Richard Brody, writing from France, has weighed in on John Carter in the New Yorker and his comments, which cover some of the spectrum of French critical reaction to the Andrew Stanton film, is refreshing. Brody makes the point that yes–the plot is familiar–but get over it, that’s not what’s fresh and original and “endearing”. Something else is — something that the American critics seem to be immune to.
John Carter, From France
by Richard Brody posted in The New Yorker
Frankly, my dear readers, I don’t give a damn whether “John Carter” brings in a dime for Disney. Not yet, at least; I haven’t seen the movie, though will do so soon. (The trailer looked like fun to me, but it nonetheless didn’t look like anything that either kids or adults would want to see—with a Civil War veteran heading to Mars, see under “Cowboys vs. Aliens.”) Of course, the over-all state of the industry is of concern and interest to anyone who cares about the movies that issue from it, and there’s an intrinsic social-psychology-on-the-wing speculative fascination to the figuring out what appeals to very large numbers of people and why. But it’s a dire trend for criticism to be engulfed by media-business reporting. The likening, as by Brooks Barnes in the Times, of Andrew Stanton’s movie to “Ishtar” is merely the opening of an old wound inflicted by critical sucker punchers who, instead of considering Elaine May’s film on its merits, reviewed its budget and its rumors and took aim from deskside at the perceived excesses and absurdities of Hollywood filmmaking.
Since when are critics the defenders of studio interests (as if taking on the role of op-ed watchdogs of the public till) rather than aesthetes who perceive the craft and the art, the thought and the labor that a movie embodies? (Who, for instance, can have doubted that it cost Elaine May dozens of takes to get Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman out of their usual personae and into their roles?) I don’t yet know how worthwhile “John Carter” is, but some of the word from Europe about the movie itself makes me even more curious to see it. In Libération, Olivier Séguret recommends that viewers approach the movie with “innocence,” which is “the key that makes it possible to understand the extraordinary and shambolic spectacle that’s astir on the screen.” He says that the story is insignificant—“so classical that we already know it all by heart”—and prefers to call attention to the blend of live action and C.G.I., which, he says, “attains in this film new summits in amplitude and virtuosity.” He continues, “Stanton gorges himself to a certain excess, but also treats us to graphic fireworks that are striking in their freedom, their fury, their intense creative quest” and concludes that the movie offers “an ingenuity that sometimes borders on the ridiculous, but also a candor, a virginity that renders this thunderous object terribly fragile. And, by that fact, quite endearing.”