Since when did “passion project” become such a dirty phrase?
When Andrew Stanton’s magnum opus “John Carter” was released just two short months ago, you’d think he had committed some kind of original sin. Just about every article or review dwelled on the fact that either A.) the film was going to lose a massive amount of money, or. B.) Disney was insane to entrust a massive studio blockbuster to some naïve “artist.”
Talk about self-unfulfilling prophecy.
The history of Hollywood is littered with artists going one Bridge Too Far, a distinguished field of creative carnage that began with D.W. Griffiths’ “Intolerance.” The story is simple. Having gathered their chips through some mega-success, deranged creative types bet their stack on a personal epic. “Jaws” begets “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a win, and then, Steven Spielberg craps out on “1941.” “The Godfather” gets topped by a sequel, but soon “Apocalypse Now” comes staggering from the jungle. Francis Ford Coppola was lucky enough to make it out of that casino, but then, had to return to Vegas for “One From The Heart,” the opening act of the slow-motion dissolution of his career. And of course, there is Billy Wilder’s corrosive masterpiece, “Ace in the Hole,” a cynical treasure that cost him most of the goodwill he had earned from the previous 10 years of commercial success. We won’t mention “Heaven’s Gate,” as that is too damn easy. But, I will say, deep inside Michael Cimino’s deranged epic there is something mesmerizing. It deserves to be taken on its own terms as an deranged vision, clearly made – if not made clearly — by some kind of cinematic idiot savant.
Savant comes to mind when one looks at Andrew Stanton. And the only thing that seems idiotic about “John Carter” is its running time. The original sin of this film is that, believe it or not, it is far, far too short. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that “John Carter” is the “Magnificent Ambersons” of insane, overproduced fantasy films – though in this case, the compression and cuts were inflicted by its own creator. The movie slowly sinks under a staggering amount of exposition and plot truncation, and the viewer is always one step behind, never to catch up.