A John Carter Review that’s actually worth reading

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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

John Carter
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.

Read the full review at Reverse Shot

6 comments

  • 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;

    What is this supposed to mean? Tracking numbers are tracking numbers. There are cites all over the internet that track movies months before its release. http://www.boxoffice.com/statistics/long_term_predictions. What backing would he have wanted when quoting tracking figures?

    Well, not exactly. There is a difference between all the social media monitoring on the internet, and the official “tracking” that Hollywood studios get starting 4 weeks before a film is set to be released. The studios subscribe to a specific service for this tracking, which is not based on internet monitoring — it’s based on phone interviews and is published once a week — very old school……There was really only one source article on tracking and that was Deadline Hollywood’s John Carter Shockingly Soft Tracking: could be the biggest writeoff of all time. That article’s content got picked up and replayed ad infinitum . . . . . having said all that — I’m not totally sure what Richter is really getting at. I think the more relevant issue is that the frenzied following of box office tracking can ultimately have an effect on the actual performance of a film, and a case can be made that this happened with John Carter. By the way, when I just did a google search for “shockingly soft tracking” to get that John Carter, the top result was an article in the Hollywood Reporter about how Jack the Giant Slayer has soft tracking (not shockingly soft) . . . . Anyway I would agree that his point isn’t a strong one, but it’s not scandalously off point either.

    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)

    The last part is a complete lie on his part. The times article does mention the $71 million overseas total. Also that amount is hardly a staggering figure when it basically has released in virtually all its markets.

    Is that the part he says they updated at some point afterward? I’m not sure. $71M was the opening weekend total overseas, and it was a strong total, the highest of any film up to that point of the year, and there were at least two very major markets — China and Japan — that were untouched. It ended up at 209M foreign and 73M US …. so the foreign was strong enough (74% of the total) to allow a case to be made that had John Carter performed as well in the US as it did foreign (meaning $105 M US would have meant a 33-67 split, which should have been attainable), then it woud have never been regarded a disastrous bomb . . . . Anyway, I think it’s overstating the case to say that the “Ishtar Lands on Mars” article was any more meaningful than about 100 other similar aritcles. Sure, Brookes Barnes at the NY Times is very influential among the highest level Hollywood insiders–he’s one of the best entertainment journalists around — but it was the cumulative effect of hundreds of articles like that that really sealed the deal in the minds of the movie-monitoring public.

    But even if I don’t agree with him giving so much value to “Ishtar Lands on Mars”, the phenomenon that he’s desccibing of box office reporting overwhelming a movie and damaging its prospects is real and happened with John Carter.

    None of this means that John Carter would have been a roaring hit if the press had been nicer, or if the marketing had been better . . . . . but flop of the century? Nah, not so much.

  • This guy sounds like some of the worst of the Back to Barsoom people in his defence of John Carter taking a lot of shots at reporters including the guy who wrote the Istar lands on Mars article for the times. and inflating the box office performance of the film.

    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;

    What is this supposed to mean? Tracking numbers are tracking numbers. There are cites all over the internet that track movies months before its release. http://www.boxoffice.com/statistics/long_term_predictions. What backing would he have wanted when quoting tracking figures?

    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)

    The last part is a complete lie on his part. The times article does mention the $71 million overseas total. Also that amount is hardly a staggering figure when it basically has released in virtually all its markets.

  • It’s odd to read an article where the author actually craved for MORE exposition. I thought the exposition part was among the weakest of the movie. Anyway, good overall analysis, and I don’t think it was too Stanton-gushing. Jeffrey Richert offers some criticism and don’t call the movie perfect.

  • Since no one else is commenting…I do have to wonder if this guy would have the same smypathy for Stanton if he had to deal with him rejecting all his marketing ideas and running up a 250 million budget at Magnolia on his ego trip?

    Beyond that it was more standard Stanton gushing and another guy who never read the books and belives Stanton’s cliched approach was good movie making. I have to wonder what types of films does Magnolia make if this guy is gushing this much?

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