Flickfilosopher: Are classic pulp novels too dated to make faithful transfers to the big screen?

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Maryann Johanson, writing at Flickfilospher.com, poses the question today:  Are classic pulp novels too dated to make faithful transfers to the big screen.   Johanson is a balanced, respected reviewer who is included among most “top reviewer” lists.  Her post, which contains her own thoughts, seems mainly designed to elicit opinions.  Obviously we’re got one or two opinions over here about this question, so first of all, here is Maryann’s invitation:

So, John Carter is now on DVD in the U.S. [Amazon U.S.] and Canada [Amazon Canada] (and coming next month in the U.K. [Amazon U.K.]), so those who missed it in cinemas — which would be most of you, based upon its dismal box office — can finally see what the lack of excitement was about.

For me, two major overarching issues sink the film: it feels dated, and it feels derivative. The derivative thing is slightly unfair, because the fact is that it’s all the other pulpy B-movie stuff since that has been copying Edgar Rice Burroughs… but that doesn’t excuse the makers of this film (or any future film based on really old and really influential material) from making it not feel as if it’s aping all the stuff that actually ape it. Which goes for the dated side of the matter, too. Burroughs is dated, which is why that needs to be addressed in some manner in any modern adaptation.

(I’m talking, of course, about huge blockbustery adaptations of classic pulp material, as John Carter is. The motives and intentions would be different for a filmmaker wanting to make something arthouse or deliberately kitchsy and retro, like The Artist meets Jules Verne, for instance.)

Click for more: http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2012/06/question_of_the_day_are_classi.html#ixzz1x2DWXJMN

For me , her point about it feeling “dated” and “derivative” is something that really was never addressed meaningfully in the promotion of the film, much to its detriment.  As a Burroughs fan who’s carried the John Carter story around in my head — I was deeply thrilled — almost awed — so actually see it come to life on the screen (and let’s not “go there” as to whether it was a perfect adaptation or not) — and there was a sense of wonder that I was watching not just any old sci-fi story, but the story that had started it all and been the inspiration for Star Wars, Avatar, etc.  I really think that as a viewer, having that perspective — that this is the original source material — was absolutely critical for an appreciation of the film.

Yet Disney elected to not position the film that way at all.

There is term that gets used in marketing meetings — “inoculate against” — that refers to marketing maneuvers that inoculate the film )or product) against certain potential pitfalls.  In this case, everyone knew that “it’s derivative” was going to be a potential pitfall.  Given that this was a potential pitfall, there were two ways to deal with it — either by altering the story to mask the potential  “it feels derivative” problem, or use marketing to inoculate against the problem, deal with it, and attempt to at least neutralize it as a problem, and if possible turn it into an asset.

In the case of John Carter, although Andrew Stanton made some attempt to modernize the depiction of John Carter and Dejah Thoris (no comment about the Useless Mrs. Carter, please), generally speaking the attempt was to present the story in the context of how it might have looked/feeled/been imagined by Burroughs or his readers at the time.   Hence the “steampunk” design, and so on.

Given that this was the approach by Stanton, Disney arguably had to do something in the marketing to deal with it.  As it worked out, the marketing campaign mainly ignored this issue, and it came back to bite the project very painfully.

Our own “Heritage” trailer was in essence an experiment to see if viewers who did not have the “ERB Background”, could be induced to form an appreciation of the film based on a presentation of its heritage.    Our thought process was to awaken within the viewer the same sense of wonder and awe that what you are about to see is THE ORIGINAL source material for all those things that you’ve seen in cinemas the last 30 years of so.  Judging from the comments and the response across the web, it does seem that this approach had merit.

The other aspect of this that is interesting is the this all played out over a period of time.  When the main theatrical trailer first appeared on December 1, 2012, there was a huge hue and cry about it appearing derivative.  In fact, that hue and cry is what actually caused this website to come into existence as a “setting the record straight” endeavor.  But while “little guys” like JCF perceived a need to counter the accusations, first with articles and blog postings, then with the Heritage Trailer,  Disney never really dealt with it at all and the film reached theaters without the audience every having been “inoculated” or positioned.  It’s a damn shame.

I’m curious what other think.

