There’s no getting around it, John Carter of Mars is a bad movie. Like many science fiction fans, I was at least somewhat hopeful that the director of Wall-E would do justice to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work and make a cool movie. Here’s the problem with doing that sort of work: the Barsoom novels cannot ever be classified as “high” literature. They’re pulp sci-fi, with maybe some broad social commentary thrown in. There no 1984s or Game of Thrones among that series of novels, and so, no director is going to be making a 2001 out of them. But, I love those sorts of works, because they give the writer, director, screenwriter, etc. an opportunity to walk a line between the classic, zany tropes of bad movies (think something that might appear on Mystery Science Theatre) and making something polished, that looks cool, has a good script behind it, and maintains a healthy sense of humor about the subject matter. This type of movie almost never does well when it takes itself too seriously.
Wow, writing all that out makes it sound a lot harder than it does in my mind. For an example, I think I reach immediately for things like Hellboy and the first couple of X-Men movies. These are not Oscar caliber movies we’re talking about, but they can still elicit emotions, draw you into the story, and, especially if you’re me, they can make you want to watch them multiple times and not get tired of them. The type of movie that fails to secure itself on the sword’s edge of this zany fantasy-solid movie balance ends up as either kitsch or just a bad, bad, no good movie, the type of productions ending up with zero scores on Rotten Tomatoes. I had real hope for this one, because Michael Chabon had a hand in the script. The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are great examples of books that manage to push all the right sci-fi/mystery genre buttons but still be well-written, and highly readable. I guess what I was hoping for in John Carter was a movie epitomizing those qualities.
(Sidenote: for a pretty good interview in which Chabon discusses his relationship with genre writing in general, see here).
My criticism of JC seems to have high-jacked this post, but lemme tell ya what, I had an excellent time seeing this movie in the theater. As soon as we figured out what this movie was going to be (a kitsch-fest filled with sweeping cliches, silly-looking creatures, and lots of sexual tension between JC and the sexy alien princess), which took all of 10 minutes, if that, my friends and I spent the hour and a half plus stifling laughter – which always just makes you laugh even harder – and whispering our jabs at the poor strange-looking dog thing and JC’s moody Abercrombie and Fitch face to one another. We’re not all Mike Nelson, but we’ve known each other long enough to know how to make each other laugh. I always feel somewhat bad when this happens; what if there’s someone in the theater who is actually enjoying this, and wishes we would pipe down so she could hear the pithy dialogue? It seems impossible to me, and probably to the other people who started doing the same thing all over the darkened theater, but what if? I try to be aware of how my behavior affects others, but ultimately in movies like this, if I had been too worried about the hypothetical other people being hypothetically annoyed by my friends and I, I wouldn’t have had any fun. My friends are very good at advising me to give less shits about what other people think about me, and this time I decided to take their advice. In the movie itself, only James Purefoy seemed to be having any fun, and for me he stole the movie from the entire rest of the cast put together. I didn’t want to be moody, broody John Carter, when it feels so much better to be
A couple weeks ago, not even thinking about it, I told my roommates that, if I had a ton of disposable income and no debt, I’d happily go see every single movie, every damn bad terrible one, just to have a good time laughing at the bad ones. I’m going to see Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance tonight, and eating barbeque before hand (almost wrote “before ham,” that’s how excited I am) and boy am I looking forward to it.