Is John Carter a Perfect Steve Jobs-style “bozo-meter”?

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This is a review which caught my attention because of it’s reference to Steve Jobs comment about dividing the world into those that “get it” and those that are “bozos” — with the reviewer reaching the conclusion that John Carter is a “perfect bozo-meter”.  There are some other good thoughts in here as well.  Thanks to Debbie Banway for flagging this one for JCF:


by Dave Jutsum from Dave Jutsum’s Blog

Synopsis: JCM is the pinnacle of campy cool sci-fi wonderment. If you missed it and you are at all the kind of person who likes classic tales for boys or science fiction, you should go out of your way to see it. You won’t be disappointed.

A Little Backstory

I went into John Carter of Mars fully expecting it to live up to its reputation in the press as the “biggest flop of all time”. I left the theater walking on air. Few films have ever left me with such a tangible ebullient rush. The thrill of youth– of imaginative immersion– is palpable.

My wife and I were the only people in the theater who made it to the end of the credits. As we cavorted out down the aisle, both of us wished that there were a sequel on the way. That seems unlikely given the reported performance of the film thus far. Still, I admire the courage of the Disney executives who green-lighted such an ambitious project and who have stood behind it as losses have mounted. It reaffirms my faith in the creative spirit.

A Little Tangent

When I was younger, I had this feeling that there would be a threshold which, once reached, would mean that I had “made it”. Not in the sense of being successful or wealthy, but in the sense of getting handed the reigns of the culture.

To my mind, it was not a finish line, but rather a coming of age. Much as in fairy tales, the prince dreams of inheriting his kingdom without realizing the responsibility that comes with the chair and the hat, I always thought that, one day, my generation would finally be the ones being catered to by mass media.

Before ascending to this hallowed position, I imagined it would mean that all of the things which we collectively loved as youngsters would gain the cultural seal of approval™ (guaranteed to seal in freshness). There would be great Star Wars movies. Great Indy movies. Who could say? Maybe even the Lord of the Rings would be adapted.

I learned upon usurping the throne from the first vanguard of Gen X what it really meant to have power. For them it had meant a Brady Bunch movie. For them, it was a CGI Scooby Doo.  [As an aside, did you know that Scooby Doo got his name from the end of Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”? Neither did I. Thanks, Jimmy Wales!] For us, it meant reboots of GI Joe and Transformers. It meant watching all of the stars that I grew up loving gracelessly age into lackluster B roles. It meant Jar Jar. [I swear, if I had known in 1997 what I know now in 2012, I might have committed suicide. I was a rash youth.] The farther I ascend up the cultural food chain, the more I realize how little value most of the “art” produced in reverence to the bottom line really has.

Primordial Soup for the Adventurous Soul

Much of my fantasy world as a seven-year-old was formed by mass market forces outside of my consciousness at the time. I thoughtlessly lapped up series after series of TV animation designed solely as 23-minute commercials to sell the latest Hasbro, Kenner, and Mattel lines. Unquestioning, I gobbled down bowls of delicious Super Sugar Crisp (later rechristened Super Golden Crisp), believing that it was “vitamin powered” because that’s what Sugar Bear’s t-shirt told me. [Okay, I didn’t really ever believe that. It’s called hyperbole.] Large swaths of my imaginary landscape were made up of primitive vector graphics as seen in the openings for M.A.S.K. and TRON. And laser tag guns.

Robotech taught me that the F-14 was the coolest machine of all time. It didn’t matter that it was a Frankenstein’s monster of three unrelated series disparately stitched together, because it was on so early in the morning that I couldn’t ever manage to catch more than two shows in a row. The thing that stuck with me was the underlying brutality of its dystopia. Rick was shocked. So was I.

Looking back now, I brought most of the value to the table. All of those stale stories burned with a sacred fire in my imaginary realms. This is the source of my disdain for the reboot, for the world of soylent green-lighting projects reconstituted from beaten dead horses.