Oh, and just as a memory refresher — here was our attempt to craft a trailer that deals with this issue:

 

 

27 comments

  • Atoz said – “I remember seeing the trailer for Star Wars for the first time in the theater. I’d not heard a thing about it – didn’t know it was coming (hey, the only tweets we heard back then were birds). I set there with my mouth hanging wide open knowing that things were suddenly different. How much better it would have been knowing things were about to be radically different because of Edgar Rice Burroughs?”

    I was born ASW (after Star Wars). For me, that sense that things are “suddenly different” happened the most distinctly with Lord of the Rings. Not being familiar with Tolkien’s books before I went to see “Fellowship”, that first viewing was a wonderful revelation. It got closer to the feeling of the Barsoom film that had been running through my imagination than any film before it, or since.

    What might have helped John Carter capture that same revolutionary “wow factor”? Perhaps the answer would have been to give the world ERB’s Barsoom, but not in the expected pulpy way, but instead in a way that leverages the grand scope of Barsoom by focusing on the “unexpected” genres that are a part of the tale and more likely to surprise new viewers when they hear about an adaptation of a 100-year-old sci-fi novel. Other genres in addition to planetary romance focus on grand worlds, namely the historical epic and fantasy genres. The John Carter books are as much historical epic and fantasy tales as they are pulp sci-fi adventures, and perhaps a shift in emphasis would have benefited the film.

    From the sound of a few of Stanton’s interviews, he was aiming for more of a historical epic (“Lawrence of Arabia”) approach, though he also definitely pursued the “Indiana Jones on Mars” angle. I love the end result, as do many other ERB fans and people new to ERB. But, at the same time, one could say that not going far enough with the historical epic angle, while also going for the more classic sci-fi-oriented “Indiana Jones on Mars” action/adventure angle only further invited the pulp references and set the film up to be characterized as “dated”. I don’t think the “dated” (old-fashioned) criticism is a big factor to very many people, certainly not as big of a factor as the “derivative” (copycat) criticism, but if it had been more actively preempted (inoculated against) in the writing and the marketing, it would have only helped the popular perception of the movie.

    MCR said – “I think the mistake was his idea of trying to ground it in “reality,” to make it “historically accurate” as he said in an interview and that’s led to Barsoom looking like Utah and some of the other bland visual ideas he came up with.”

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call the visuals bland. The film looks great and creates a consistent-feeling world. Stanton chose one way of presenting Barsoom, and did a good job. The fact that we can imagine many other ways of presenting Barsoom shouldn’t take away from what was achieved in this film.

    At the same time, it’s natural to speculate on how a different looking Barsoom might have come across. Science fiction films, like fantasy films, should have a realistic, lived-in, historical feeling, or they will come off as cheap. But there’s a valid question of when a “realistic” approach becomes more than a visual style, and actually begins to affect the genre of the film. One could say that Stanton’s “lost continent” approach curtailed the film’s chances of capturing the otherworldly fantasy of Barsoom, the fantasy that is one of the greatest strengths of the books and a key to their ability to sweep up readers (and win over film audiences, it would follow). Perhaps the movie needed to be (1) historical epic, (2) period science fiction and (3) alien world fantasy all at once if it was going to fully capture what is distinct about Barsoom.

  • With the passing of Ray Bradbury, I’m reminded of Julie Schwartz, the late editor at DC Comics and former literary agent for science fiction writers, who sold Ray’s first 80 short stories. Julie said (very affectionately) that he and Forry Ackerman told the young Ray to, “Stick around, kid, and we’ll teach you how to write.” Julie said it with a big smile on his face. Julie & Forry had known each other since 1932, when Julie & Mort Weisenger published the first American science fiction fanzine, The Time Traveler. Julie knew Ray almost as long. Ray was one of the last of that generation of 20th Century pioneering sci-fi fans to turn pro! Of course, his old friend, Ray Harryhausen, is still with us as of this writing.

    Of course, Ray Bradbury stated many times how much ERB influenced him. Julie Schwartz told me about the time he and Mort Weisenger visited ERB at his home in 1932, when they made a trip to California. They had grown up on ERB’s stories, too. Today, however, there are very few left of the generation that encountered ERB’s stories when they were first being published. As the times change, the audience that first encountered the pulp magazines in the early 20th century is fast disappearing.

