Jeffrey Richert is the head of publicity and marketing for Magnolia pictures and the owner of Reverse Shot, a thoughtful film blog with an impressive list of contributors. His review of John Carter is intriguing to me for two reasons. First, he makes a vivid, articulate summary about how the negativity that was ‘in the wind’ about John Carter impacted the critical response — and keep in mind his position at Magnolia, which gives him a pretty impressive professional perch from which to make such assessments. Secondly, when it comes to analyzing the movie itself, he subjects the movie to a far more comprehensive review of all the things a director is responsible for — doing so in a way that illuminates the full creative challenge faced by a director of a film like John Carter.
Here is intro and and link to Reichert’s review. Thanks to HRH The Rider for flagging this for us.
No Chance for Escape
by Jeff Reichert
Dir. Andrew Stanton, U.S., Disney
John Carter never had a chance. Weeks before the film was released, reports of its impending flameout trickled into trade publications. In several articles, “tracking” figures were discussed by “sources” with little journalistic regard for contextual backing that would allow layman readers to parse their claims; at the same time, the film’s budget and allegedly troubled production history moved to the fore of dialogue. Whispers of the dreaded Ishtar were in the winds. Bear in mind that, at that point, very few, and likely even fewer of those doing the writing on John Carter, had actually seen the film itself. (When blood hits the water, thoughtful, informed analysis generally heads for dry land.) Why anyone would sharpen their knives for Andrew Stanton, the boyishly nerdy, clearly quite imaginative filmmaker who delivered the fables Finding Nemo and Wall*E, for realizing a lifelong cinematic dream (albeit a hugely expensive one) is beyond me. Wouldn’t it be better to root harder for the end of the Michael Bay era?
The nail in the coffin of John Carter’s public perception may well have been Brooks Barnes’s New York Timespostmortem (unimaginatively titled “Ishtar on Mars”) that ran on the Sunday of the film’s release, before box office numbers had even been reported in full. Barnes, though working without actual figures at his disposal (the article has since been amended with final tallies, though it omits some of the film’s staggering overseas figures in favor of making its case), seems almost gleeful in his dismantling of what he views as Stanton and Disney’s colossal folly, which offends far less than the false equivalence between box-office success and aesthetic quality that’s craftily laced throughout the article. His quite useless piece of writing is an exemplar of the curious and sad byproduct of the “industry” side of cinema, which all too easily and often co-opts a conversation that should be about art into one of figures, charts, and competition. Who can ever be said to have won art?
Pieces like these also speak to a continued insularity of a certain brand of film reporting, which, like those aforementioned early doomsday predictors, less address the general public than the diminished, but still sadly echoing hordes that regularly churn out box-office-figure stenography and tedious Oscar prognosticating in the guise of journalism. In short: stuff that no one in their right minds (i.e. those existing outside the industry) really wants to read. Call me a hopeless romantic, but the public at large, for all its general and regular diffidence towards the fading art of criticism, still deserves the opportunity to experience it free from needless clutter, should they so desire.