Over at Badass Digest, their film critic who goes by the moniker “Hulk” and writes in “Hulk-speak”, wrote this review which takes on the John Carter screenplay. Ol’ Hulk is not getting a particularly friendly reception at the John Carter Sequel Group on Facebook, which is where I found the review. I haven’t had time to fully digest what he says (still at my daughter’s wedding) but I notice that he makes one point that has always been something that concerned me, not about the script, but more about the editing — and that is the tendency to deliver an important piece of information but then cut IMMEDIATELY away to something entirely different before the audience has had a chance to absorb the important information that was just delivered. This happens with the revelation of Sola’s relationship to Tars Tarkas; it happens in the Temple of Iss; then “A Matter of Trust” is interrupted with the arrival of Sarkoja; it happens just after the kiss. I think this is one of the reasons, ironically, that the film “grows” on people; you don’t get everything on the first pass– on the second and third viewing you get more and more, and as you “get” everything, the story just grows in stature. This is a joy if you get past the first viewing — but it could be considered a liability, which is one of the points that Hulk is making. This is not a mean-spirited review — the author basically likes the movie, but he is trying to piece together why it has a 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, I’m not offering this up with an endorsement — just an observation that it’s worth reading. I’ll offer my comments after the wedding hoopla subsides and I get a chance to read it carefully.
HULK VS. JOHN CARTER SCRIPT
via Badass Digest
JOHN CARTER “FAILED.”
… SO WHAT?
FAILURE CAN BE A STRANGELY MEANINGLESS THING. THERE HAVE BEEN PLENTY OF GOOD MOVIES THAT HAVE FAILED AND PLENTY OF BAD MOVIES THAT HAVE SUCCEEDED. THE ONLY THINGS THAT CAN REVEAL A MOVIE’S TRUE RELATIVE “WORTH” ARE TIME AND RESONANCE. BUT SADLY, THAT RARELY STOPS US FROM WRITING THE WHOLE STORY OF A FILM’S FAILURE OR SUCCESS AFTER A SINGLE WEEKEND OF BOX OFFICE.
HULK PRETTY SURE WE COULD ALL LOOK AT JOHN CARTER’S FINANCIAL OUTCOME AND DISCUSS WHAT BROUGHT IT ON. MOST OF OUR ANSWERS WOULD BE THOSE FILM BUSINESS-Y CONCERNS: THE SCHIZOPHRENIC ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN, THE WEIRD COMBINATION OF RELEASE DATE, QUESTIONABLE STAR POWER AND SOME CENTRAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FILM’S IDENTITY. BUT DELVING INTO THOSE ISSUES DOESN’T HELP YOU MAKE A BETTER PRODUCT. THOSE ISSUES ONLY HELP YOU BETTER SELL A PRODUCT. AND IF THERE’S BEEN ANY RUNNING THEME TO ALL THESE HULK ESSAYS, IT’S BEEN THAT HULK IS PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH MAKING MOVIES – I.E. THE PRODUCTS THEMSELVES – BETTER.
PLEASE KNOW THAT HULK TOTALLY UNDERSTANDS THIS ISN’T SOME REVELATORY OPINION OR ANYTHING, BUT JUST A MERE CASE OF RESTATING WHAT’S IMPORTANT. ALSO, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS POSITION IS NOT SOME ATTEMPT TO UNDERMINE MOVIES AS LEGITIMATE COMMERCE, NOR UNDERMINE THE WORK OF EXPERTS AND PEOPLE WHOSE JOB IT IS TO ENSURE THAT MOVIES DO WELL FINANCIALLY, NOR UNDERMINE THE WORK OF THOSE WHO ARE MEANT TO PROGNOSTICATE THE BUSINESS OF CINEMA ITSELF. IT’S JUST THAT ALL OF THOSE ELEMENTS OFTEN HAVE VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT THE FILM ACTUALLY WORKS.
SO THAT’S THE REAL QUESTION: OUTSIDE OF THE REALM OF MERE BUSINESS CONCERNS, DID JOHN CARTER ACTUALLY “WORK” AS A MOVIE?
… NAH. NOT REALLY.
… HONESTLY, HULK THINKS IT WORKED PRETTY BADLY.
BUT LET’S GO BEYOND HULK’S MERE OPINION, AND TURN TO THE 51% SCORE ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AS SOME SORT OF LARGER EVIDENCE. NOW, THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY THAT GETTING A HIGH ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE IS THE LONE INDICATOR OF TASTE AND VALUE. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST. IN FACT, SOME OF HULK’S FAVORITE MOVIES HAVE GOTTEN LOW SCORES, USUALLY BECAUSE THEY WERE INTENDED FOR A… UM… LET’S CALL IT A MORE NARROW AUDIENCE. BUT WHAT A ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE USUALLY TENDS TO BE A GOOD BAROMETER OF IS A FILM’S “WIDE-RANGING LIKABILITY.” WHICH IN TURN MAKES IT A PRETTY DECENT BAROMETER FOR HOW THE LARGER PUBLIC RESPONDS TO BOTH FAMILY FILMS AND PG-13 BLOCKBUSTERS. WHICH, LEST WE FORGET, ARE THE FILMS THAT ARE DESIGNED TO BE ACCESSIBLE TO MOST PEOPLE. SO WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE 51% NUMBER IN THAT VERY SPECIFIC WAY, IT BECOMES SAFE TO SAY JOHN CARTER FAILED TO CONNECT WITH A LARGE PORTION OF ITS INTENDED AUDIENCE.
SO NOW THE QUESTION IS WHY?
WHAT MAKES JOHN CARTER SO UNIQUE IS THAT IT IS THE RARE BLOCKBUSTER WHOSE STORYTELLING FAILURES ARE NOT THE RESULT OF LACK OF EFFORT, INTELLIGENCE OR CARE. IN FACT, THE FILMMAKERS, WRITERS, ACTORS AND PRODUCTION TEAM ARE MADE UP OF A GROUP OF FOLKS THAT HULK VERY MUCH ADMIRE. AND YOU CAN TELL THAT ALL OF THEM ARE PRETTY MUCH DOING THEIR DAMNEDEST TO MAKE THE FILM WORK (WHICH SORT OF ENDS UP BEING A PART OF THE PROBLEM, WHICH HULK’LL GET TO IN A MINUTE). BUT IN TRUE ACHILLEAN FASHION, THE FILM HAS ONE SINGULAR FLAW WITH THEIR STORYTELLING APPROACH, WHICH GOES ON TO UNDERMINE EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE FILM.