    Anyone interested in the storyteller’s art would be well advised to read Michael Dirda’s ON CONAN DOYLE: Or the Whole Art of Storytelling (Princeton Univeristy Press; 2011). Michael is the Pulitzer Prize winning book reviewer of The Washington Post. He shares my love of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction.

    Michael points out that a great deal of the most influential fiction to published in the English language appeared between 1885-1915. Among them were H. Rider Haggard’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES; Robert Louis Stevenson’s THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR JEKYLL & MR. HYDE; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A STUDY IN SCARLET (which introduced Sherlock Holmes); Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK; Bram Stoker’s DRACULA; as well as the works of Sax Rohmer, John Buchan; & Lord Dunsany, among others. Seperately, or together, their infuence on the popluar fiction that followed cannot possibly be underestimated.

    However, the world we live in has changed dramatically from the one that existed when these authors wrote and published their work. Although versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, & Dracula show no signs of diminishing. However, many of the the other proto-typical works have begun to fade from the collective memory of the public. Robert McKee , author of STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, has expressed the opinion that Charlie Chaplin’s films don’t work for a modern audience. If that’s so, the reason is that our times are so much different from times when Chaplin created those films.

    In any event, I can only offer these observations as food for thought. For anyone interested in Michael Dirda’s fine book, allow me to quote my own comments from Facebook:

    “Michael’s ON CONAN DOYLE is just as affable as Michael is in person. Reading it reminds me of past pleasures, and recommends reading that I’m certain will become future pleasure. Michael is one of what may be a vanishing breed, “the bookman”. Like his notable predecessors Vincent Starret & Christopher Morley, Michael communicates his deep love of storytelling in a deeply personal way. For the “bookman” is less concerned with aesthetics than he is with communicating the joy to be shared by readers partaking of the storytellers’ art and craft. Without a doubt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle exemplified that art as few writers ever have, or are ever likely to in the future. There was much more to Conan Doyle than Sherlock Holmes, as much as we may love the great consulting detective. Michael Dirda understands Conan Doyle’s gifts and his humanity in a way that is at once as infectiously insightful as it is informative. I recommend ON CONAN DOYLE without reservation!”

  • I’m surprised by Whedon’s comment about the Justice League. 1) it didn’t get in the way of Paul Dini’s Justice League cartoons which were awesome, and 2) it’s not difficult to see that each member has his own distinctive vision of the world, which could provide more than a few tensions along the way.

  • Clarification: I meant that the original FlickPhilosopher article was irrelevant in this context, not the JCFiles one about it.

    One last thing, it goes without saying that the fan trailers produced here (all of them) are vastly superior to the Disney marketing.

    While I don’t believe that approach could necessarily have transformed the film into a mega-hit, I feel it absolutely would have saved DJC from the ignoble box office fate which befell it. A mild financial disappointment, perhaps, but not a stigmatized carcass for the media calots to rend. It was a truly admirable rescue attempt.

  • So the Justice League isn’t “flawed” enough? I guess Whedon must have forgotten Batman-who is more screwed up and flawed than any of the Marvel heroes are.

    Henried also wrote:
    “I think you missed his point, Ralok. But your courtesy is appreciated.”

    Really. Next time I’ll keep my mouth shut about the sky and just stick to criticizing the other problems with this movie.

  • Michael, I read this last night. On “Yahoo at the Movies”, or something like, where they had an article on DC wanting to ramp up the Justice League movie again now that Avengers has made so much money. Toward the end of the article they ask Joss Whedon if he had any advice for the director of DC’s project. His reply was that, “it is going to be more difficult for them because the DC characters are older, with behavior from another time. The characters are not flawed and grounded ” Which I took to mean they are not believable.

    Other than Firefly and Serenity, I’m not such a fan of Whedon, and I don’t particularly agree with his statement entirely, but you can see how Hollywood does preceive this these days.

  • I think the article is largely irrelevant in this context. An old-fashioned sensibility cannot be blamed for the failure of this particular film, largely because the ‘old-fashioned’ virtues were jettisoned for a more modern dramatic approach. There is certainly a nice pulp current to the film, but in my opinion there is nothing ‘dated’ enough about DJC for that to be a roadblock with a popular audience.

    As for derivative:: I agree that the marketing failed to own the similarities by presenting the historical context of the film, and by selling the weaknesses instead of the more original aspects of the film.