A New Kind of Old Movie

Enter John Carter. Unapologetically  campy, beautifully paced, wonderfully realized John Carter of Mars. O, John Carter, with your framing story, your carefully crafted plot, your lovingly realized animation! You are a diamond in the rough! Watching the movie, it’s clear that Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon were motivated by a sincere love for the material. There is such a disregard for convention. Choices are motivated by a mixture of whimsey and unquenchable romanticism. It’s a glory to behold.

The movie is the most animated live action film I’ve ever seen. Stanton does creative things with the cuts. I don’t think it gives away too much to say that John Carter can leap. Superman could leap, too, before he could fly, as anyone who’s read Chabon’s sublime The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay will doubtless recall. Clearly, he inherited it from John Carter. The joy of it comes in watching how gracefully he does so. There’s no question that it’s a little goofy. The brilliance of it is that they don’t care. In fact, they embrace it. They are pro-goofy .

The army of alien creatures have far more life behind their eyes than the cast of the Star Wars Prequels. There is a joy to the motion that bespeaks animation. The canvas is vast and gorgeous, and the set pieces are superb. But it’s not the kind of film in which you’ll find yourself noting such things. Once you are on the ride, there’s no looking back.

Here’s to the Crazy Ones

The movie is dedicated to the memory of Stephen P. Jobs. Jobs was famous for his binary view of the world. You were either someone who “got it”, or you were a “bozo”. This movie is the perfect bozo-meter.

Indeed, watching the press descend on it has been much like following coverage of Apple. People condemn what they do not understand. Especially the bozos.

If the film is a gem, the advertising has been lackluster. True, the piece doesn’t lend itself to simple tag lines. It doesn’t fit the pat image in the hive mind of pop culture. Watching the dialog get spliced into one liners is torturous. Allow me, then, to step in and attempt to do what the marketing muscle of Disney could not. and tell you again. Follow your heart. Watch this film.

Read the rest on Dave Jutsum’s Blog


  • How it seems to me… is that this reviewer was touched and transported by a film they underestimated. Disney John Carter is certainly not as bad as the box office vultures would have us believe, and it seems to have had this pronounced an effect on a small portion of the small proportion of people who actually saw it.

    It also seems to me that what this reviewer experienced is a reaction to the pulp adventure spirit embedded in both the book and the film, regardless of how much/little they resemble each other (which is usually where the arguing begins).

    I reckon a closer adaptation would only have enhanced his experience, and certainly not hindered it. It’s easier to be awed by something like this when you don’t know what you’re missing, and his review is about a film he deems better than it got credit for – with no connection to the source material.

    Calling it some kind of binary ‘bozo-meter’, though, is ridiculous. Stanton’s twittery (tweetery?) would surely appreciate the statement, though — since everyone who didn’t like his movie somehow just didn’t ‘get it’.

    Also, isn’t Apple press pretty much all positive these days? Not a good comparison.

  • Tom Christensen wrote

    I’m just not ok with quality of the movie… Forgive me for having a higher standard. Admittedly, having seen a lot of cinema has burdened me over the years with enough experience that I have come to prefer something more substantial than what Stanton delivered.

    VI Janaway wrote

    John Carter left me in the same kind of daze seeing Star Wars the first time did.
    I don’t think there was any misstep. I also think that Taylor’s performance was deliberately low-key and not wooden.

    The thing that puzzles me, is how some people — naysayers usually — pronouce their verdict not as “this is how it seems to me”, but rather “this is how it is, period.” Meanwhile others, usually those who like something, acknowledge that in liking it they are offering their personal point of view — not an ABSOLUTE TRUTH.

    Tom, your opinion is an opinion, not a fact. Your “higher standard” is “higher” in your estimation — it is not “higher” as an objective fact.

    I think that’s really my problem. I know without a doubt that my opinion is an opinion; that others may have different and valid opinions; that I might learn from someone with a different opinion; and that my opinion is not better or more authoritative than someone else’s.

    When everyone in a conversation acknowledges something along those lines — great conversations can result because a spirited exchange is possible without people feeling insulted or their opinions disregarded. By contrast when people pronounce their opinion as if it is eternal irrefutable truth, it stifles good discussion and provokes emotional responses.

