I've seen The Room three times. I just added Birdemic: Shock and Terror to my Netflix queue. I still watch at least one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 every week even though the show was canceled more than 10 years ago. I'm a fan of the hilariously pitiless movie podcast How Did This Get Made? and I sometimes peruse Rotten Tomatoes looking for bad reviews of the newest Hollywood craptaculars. When I was a kid, I read The Golden Turkey Awards and The Hollywood Hall of Shame so many times they eventually fell apart in my hands.
I don't just enjoy bad movies. I revel in them. There's something I find profoundly funny about watching human endeavour go spectacularly awry. To me, Battlefield Earth isn't just a stupid sci-fi flick. It's a priceless lesson in the dangers of hubris, delusion and irrational (and side-splitting) WTF? insanity.
So you'd think I'd be gleeful about Hollywood's latest high-profile flameout, John Carter. But you'd think wrong. I actually feel badly for all involved. And not because the film's being underestimated or misjudged. I saw it. It ain't that good. But here's the thing.
They tried. And they didn't even miss the mark by that much. If a million decisions go into the making of a movie, I'd say that Andrew Stanton (who directed John Carter) and Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon (who helped him write the script) got at least 499,999 of them right. For instance:
There's a big, slobbery, super-fast, E.T. slug-dog that's pretty great.
The aerial battle sequences are spectacular.
The giant, green warrior dudes are cool.
Taylor Kitsch is a perfectly acceptable leading man.
If I'd seen the movie when I was 10, I would've loved it.
Oh, by the way, John Carter is based on a bunch of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs about an earthman (Kitsch) who finds himself plopped into the middle of a Martian civil war. I really should've worked a little plot synopsis in earlier. Sorry.
See? We all make mistakes. Alas, Stanton, Andrews and Chabon made 501,000 of them, more or less. They're not typical bad movie mistakes, though. John Carter doesn't misfire because of an overabundance of dumb-ass pandering or an underabundance of common sense. It's more like this.
This one thing doesn't quite work. Then this other thing doesn't quite work. Then there's this other thing -- and you can totally see what they were going for -- and it doesn't quite work either. And all the this things and the that things and the other things add up, one little miscalculation after another, like ice crystals growing, growing, growing until they're an iceberg. And here comes the S.S. High Hopes, full steam ahead.
Andrew Stanton directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Mark Andrews is a Pixar fixture who had a hand in The Incredibles and Ratatouille, among other fine films. Michael Chabon is f-ing Michael Chabon. I love that guy.
Point: These are smart, talented people. And in interview after interview, they've talked about their sincere fondness for Burroughs' John Carter tales. So it wasn't cynicism or lack of ability that doomed John Carter: The Motion Picture to failure. In fact, John Carter wasn't doomed to failure at all. It could've been great. It just...wasn't.
That's a scary fact for any creative person to face. You can be handed your dream project, with all the resources in the world to make it work, and you still might muck it up. Because guess what, buckaroos: Art is hard. Hitchcock made some bad movies, Hemingway wrote some bad books and not everything the Beatles put out was "Hey Jude." Heck, even I'm not perfect. [INSERT YOUR LEAST-FAVORITE STEVE HOCKENSMITH BOOK OR STORY] never gelled the way I wanted it to and I feel sick about it to this day.
But not so sick I'm going to quit. Are you kidding? I may have written [THE BOOK OR STORY YOU DIDN'T LIKE] but I wrote [YOUR FAVORITE STEVE HOCKENSMITH BOOK OR STORY], too! And [YOUR SECOND-FAVORITE STEVE HOCKENSMITH BOOK OR STORY] and [YOUR THIRD FAVORITE...YOU DO HAVE A THIRD FAVORITE, RIGHT?].
Another point: We all fail, one way or another. Some of us are just unluckier than others because our failures become punchlines. Or are unintentionally hilarious, but that's not the case here.
Stanton & Co. don't really need me to say that. I'm sure they wouldn't particularly want sympathy from a guy who has nice things to say about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. They're already moving on to bigger (well, probably not) and better (indubitably) things. The dudes abide.
Final point: I hope we all do.