    I also agree with pascalahad and others that the marketing isn’t entirely to blame.

    Even beyond the look of Barsoom —- if they were more cognizant of the ‘derivative’ claim, the filmmakers might have tried to emphasize the elements of the novel that have not been copied to death yet in film (astral projection, telepathy, extended passage of time, action-hero 1st person voice-over, making the love story THE driving force rather than one element of many, etc), or made changes that *add* originality or distance themselves from what have become familiar cliche’s since 1912.

    Instead, they dropped many of the exotic elements that still make the book stand out, and went out of their way to be more like known films than it ever had to be. The arena scene had no reason to resemble AotC quiiiite so closely, for instance (and that was a major criticism by non-readers). — and the ‘first flight’ scene is a beat too recently illustrated in Avatar. Characters who shape-shift and pretend to be other characters, the blue energy that permeates all recent VFX movies. The walking city directly reminiscent of AT-ATs, etc. Those are just a few examples I’ve used before (I know, I know).

    But this isn’t a ‘the book is better’ argument, I’m just saying that many changes specifically made it feel like other things. Strange choices when they knew they would face the challenge of adapting the source of so many other films into something fresh.

    The derivative issue is one that the filmmakers and the marketeers share.

  • Anything can be successful if handled well. I don’t believe subject matter or even attitude ever get too ‘old-fashioned’, but it takes thoughtfulness to connect an audience to period tones, as well as the courage and conviction to own that material and infuse what you are making with authenticity.

    Also. Burroughs’ is only ‘dated’ if you merely comprehend the surface of the writing and miss the depth and intentions within.

  • could people maybe SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT THE SKY

    It was described as blue in the books, so shut your friggin mouths!

  • ” In these days and age, what is the difficulty of replacing a sky with a more “alien” one?”

    Honestly who knows with Stanton. He also claimed they couldn’t come up with a good Red Martian so he resorted to those ugly tattoos. I think the mistake was his idea of trying to ground it in “reality,” to make it “historically accurate” as he said in an interview and that’s led to Barsoom looking like Utah and some of the other bland visual ideas he came up with. That or the whole FX budget went to stupid ideas like Moving Zodanga and Shape Shifter Shang.

  • A fault I would blame Andrew Stanton with is that at no point he decided to make the setting of the movie distinctive. ERB’s Barsoom is a distinctive place in description and feel, a place that has no equivalent in movies so far, and which would have given from the first frames an identity to the movie. He said in an interview that it was inevitable, I always disagreed with that statement. He was perfectly aware of Burroughs’ depiction, hence the hints of yellow moss in the place Carter “lands”, as if anticipating the fans’ critics beforehand. In these days and age, what is the difficulty of replacing a sky with a more “alien” one? Special effect teams did that for ages seemlessly (mentioned for example in the commentary track of The Mummy (1999)). And what about those fantastic-looking moons that roams the sky in the novel? What about those awesome martian cities next to dried oceans, as big and ornated as they are abandoned? Look at the poster Mondo make of the movie, it’s a hell of a landscape, why is it not in the movie?? Instead of that, I read so many comments that yelled “Prince of Persia” and “Attack of the Clones” at the trailers that it could have made me blind.

    That’s Stanton’s part in my opinion in the “derivative” part. The other part is these unimaginative trailers, based only on the look of the movie, which is lazy, and worked against the movie, whose strength is really the work on the characters, arguably the most difficult thing to pull off in any work!

    And for the “dated” comment, as long as she doesn’t state how John Carter is “dated”, I don’t see much of a discussion. And that was not a question from her part visibly, but a statement.

  • Dotar is entirely correct. The “Heritage Trailer” on this site was how Disney should have countered the “derivative” claim and something like it should have been a centerpiece in their whole ad campaign for the movie. It’s not in the least “derivative” of anything except Edgar Rice Burroughs, with Stanton and his co-writers adding: (1) teleportation by device instead of an out-of-body excursion and (2) shapeshifting or cloaking Therns (not sure which they were).

    The Heritage Trailer approach should have been hit on by Disney’s million-dollar marketers to show the origins of the character and I would have made something like it one of two or three main trailers for the film. The way they did it they left the filmakers just twisting in the wind trying to rebut the claim that the film was derivative.

