Friday, 23 March 2012

The 8 Words of Ash – John Carter… of Mars… Confectionery

We thought we’d lost Ashley, even by his typically minimal communication levels he’d been unusually quiet. We figured he’d walked himself into a corner of a square room again and not been able to get himself free, a bit like a tortoise, but it turns out he’d just been sitting in an armchair starring blankly into space until someone dragged him to the cinema to watch the costly, Mars based, blockbuster movie John Carter, and, as you can see below, this spurred him right into action and we get the utter joy of finding out what he thinks. Good, yes? Go on Ashley, tell the ladies and gentlemen what you thought…

Shit + slow, long + laborious. Looks like Jack White.

Are we allowing that? I mean just using + as a substitute for “and” is a bit cheaty isn’t it? What kind of gits are we? Well we’ll skip on because if you ask me it’s nice to see young Ashley broadening his vocabulary, even if it’s only to ten words instead of the usual eight, small steps and all that.

Anyway, lets get on with taking apart this film and seeing what’s inside, like that Gunther Von Hagens chap and his dissecting of giant creatures, only with a movie, and with words, and not on Channel 4.

John Carter was this spring’s big fat sci-fi epic movie from the evil regime at Disneyland Paris. It was made by Andrew Stanton, the man who’s made billions of dollars for Disney with the Toy Story trilogy and other computer generated family-fun films, like Wall-E and Finding Nemo, but this is his first venture into working with real actors, with real cameras, on real sets and with a real story, well as real as you can get when you set a movie on Mars, where as we all know there isn’t an atmosphere, or any water, and so sustaining life on the Red Planet is a bit tricky, and it would seem that this applies to making movies about it as well, judging by what Ashley made of this and judging by what John Carpenter did with Ghosts of Mars.

John Carter was supposed to be Stanton’s big leap into the world of grown-up film making, and because he’d made them so much lovely cash, even more than Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean cobblers. He was given money by the bucket load, Disney Corp gave him $250,000,000 to make this thing, and presumably they had enough faith in his movie-making abilities to expect a handsome return on even that huge an investment.

It should be pointed out at this point that if some idiot gave me $250,000,000 to make a movie and they expected it to be exciting, fun and action-packed I think I could do it, in fact for that much I think I could make four half decent, exciting movies, with explosions. I mean this has never happened, or is likely to ever happen, so I have no real basis to make this claim but I’m fairly confident I could definitely make a movie that people wanted to see for a quarter of the cash that was spent on this, even if the people who paid for it wanted it set on Mars.

James Cameron making Avatar
Disney probably figured that the going rate for a smash mouth, space-based epic does run into the hundreds of millions these days (I blame James Cameron for this state of affairs, and Kevin Costner a bit as well) and because Stanton had been so very successful at making huge bundles of lovely Disney dollars before they figured that he knew what he was doing when they gave him the entire annual budget of Burundi to make a movie.

This may have been a bit of an error, because a report on the internet just this week highlighted Disney’s fear that their movie division is due to make a massive quarterly loss for the first three months of 2012 and that’s almost entirely due to this movie and the fact that to get their $250,000,000 back they’d need a lot more people to go to see it than have done so far, a fucking lot more.

Of course if Ashley’s review is to be believed, and it does echo some of the professional reviews I’ve seen, heard or read, the movie is deeply flawed. It seem to lack a basic energy or level of excitement that people expect from a $250,000,000 movie that’s supposed to blow your socks off. Also, some of the acting, especially from the man who presumably plays John Carter, Taylor Kitsch, lurches from wonky, to wooden, to “is he actually alive?” But is Stanton really to blame for these problems?

Well clearly yes, of course he is. He made the movie, he put Kitsch in the lead role, he spent all of that money on the movie and he made what Ashley calls “a shit, slow, long and laborious” movie, so all that’s his fault.

