Scott Mendelson is one of the more astute and fair-minded observers out there. His work on John Carter was some of the best I came across during that episode — particularly “Revisiting the John Carter Marketing Debacle.”
Today, in the midst of the scramble to view and react to the dump of stills, poster, and trailer all in one 24 hour period, Scott managed to put out some meaningful commentary and now that things have quieted down slightly, I encourage you to read it.
Mendelson does a good job of summarizing the conventional wisdom in Hollywood concerning Tarzan — and that “wisdom” is that WB is slightly daft for investing in two would-be franchise starters in Tarzan and King Arthur in spite of the perception that: “Both are would-be franchise starters which arbitrarily attempt to fashion an actioin franchise based on a somewhat well-known story purely because it’s a somewhat well-known story.” Painful as it may to read for those of us who have hopes for the movie — it’s pretty much what most of Hollywood is thinking. And most of Hollywood is not usually wrong. Sometimes, yes. But not usually. So this kind of thinking is not to be dismissed.
He goes on to say that, against that mentality, he saw some positive things today:
First and foremost, to my surprise, this is not an origin story. You’d barely know it from the trailer which emphasizes his origins and mostly shows our hero in his “natural habitat,” but this film takes place after Tarzan has been raised by apes and after he left Africa for London. We don’t have to see young Tarzan get raised by apes and come to terms with his humanity while he meets and falls for Jane and battle human villains. No, this one takes place long after that story with a “civilized” Tarzan lured back from London to Africa and ensnared in new perils and adventures.
So that’s a notch in the “plus” column right there, since we don’t have to go through the origin tropes nor are we being forced to see “the story before the story you thought you knew” schtick that felled Pan and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. earlier this year. The other thing is that they have surrounded Alexander Skarsgard (because the kids love Melancholia) with a decent supporting cast, with potential added value elements in Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, and Christoph Waltz. None of them are “stars,” but all are media-friendly actors and Sam Jackson is invaluable as an added-value element.
Now having bent over backward to be fair, and with the acknowledgment that this trailer looks relatively entertaining, I still think it’s absolutely insane that Rat-Pac Dune Entertainment, Village Roadshow, Jerry Weintraub Productions, and Dark Horse Productions sunk $180 million into a live-action Tarzan movie. Now I get that it costs a lot of money to build two worlds as well as one family (been sitting on that joke for months), but this is the kind of mega-budget production that has no plausible chance of making its money back unless it’s spectacularly good and connects with audiences on a primal level. And if it’s merely okay, we’re looking at (at best) another Fantastic Four and at worst another Pan.