Monday, March 26, 2012

I need to rant a bit.

So, this morning I made the mistake of expressing an opinion related to movies (which, apparently, is an open invitation for others to come pat me on the head and “correct” my thinking). Basically, it had to do with the fact that I am so irritated with Disney’s shitty marketing of John Carter, compared to the over-saturation of Hunger Games, that now I can’t help but feel irritated and resentful towards the “Post-Apocalypse Teens-murdering-Teens” epic that HG is (mind you, this is from the promos only, as I have not seen the movie, nor read the books).

I should point out that my ire comes strictly from the comparative marketing of each film, and is completely unrelated to the individual or comparative quality of the films on any level. I’m sure, based on reviews and fan opinions, that it’s safe to say that they are both wonderfully (and possibly equally) entertaining films, each for their own merits, and comparing their overall qualities is an apples/oranges situation.

Anyways, one thing has become glaringly clear with the case of these two films: Opening Weekend box-office numbers have NOTHING to do with a film’s quality. It has EVERYTHING to do with marketing, brand recognition, and word of mouth. And it’s surprising (and a little disconcerting) how many intelligent people out there just don’t get this absolute truth.

Arguments have been made that John Carter was simply unknown to the greater movie-going populace, and that no one knew who this innocuously-named character really was. Ok, I can agree with that to an extent. But, the movie is based on a book that was published, literally, a hundred years ago (1912), has been in near continuous print ever since, and is currently in the public domain and free to read for anyone with any kind of e-reader. Not to mention that A Princess of Mars (the original book’s title, more ranting on that in a moment) is a direct ancestor to nearly every epic space adventure we hold dear. Star Wars, Avatar, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon…the list goes on and on. None of them would even exist without John Carter. So, you can’t tell me that the source material is in any way “obscure.”

Compare that to Hunger Games. The first book in the series came out in 2009. It’s barely three years old. Frankly, before the film was announced, I had never even heard of it. And without the movie, I likely never would have. From the outside, it doesn’t seem terribly original. We’ve seen this type of story a dozen times in film and books. But, that doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience (see my rant about Real Steel a while back). The point is, it’s not ground-breaking. It’s nothing really “new” so much as “repackaged.” And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe this old story-type finally gets told right. Like I said, I have yet to see the film, so I don’t know.

So, from a pop-culture standpoint, I’d say that both films were on equal footing. John Carter has it’s loyal fanbase of sci-fi and literary geeks, and Hunger Games has a more-or-less equal-sized fanbase of modern readers of YA fiction. Fair enough.

The differences lay in the promotion. With John Carter, there were SO many ways it could have been promoted. Where was the mention of who Edgar Rice Burroughs was (you know, that guy who created Tarzan)? Where was the mention of the fact that it is based on a book that created a new and enduring sub-genre (Planetary Romance)? Where is the toy line? The John Carter Video Game? The Barsoom MMO? Ok, maybe I’m reaching with that one, but you get my point. Instead we get some idiot in marketing who removes “of Mars” from the original title for the film because “statistically speaking, no movie with the word ‘Mars’ in it ever succeeded.” That’s the dumbest crock of shit I have ever heard. I can understand not using “A Princess of Mars” considering it’s a Disney film. But come on, I can’t count the number of people who asked “Noah Wiley’s character from ER is getting a movie?” Stupid, stupid, stupid. Add to that the fact that critics were panning it weeks before it had even been pre-screened. It’s like someone WANTED the movie to fail. Ever see The Producers?

Yet Hunger Games gets a Facebook game, endless trailers, and positive promotion from EVERYONE with a blog or a weekly entertainment article. The media and the Internet is just dripping with Hunger Games praise. You can’t swing a bag of popcorn without hitting something that says Hunger Games on it.

I dunno. Maybe, as I was told earlier, I’m just bitter because me and my ilk (sci-fi/fantasy geeks) get constantly burned by Hollywood, one way or the other. Usually it’s in the form of crappy product (Conan), but this time the product is awesome by nearly ALL accounts. So they decide to screw us with marketing and underpromotion instead. We can’t win.