But James Cameron spent gazillions of dollars on his expensive, space-based epic, Avatar and that made tonnes of money, even though reports from the field suggest it’s equally flawed in much the same areas as John Carter. Like wise George “bastarding” Lucas has spent a terrible fortune making three of the worst films of all time with his horrific Star Wars prequel trilogy, and he pretty much invented this movie making blue print for all sci-fi films that have followed by making picking a pretty boy actor with all the charisma, timing and acting skill of a boiled potato and then plonking him in front of a big green screen and adding in explosions, tiny green Jedi and double ended lightsabres later and hoping that no one notices how shit it all was until after they’ve spent their $10 watching it. Again, those same terrible Star Wars prequels made the sort of money that would have bailed out Greece and so why have Lucas and Cameron seemingly gotten away with all of this expensive, CGI-laden tomfoolery, while John Carter’s suckiness level has left it a loss-making flop like the legendary loss-making movies Dune, Baron Munchausen and Waterworld?

Well maybe it’s because people figured out that just because you spend more money than Bernie Ecclestone’s stupid, spoilt children on dog shampoo and handbags and make 98% of the film on a computer isn’t a particularly good movie-making recipe and that for $250,000,000 you really do need to add a story, a script and some proper action to a movie instead of relying on CGI’d fireworks and a pretty tree in the lead roll.

It could also be because the film is based on a short story in a book of short stories with Mars as the theme, called Barsoom. It was written by Steam Punk novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs about 100 years ago, so around the time that contemporaries of Rice Burroughs like H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft were creating the modern literary sci-fi/horror genre and so those stories had easily filmable themes and an exciting and different plot to get involved in, it seems that Rice Burroughs stories do have a running back story through them and fans of the author seem to like the lore behind the story as much as the story, so I think that getting that right would be an important part of making the movie.

We’re all well aware of the whiney noises that people made when Peter Jackson made The Lord of the Rings trilogy and in the case of the Harry Potter books, that fans of the book versions of a film want the whole of the book in the movie. I didn’t like either the books or the movies of Lord of the Rings and I haven’t read or seen any Harry Potter books or films, and so that bit isn’t important for me, but it is for some people and it would appear that Stanton has smushed some of the short stories together to make one film. He also seems to have left enough material behind to make sequels to John Carter, although the loss of money on this film may make that less likely to happen.

Stanton has claimed in interviews that he loved the short stories and had been waiting for many years for someone to make them into films and when various efforts failed to get the green light he put down his mouse mat and his e-pencil crayons and did it himself. He was on the Radio 5Live Mayo & Kermode film review show the week before it came out and if I’m honest he came over as a bit of jerk, he seemed narky and a bit full of himself and seemed to take very real exception, to the point of coming over very precious (and stroppy) about the thorny topic of his huge budget, when he was asked about the vast amount of Disney’s money that he was pissing up the wall.

But none of that especially matters as to how good a film should be, I’m sure it’s entirely possible to make a film that is set in space, using CGI and green-screens and even if you do hire a useless, but attractive, acting clot in the lead roll, you should still be able to make a half-decent film and hope that no one notices how shit it all is.

Yes, I know it's from Alien 3 but it proves a point.
The same John Carpenter that I spoke about at the top of the review used to make very good movies, in fact one of his very first movies was Dark Star and that looks and feels like he spent about $25 on it instead of $250,000,000 and yet it’s an eminently watchable and enjoyable movie. There are no CGI’d backgrounds drawn in a lab in California, there are no computer designed monsters and there is no massive budget to use on fireworks. It just has a witty, amusing script and naturally drawn out drama. James Cameron did the same thing with Aliens, he built the fucking things and because the Aliens were there dribbling slime and goo onto Sigourney Weaver she looked like she might poo a brick sized shit at any moment.

So, to wrap this all up, Ashley says it’s not a good film, most reviewers say it isn’t a good film, it’s set on Mars, it was written a hundred years ago and Dominic West from off of The Wire is in it, although he’s not John Carter, he plays someone else.

Anyway, that’s that all sorted and if you want to go and see it I’d check the local screening times and smuggle your own sweets and fizzy pop in because the prices they charge at cinemas these days are close to daylight robbery, George Osborne would be so proud.

1 comment:

  1. bag of utter wank, ashley broke his rule, and had a full on conversation in the cinema. terrible.