Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter and the Marketing from Hell

My wife and I both went to see John Carter last weekend.  My wife had no interest in seeing it initially, but I talked her into going to see it with me.  Her impressions were based on:

1.  The name  ("What is it even about?")

2.  The trailers  ("What is it even about?")



Now, I know that my wife has a strong geek streak.  Our first conversation when we met ended up drifting into Dune  (ha!  Dune . . . drift . . . eh, nevermind).  I had a very strong feeling that if I could get her in the theater she would enjoy the movie.

She really enjoyed it.  I really enjoyed it.

So why is this movie doing badly?

There are all sorts of theories out there, many of which have to do with the marketing of the movie, which I tend to agree is quite lacking.  But why would Disney spend all of that money making the movie and kill it with bad marketing?

Because the suits don't get pulp.  Pulp is about action and and keeping the story movie.  Yes, there are places where the story slows down, but nothing is perfect.

In pulp, if you want to show depth, you do it quick and symbolically.  If you can't explain someone's emotional state with an expression or a glance or a very quick cut, then you aren't doing it right.

While the movie has some brilliant special effects, they are part of telling the story.  The actors are in the foreground doing stuff and moving the plot forward, so sometimes you take the neat special effects for granted, not because they aren't cool, but because they are doing their job as background.



You don't have the ponderous look around the CGI landscape like you have in the Star Wars prequels or Avatar, where the point of some scenes really is just to paint the entire scene digitally.  I'm not criticizing those movies for having those scenes, just point out that CGI isn't a genre, it's a tool.

On top of that, John Carter is a pulp man of action.  He can be a jerk  (an entertaining jerk though), and at times he just does what he needs to do.  There is much talking about feelings, and the steps of romance are not carefully delineated by "symbolic," as I mentioned above.

So the marketing guys don't have a long ponderous scene where they can do "Marvel at the amazing CGI landscapes and aliens slowly walking through them so you can see the textures."  They don't have a scene where they can say, "Sigh as the hero gazes longingly into the heroine's eyes and professes his love for her and his complex, conflicted feelings about his deep emotional state."

There is some of both of that in the movie, and the pacing isn't always as breakneck as it should be for a pulp story, but at the same time, things keep moving enough that it just seems like you should show people the action when you make your trailer, and boy do the marketing guys pick the wrong action most of the time.

Honestly, one of the most broadcast scenes in the trailers immediately brings to mind the arena fight in Star Wars Episode II, which is ironic, since I'm pretty sure the literary subject matter is what inspired that scene in Star Wars.



Plus, I have to say, the naming convention was terrible.  They really thought John Carter of Mars would turn people off?  I mean, even if people did like the trailers they saw, are they really going to remember, when they are deciding on a movie on a Saturday afternoon, that that movie with the guy and the swords and the big white apes was John Carter?

Hell, I wonder how many people went to teen comedy party gone wrong movie # 347,865,003 Project X because they thought it was the science fiction movie.

Also, I've read a few people questioning if Lynn Collins was "hot" enough to be Dejah Thoris.


Lynn Collins is absolutely gorgeous.  Enthralling.  I was more than happy to just look at her in every scene she was in.

And in conclusion, if you want to do a sidekick right, make them cute and unable to speak.  I want a calot.  Woola was adorable even when he was eating people's heads.




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