When it arrived in theaters in March, Disney’s “John Carter” faced an audience as inhospitable as the arid landscape of Mars. Preceded by months of negative hype about its forgettable marketing campaign, truncated title, untested star, and a director who might have been out of his depth moving from animation to live action, the film’s inevitable box office flop — just $72 million domestically against a budget of more than $250 million — felt like a foregone conclusion.
“John Carter” came to DVD and Blu-ray last week, complete with a new round of reviews and reconsiderations. When the film opened in theaters, reaction was mixed at best; 52% at Rotten Tomatoes, 51 at Metacritic. But now the overall tenor of reviews seems to be shifting, from muddled mess to unappreciated gem. IGN called the Blu-ray “great.” Salon described director Andrew Stanton a “genius” and a “savant.” Crave Online compared “John Carter” to beloved classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Citizen Kane” that bombed on their initial release. Following as many critics and cinephiles as I do on Twitter, I’ve witnessed a steady stream of supportive tweets since its Blu-ray premiere last Tuesday (“Enjoyable as hell, and highly re-watchable,” reads a typical one). Suddenly, people kind of like “John Carter.” So what changed?
Expectations, for one thing. I don’t believe that critics (at least reputable ones) are easily swayed by things they read in The New York Times or Variety. I don’t think they go to the theater with their review already written. But I do think no movie gets seen in a vacuum (except maybe when the crew of the International Space Station watches “The Avengers”). Every viewing experience comes with baggage, and that includes things like hype and buzz, both good and bad.