    Anyone with half-a-brain can see that Disney’s ad campaign was a miserable failure, based solely on three points: (1) no link to “Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan” and (2) no link to “Andrew Stanton, the director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo, and (3) no link to the number of filmakers and writers who have been inspired by ERB’s writings.

    And on Mr. Davidson’s claim that it is a “flawed” film, I’d suggest his views are entirely colored by the fact that, as another commenter said, he “Wanted The Book” and nothing but The Book. Yes, one could say there are slow parts in the movie, and I in fact rated it a 4 of 5 on first viewing. But the slow parts are the parts that develop the characters and add backstory, and if you watch it more than once, they greatly add depth to the movie on many levels. By the 3rd or 4th viewing my rating had increased to a 5 of 5. And I’m as big a fan of ERB as Mr. Davidson, I’m sure. I started reading ERB at 14 and have a collection of about 50 first editions with dust jackets, so I am a serious ERB fan and collector; but the changes to The Book didn’t bother me at all, because all the changes are entirely in the spirit of the original.

  • I agree with what SteveG and K. Michael Karlock are saying. It’s all about context. Period pieces and films like Sherlock Holmes and Indy work because it’s clear to the audience by what’s on the screen where and when in the past the action takes place, and they accept it for what it is. By not doing a “Heritage” trailer, Disney failed to provide context to an audience that knows nothing about ERB or JCM. This film really needed marketing to provide that context because the adaptation was, as Dotar describes, “to present the story in the context of how it might have looked/feeled/been imagined by Burroughs or his readers at the time.” Since most of the action happens on Mars, the audience needs Burroughs POV as a writer in the early 1900s for context.

    So why did Disney not do a “Heritage” trailer? Here’s what I think: whoever made the marketing decisions thought JC’s 100 year old age was a weakness. They thought “don’t tell them it’s a 100 year old sci-fi novel, younger people won’t want to see it.” That’s too bad because the opposite is true; JC’s 100 year old origin is its biggest marketing strength. You got a blurb about “Before Star Wars” and “Before Avatar” but without context, most people didn’t know what that really meant. If Disney marketing provided the proper 100 year old context for the film, all the copy and paste critics would be saying “visionary” instead of “dated and derivative”.

  • Steve Davidson wrote:

    I’ve given some serious thought to gathering up all of the reasonable, intelligent and professional or near-professional reviews I have found that agree in large measure with the position that I’ve taken (that the film failed because it was a flawed film), but this post makes it obvious that such an effort would only serve to annoy you folks even more. Not to mention exciting that element of the pro JC crowd that expresses itself through personal attacks, attacking websites & etc.

    I think it is equally wrong to either a) blame the failure entirely on the movie, as you are doing, or b) blame the failure entirely on the marketing, as many fans are doing.

    I used to have a company that was an in-flight caterer to FedEx at their Asian Hub in Subic, Philippines. I watched how FedEx (marvel of efficiency) handles the situation when something goes wrong (and that means any time a flight departs even one mine late). Their procedure is to conduct an investigation and analyze the factors that contributed — looking at all three operating components (Maintainance, Flight Operations (Pilots), Sort Operations (Pacakges). They then generate a report which actually assigns percentage blame, explaining what went wrong, and identifying corrective measures.

    In some cases it’s 100% on one component, but usually not.

    I don’t see how a reasonable analysis could look at this release and put it 100% on the movie itself as you seem to be doing. There is blame to be shared.

  • Mr. Davidson – May I call you Steve ? I read your fan-colored review, and your movie review ( really, you just described how the book differed from the movie) but I can see where you’re coming from. It’s very simple Steve, you Wanted The Book and nothing but The Book would do. So you didn’t, couldn’t ,wouldn’t like the movie because you Wanted The Book. That’s it. The Book on screen would suck, but you might have liked it. That’s okay, some people liked Sucker Punch, and who am I to tell them they shouldn’t ?

  • I find the concept of “story X is old, and ‘no one’ remembers it so it won’t do well as a movie” to be highly stupid.

    Yes, recent popular books have a built in audience that practically guarantees filled theater seats and that’s always a plus. But if the idea that a story can’t do well as a movie if it wasn’t already popular had any merit then how can movies with original stories find any success?