    Anyway, hopefully it’s clear what I’m talking about, and what I prefer.

  • I am also 63. When I was young, girls weren’t supposed to like Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I ;dove in headfirst. Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Smith and Burroughs were my authors of choice. I did my senior thesis on the origins of Science Fiction that included references to Cyrano de Bergerac and Mary Shelley..
    John Carter left me in the same kind of daze seeing Star Wars the first time did.
    I don’t think there was any misstep. I also think that Taylor’s performance was deliberately low-key and not wooden.

  • I’m 63 years old and have been devouring and creating film since I was 13, sneaking into Times Square from Long Island to see La Dolce Vita or 2001, in original three projector cinerama and plenty other quality and also fun films. I know quite a lot about film and it’s production and craft. I have also read all the ERB books from Tarzan, Barsoom, Napier and Pellucider, the Carter books several times. Plenty of experience and cred in that department also.

    Is Andrew Stanton the man responsible for the changes? Yes. Do I like the changes, not so much. There is one wooden acting performance, unfortunately it is Taylor Kitsch. But for a “fun” movie Lynne Collins gave a fierce and heart felt performance. The guys from Rome and the Wire certainly played their parts very well, with gusto even.

    The 80% that is good about this movie far out weighs the flaws and the fim is miles beyond Transformers, Titans, Princes of Persia and most of the Star Wars prequels. I’m sorry you don’t see, it but I enjoyed it very much.

  • Yeah, I’m back }:-)
    Barsoom Bob, I don’t want you to admit to anything. If you’re content with Stanton’s work, that’s fine. I don’t hate Andrew Stanton, I’m just not ok with quality of the movie… Forgive me for having a higher standard. Admittedly, having seen a lot of cinema has burdened me over the years with enough experience that I have come to prefer something more substantial than what Stanton delivered.

    Accepting Stanton’s choices concerning story and characters, still leaves a badly handled narrative, wooden acting and poor dialogue.

    Forgive my high expectations. I guess, it is an aquired taste that comes with experience.

  • Oh, Here’s Tom again to tells us all he hates Andrew Stanton and that we should all admit that the movie stinks. ( Yawn )

    Do I really have to say who is acting like a “Bozo” here ?

  • Well, Steve Jobs also said: “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”.
    ‘John Carter’ is neither innovative nor excellent. A hyperbole of its unsung or “misunderstood” virtues doesn’t make up for its failings by stale and cliché storytelling and cardboard character development. Even the “received pronunciation” which seems to be almost de rigeur in science fiction, just emphasizes the wooden acting, as in the case of the Star Wars Prequals.

    Although, the movie showed glimpses of good cinematography, it is mostly heartbreakingly bland and wasted on insignificant subplots that obstruct the narrative flow rather than helping it forward.

    Using Steve Jobs’ bozo-meter analogy (yawn!), Stanton is clearly the bozo here in my opinion.

  • Well, to follow the late Mr. Jobs’ logic, we’re all bozos about something. Or many things, as there are certainly many movies (and books) I just don’t get, while many of my favorite movies (and books) would be dismissed by others as unworthy (even mediocre).

    Odd how an otherwise intelligent man maintained such a simplistic view of the world. Well, actually, not so odd, given the course of human history …

  • When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to the level of their mediocrity. The height of Stanton’s mediocrity is still low.

  • I can’t say I thought John Carter to be campy, and I’m glad. It balanced itself perfectly between being true to its origins and the kinds of films it was inspired by in its feel, pace, and spirit, while maintaining the feel I get when reading the books it was based on. It never took itself too seriously, neither did it parody itself. I’m SO happy it didn’t get into campy mode. Otherwise, I agree with what the writer said. It certainly is the perfect “bozo-meter”! LOL!

  • OK what movie did this guy see? I didn’t see a “campy” movie. If only this movie had been campy-like Flash Gordon-it might have at least been more fun. Or spared us self-absored, selfish JC. As for Steve Jobs’ bozo meter-yeah I got it. Stanton wasn’t the right person to make this. It didn’t take a clown nose to realize that.

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