John Carter: When Geniuses Bomb by Erik Nelson

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By Erik Nelson via

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.

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  • MCR wrote

    Are you trying to get me angry Dotar? Andrew Stanton, Genius Savant…oy vey.

    Ha! You didn’t take the bait. I owe you one……;-)

    There are other virtues in the article, so thanks for not going off on the savant reference.

  • There a lot of clunky exposition in the movie. The first three scenes are just exposition, as are the Thark’s Issus temple scene, and the exploration of the Thern hideout (this one to me really stopped the movie dead on tracks at that moment). I always thought it was poorly handled on Stanton’s part. Fortunately once you have assimilated it, you can pass over it and enjoy the movie’s strengths. I could only really appreciate the movie on second and subsequent viewings because of that, and I had read the book multiple times before that. I can only imagine that it induced some headache among those wo weren’t knowledgeable of the books.

  • Where’s all this exposition people keep talking about?

    There’s a minute or two in the beginning, tops, and it’s over. If a 6/7 year old can sit enthralled by the movie then surely and adult can not find the dialogue the least bit burdensome.

    The entire tone of the article seems that of a backhanded compliment. Really? Calling Andrew Stanton an “idiot savant” of movies?

    Despite the issues I have with the article in general, I do agree that the movie could have been a little longer. Something like another 20-30 minutes, at the most, spread throughout the film.

    Scenes such as Carter in an individual duel with a Thark warrior to showcase Carter’s swordsmanship. Perhaps a challenge by a flunkie of Tal Hajus intending to eliminate Carter or at least gauge his abilities. Besides adding another chance to highlight Carter in action, it could also be a chance to show Tal Hajus as conniving and dangerous earlier on.

    A scene or two with Carter and Dejah Thoris together while still prisoners of the Tharks would be welcome, as I think it’d strengthen the building of their relationship in the movie. I always figured that Carter’s time with the Tharks would be trimmed and compressed for a movie (there is enough there to do a movie on just that portion of the book) but I believe a bit more could have been retained in the final cut of JOHN CARTER.

    And I would have loved for there to be some more shots of Barsoomian architecture and ancient abandoned cities. I know that such images exist among the movie’s concept art, and it would have been great for them to be realized on screen even if it was just in passing arial shots. These wouldn’t need to be long shots either, just a few seconds here or there such as when the Tars Tarkas and the others are returning from the incubators or when Carter, Dejah, and Sola are traveling through the desert.

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