    That a story is older, and even not as widely known as it once was, is immaterial to the story’s potential success as a movie. An older story stands on equal footing with movies that have original stories as far as the general public is concerned. It is incredibly foolish to think that somehow an older story is less able to be successful because of its age.

  • @Steve – you might have done all of what you consider homework as to finding views that agree with your opinion, but the main thing you’ve failed in is understanding how the BO works.
    The first week’s BO of any film is driven primarily by how well the marketing for a film does its job and whether the audience is any interested in seeing the film (once again that could be easily argued as marketing’s job)> What you’re suggesting – a flawed film – usually shows up in the second week’s BO due to word of mouth.
    Your view would only make sense if the audience actually understood that the film was flawed as you did in the first week which they could not have anymore than you did until after you saw the film and contributed to the first week’s grosses (assuming you saw it the first week)

  • People enjoyed “Gladiator” more than 10 years ago, and then Rome, Spartacus, Troy…came back.Even X-Men got reinvented last year. Captain America looked retro too. I don´t feel JCM is dated. I love the style of the movie. I want one of those ships at home. But I am so biased. Sometimes I feel myself dated. Maybe we should ask people who are going to see the movie now and ask. There are a certain amount of different stories in the movies. This is hero tale, love tale….becoming native tale, and people likes these kind of stories or they wouldn´t make them any more. Avatar had the huge advantage of the novelty of 3D, but it was form and not story that was anew. A few years after most of us are pretty tired of not-so stellar 3D versions. Style wasn´t enough to make Sky Captain or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen huge successful movies (I love both of them, by the way). Who knows? I love it the way it is.

  • Dotar (et al): An up front promise: I will not go any of the places Dotar asked us not to go. This does not, however, mean that you are going to hear things you like or might event agree with, lol.

    Here you have a respected professional film reviewer who takes issue with the movie, offering up examples of why it failed – AS A FILM – and all of you rush off to turn that into a failure on the part of the marketing effort.

    I’ve given some serious thought to gathering up all of the reasonable, intelligent and professional or near-professional reviews I have found that agree in large measure with the position that I’ve taken (that the film failed because it was a flawed film), but this post makes it obvious that such an effort would only serve to annoy you folks even more. Not to mention exciting that element of the pro JC crowd that expresses itself through personal attacks, attacking websites & etc.

    The emperor has no clothes. There, I’ve said it. Just as you all will insist that my eyesight must be bad, or that I must be looking at the wrong emperor, or that I must have missed the memo that said that nudity was the rig of the day, or any other old straw that can be grasped in an effort to place the full blame for failure elsewhere.

    Why do I harp on the subject? Because I honestly believe that these efforts to legitimize the film and to create a cult status for it are harmful to the future prospects of ERBs Barsoom on film.

  • MCR wrote —

    “As for it feeling dated, Sherlock Holmes is “dated.” The Lone Ranger is “dated” (and Disney is making that). Jane Austen novels are “dated” yet they keep making movies out of them. A story should never be dismissed as dated just because it’s old.”

    Oh dear, ah feel rather faint. Get the smelling salts for me, will you Rhett? It seems I agree with MCR.

    Jane Austen novels are about women trying to bag rich husbands. Sounds sexist but they’re incredibly popular.

    It would help immeasurably if the Flick Philosopher would define what she means by “dated.” It doesn’t mean much without some context. The original “Star Wars” got similar criticism back in the day, but then someone opened the Joseph Campbell bag and suddenly the characters went from being stereotypes to being archetypes. Can’t remember if “Raiders of the Lost Ark” got the dated comment. I think in both cases, though, Lucas and Spielberg just said “screw it, I want to make a deliberately old-fashioned movie” and did.

    Now, this hardly gets MCR off the hook. After all, he actually watched “Grown Ups.” I shudder.

  • The comments that the film felt “derivative” and “dated” are her opinions but clearly bring up some problems with the marketing approach but the movie itself. Not only did the film probably seem “derivative” to those familiar with Star Wars and Avatar but we have are moping, emo hero widower (which had been in countless films), our feisty female heroine who can kick men’s butts despite them being bigger and more trained than her (Buffy syndrome I guess); evil bad guys with British accents played by Mark “I’m available for evil bad guy roles” Strong who manipulate people to do their bidding…the movie’s major problem there wasn’t that it seemed derivative of Star Wars but virtually every other movie in the past 10 years. And whose fault is that? Not Burroughs but the guys who wrote the script and the man who directed the film. So in that case I do agree with her. They failed to make it seem fresh because they were too busy being enamoured with their own worn-out and deriviative cliches.