All that being said, I steadfastly refuse to see Hunger Games until I have seen John Carter (of Mars). Roll your eyes and snicker condescendingly if you like. I give less than a pile of Woola's shit.


Scott Oden said...

AMEN! A-fucking-MEN!!!

Andre R. W. Schmeichel said...

Tom, the issue I actually was trying to articulate in my original facebook post - about emotion - was that people can connect with what Hunger Games portrays, particularly now, more than people can connect with a civil war veteran transported to mars to fight 4 arm aliens in an area of death.

If you read the reviews, and I have, what you see a common thread among those who are most credible: The kind of wild super-fantastic science fiction/fantasy that JC is simple falls outside people's appetite for the genre in this century. It is more at home with Mars Attacks, 50 foot women, and pulp fantasy of earlier decades. Because of this, the film was being PANNED by critics before it was out and SLAMMED by fans. It was being buried before it got to the theatres.

But Rolling Stone writer Peter Travers says what you said, and which probably is true.

"Shut out the noise and just watch the movie. For all the bumps in the narrative, concocted by Stanton, Mark Andrews and novelist Michael Chabon, and less-than-stellar 3D effects, John Carter exerts the pull of a tall tale told by a campfire."

That truth was not stronger than the vicious skepticism that met the movie before the first person walked through the first theater door, and that's no Disney's fault as much as it is our current popular culture.

Billiam Babble said...

Apart from the odd trailer I've seen via gamers blogs, I didn't see much marketing myself either. A few months back I became confused between JCM and Cowboys and Aliens.
I always like to remind myself that Blade Runner did badly at the box office, but DVD sales have always done well (i think) News media has trouble recognising films outside of the premiere and first weekend stats.
I agree with your frustration about sci fantasy romance being overlooked and shadowed by some sort of kiss of death sci fi and fantasy films are supposed to have on box office sales.
Good points, well said.

Andre R. W. Schmeichel said...

...actually Tom, if you haven't seen Carter, I'd go along. I'd like to see it.

Keith said...

Well said, Tom.

I don't understand why Disney didn't at least put something along the lines of "From the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, comes an epic of interplanetary romance" or something along those lines. It wouldn't have cost them anything and would have at least made a connection in some people's minds as to what the source material was.

And no merchandising? What's up with that? Since when does Disney not saturate the market with toys every time a new movie comes out?

A total cock-up as far as merchandising goes. It will be a long time before I see another Disney film.

dmarks said...

The marketing was a train wreck.

There were some major blunders in the movie as well. Why wasn't the red planet red? Or the red Martians red?? And the last thing I imagined Tars Tarkas to be from reading the books was a grumpy Western-movie-Indian chief giant grasshoper. But that is what he was in the movie.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I have a theory about the merchandising.

Disney doesn't know what to do with a princess who can kick ass.

Just ask Mulan how she's fared all these years.

Mulan was the only Disney movie I owned. When I went to Disney World - DISNEY WORLD - I could not find any Mulan merchandise.

The cinematic Dejah Thoris must have blown their minds.

Joe Bonadonna said...

Tom -- I always look forward to your blogs, and rants and raves. I couldn't agree more with you on this. The Hunger Games? What is that and what does it even mean and do I really care? Disney will certainly milk another Pirates of the Carribean, which frankly, has gotten old, and Johnny Depp's schtick has finally made me say, "Enough is enough!" (I think he's becoming more of a cartoon character and less of an actor.) But they're all fools and scoundrels for not going balls out to promote JOHN CARTER and get the public flocking to the theaters. May the Ghost of Uncle Walt haunt the halls of Disney. Shame on them for not standing by a really great film that has genuine heart, real emotional drama and --- praise be! -- no Hollywood smarminess or worn-out cliches.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm with you man. I will probably read the Hunger games book at some point, but definitely before I see the movie. I don't understand the silly way reviewers act toward movies. Somehow, hunger games got the repuation of being "hip" while John Carter is not. Such idiots.

dmarks said...

As for the John Carter MMO, I still want one anyway. I want to interact with a giant bug who calls me by the name of the state I live in.

Paul: The book Dejah Thoris couldn't kick ass. She just sat around naked and beautiful and waited to be rescued. I think it is a good improvement, what the movie did to the character, in this regard.