough to recoup it's $250 million price tag.

Why?

Part of it is that it was panned by critics from the start. Yet, I read some of those bad reviews, and what struck me is this: People simply are not getting this movie.

We've all seen Mars at this point. Or so we think. What we've seen is pictures from tiny rovers that show us boulder littered plains with no grasp of the real landscape. We translate their viewpoint to ours. And we 'know' that Mars is lifeless, airless and almost certainly never had anything beyond maybe plants, if it was really lucky.

Have we become so sure about the scientific reality that we can't set it aside, suspend our disbelief and return to Barsoom? Before the first landings, nobody was quite sure that Barsoom did not exist. People could still dream of it and hope for it. Perhaps we've lost that ability now.

Or is it that we write different science fiction now, more rigorous, more bounded by the possible? I think that it's very important to realize that Burroughs did not write in that milieu. His Barsoom is pure fantasy, a dying, beautiful world that is somehow clearer than our own. It's not the Mars we know...it's the Mars we wish had been. And it's a Mars carrying a message...about racism, about love, about courage.

To too many people, though, it is cheesy. Ludicrous. Unrealistic. Most people forget that science fiction is not about the future.

It's about the present. Or, in this case, the past.