    As for it feeling dated, Sherlock Holmes is “dated.” The Lone Ranger is “dated” (and Disney is making that). Jane Austen novels are “dated” yet they keep making movies out of them. A story should never be dismissed as dated just because it’s old. I have a feeling this critic never read the books and instead just went to Wikipedia, saw that A Princess of Mars is a 100 years old and decided to say it was “dated.”

    Finally: “no comment about the Useless Mrs. Carter, please”

    Oh come on, you’re taking the fun out of life. 😉

  • … I never get tired of watching that…

    anyway – “making it not feel as if it’s aping all the stuff that actually ape it.”

    Can you imagine how our cinematic culture (and for that matter, our culture in general) would be different if this story had been introduced onto the screen in the mid-70’s? Obviously, judging by A New Hope, the technology was there to do it.

    I remember seeing the trailer for Star Wars for the first time in the theater. I’d not heard a thing about it – didn’t know it was coming (hey, the only tweets we heard back then were birds). I set there with my mouth hanging wide open knowing that things were suddenly different. How much better it would have been knowing things were about to be radically different because of Edgar Rice Burroughs?

    Even if it was followed by “all that is Star Wars”, that story would have been different enough to stand on it’s own and still contribute in a meaningful way (read: not just a cheap knock-off to make a buck). How would have the impact in the 70’s changed (or been reinforced) ? Superman in the 80’s… hmmm… Who knows what would be showing up on the screen now with that extra kick to get it going?

  • The pulp feel was never a problem for me and shouldn’t have been a problem for anyone if Disney had marketed it correctly. You hit the nail on the hand with your trailer. They needed to embrace it and make it an asset.
    The concept that “pulp old fashioned films” won’t make money isn’t any different than “westerns” don’t make money any more (until Eastwood proved them wrong with Unforgiven) or “superhero” films don’t make money (which they used to say not too long ago) and can be said about any genre film.
    If JC had been a hit – which overseas BO indicates it should have – then theaters would’ve been flooded with Old fashioned pulp films.

  • If it’s good enough, anyt story can succeed. John Carter will too, in time. Being close to 2,000 years old hasn’t stopped the success of the first pulp hero (papyrus hero?), who also has the initials J.C. I don’t bring this up to bring religion into the discussion, so much as point out that old material doesn’t have to be brought into modern times; it just has to be made relevant to modern times. The problems of bringing John Carter to screen are not much different than bringing any historical epic to life for a modern audience. That fact that John Carter is fiction raises the ante on the expectations for original visuals; if it were historical, well, you would think the ante would be raised for accuracy and attention to detail, but we all know historical epics that play fast and loose with the record yet are still popular. The movie public no longer remembers pulp novels so they don’t have a frame of reference to compare John Carter to. All they have are movies like Star Wars and Avatar and that is the metric by which John Carter is judged in the mainstream and why the aforementioned author does not give John Carter a pass for its pulp roots. She doesn’t remember the pulp novel era nor she does she care to. Her reaction reminds me of the mindset of many younger people who will not watch black and white movies, even if they are classics, because they are old. The mainstream today (and that includes the media) have brainwashed themselves through apathy to accept only certain paradigms of artistic expression. Whenever alien or old “outdated” paradigms present themselves, rather than adapt to it, they reject it rather than try to embrace it. Being promoted as “Before Star Wars” and “Before Avatar” invites unintended comparisons and potshots from the fanboys. The movie John Carter is an old-fashioned yarn. I think it would have been better promoted as “Indiana Jones … on Mars.” Because being an adventure film and period piece, it looks and it feels more like Indiana Jones than it does the other two and this might have given the mainstream audience a handle for John Carter that they could more easily grasp. My thoughts, anyway. What are yours?

  • Something that keeps popping into my fluffy little head is WESTERNS. ‘Oh my god he’s on horse ! I’ve seen a man on horse before you know !” The real question is “was it a good movie/western ? ” Same applies to John Carter. Was it a good sci-fi action adventure ?

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