"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Schadenfreude ...

... over the new movie John Carter (2012).

The title of this post (pronounced shahd-in-froid-uh, as near as I can tell) is a German word meaning "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others".

This post is not a review of the movie itself (which I found to be pretty damn good), but of the nearly insane reactions of some people to it.

First, there were the gripes about it being a rip-off of Star Wars (1977) and Avatar (2009), although in fact it's based on stories written a full century ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who would later conjure up Tarzan), and those later movies actually owe a lot to those stories.

Then, there was the nit-picking over the title.  For a long time, "John Carter of Mars" was a dream project for many who wanted to see the stories brought to life.  When Disney announced the upcoming movie would simply be called  "John Carter", the screams could be heard for miles.

Ok, then. How about that title?

Burroughs' first (as yet untitled) novel, featuring John Carter as the leading character, was written in mid-to-late 1911 and serialized in a magazine (as "Under the Moons of Mars") in 1912. It didn't get published as a novel until after Burroughs became a success with his Tarzan series. In 1917, for a hardcover edition, the title was changed to "A Princess of Mars".

Ten more books were written in the John Carter series;  the eleventh (and final) installment having the title of "John Carter of Mars". So the purists were up in arms over Disney apparently dropping "of Mars" from the title, even though that was never the title of the book that opened the series in the first place.

The movie posters and previews simply say "John Carter".  A few minutes into the movie, the opening title just says "John Carter". BUT, the end title of the movie, just before the credits, appears as "John Carter", immediately followed below it by "of Mars". I do not believe for a second that this is a gimmick, nor a last-minute appeasement to the gripers, but that it is an integral part of the story.

John Carter was a former Confederate cavalry officer who got transported (by some form of astral projection in the novel, and by an alien device in the movie) to Mars, and while caught up in events there, was naturally obsessed with finding a way to get back to where he belonged. The bit with the opening and end titles reflects his evolution into realizing that his new home is where he now belongs and that he truly is "of Mars".

Thirdly, when you hear that a movie is reputed to cost a ton of money, you can count on the knives coming out.  This one is estimated to have cost around $250 million.  Well, so what?!!!  That's peanuts these days.  Have you noticed the prices of everything else lately?

James Cameron has been down that road twice. I got hooked on the internet in the late '90s and movie newsgroups were some of my favorite fare. In those groups, for a solid year before the release of Titanic (1997), its reputed budget of $200 million had large numbers of commenters predicting disaster and bankruptcy for Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Studios.

What struck me then (and still does) is the absolute glee with which they made those predictions, seeming to want so desperately for that man to fail.  And then, he proved them wrong when Titanic proceeded to make more money worldwide than almost anything else in movie history. That was unforgivable.  Hell hath no fury like a detractor proven completely wrong.

Twelve years later, to really rub it in, he did it again with Avatar (2009). Same issue (costing boatloads of money), same gleeful predictions of disaster, and same result (making more money than the GNP of some small nations).

Also similar in result was the pure vile hatred from some of the commenters over his success. There must be psychiatric wards filled with his detractors over his stubborn refusal to just fall down.

Now, whether Andrew Stanton (the director of "John Carter") will have a similar experience to Cameron's has yet to be determined. This is his first live-action feature. His previous films were animated (Disney/Pixar's "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E").

I suspect that his work in animation was excellent practice for pre-visualizing a story and having a pretty good idea of just where he was going to go with it.  While not perfect by a long shot, it is superb, very enjoyable and a damned fine first live-action effort. But, he may have to face the same storm of furies that Cameron has had to put up with, especially if "John Carter" turns out to be a box-office success.

Trying to explain that bitterness (envy?) directed to some (Cameron attracts it like a lightning rod, as does Steven Spielberg and perhaps Stanton will also, but George Lucas appears to have been spared much of that) who succeed in creating and delivering something truly remarkable, was the whole point of this post in the first place (and why I chose that title).

But, I fear that may be way beyond my pay grade. It's probably more within the purview of a professional psychiatrist like Dr. Sanity.  She might have her work cut out for her on this one.

Bottom line on "John Carter", in this not-really-a-movie-review: Pretty damn good!


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