Learning from Hollywood: The Cautionary Tale of John Carter

Golly - given how lame this poster is, I don't understand how John Carter ended up as a flop...

The number crunchers for Walt Disney and its various movie subsidiaries announced today that their $250 million space epic, John Carter, will officially enter into the books as a bigger flop than Ishtar. All signs point to the n’er-do-well sci-fi dud to lose close to $200 million, once all factors are considered.

For some reason, exactly nobody was surprised.

I mean, how could a film based on source material that only the geekiest of sci-fi geeks know about, starring a humanoid that only the geekiest Friday Night Lights fans knew about, and featuring more computer animation than Finding Nemo and Wall*E put together, possibly go right?

(And for those who have no idea about the references in the above sentence, the correct answers are: Edgar Rice Burroughs The Mars Trilogy; Taylor Kitsch; and the past two films of John Carter‘s director, Andrew Stanton.)

So another can’t-miss, Hollywood blockbuster goes splat. What’s the big deal?

I think it’s a cautionary tale for all of us, especially this election year.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Not for government, not for spending, not for promises, and certainly not for number of doo-doo flinging attack ads. This might be the perfect year to sit back, play it small, and let the facts do the talking.

Except that even our facts get conflated. On both sides of the aisle. As does the rhetoric, hyperbole, name-calling, finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and other political campaign standards.

“Barak Obama is the worst president to ever hold the office! He should be pilloried from pillar to post and voted out of office by at least 50 bajillion votes! He wants to steal your money and give it to Cadillac-driving, no-education-having, crack-smoking, malt-liquor-drinking, illegally-immigrated, alternative-lifestyled, green-energy loving wonks who will bankrupt this country of money just like they bankrupted it of morals!”

“Republicans want to rip out your uterus and use it as a yo-yo! They want to tell you when you can have babies! They want to steal your money and give it away to big fat-cat businessmen who already have enough of their own money and drive gas-guzzling SUVS that emit invisible toxic fumes that kill baby rabbits! And, they can’t even decide which of their horrible cadre of unelectable candidates to trot out for certain November defeat!”

It’s special effects in place of story. Sizzle instead of steak. Show to hide the sham.

Now THIS is how you make a movie.

In short, it’s everything that critics have been saying about John Carter. The similarities are eerie: uncertain story; a seemingly endless budget; countless experts working on it; little sustained interest from the general public; breathless and sometimes convoluted advertising.

But perhaps the most painful similarity of all: characters you neither care about nor believe in.

Maybe the prescription for what ails John Carter is the same for what ails politics: a compelling cast of characters who, though flawed, fight for the good of all people in the midst of the apparent destruction of all civilized society. Despite their differences, they are united by the need for heroes, and with their combined strength beat back humankind’s destruction with perseverence, teamwork, and no concern for who takes the credit.

You want to know how to solve America’s political problems?

Be in theaters on May 4th.

Avengers assemble, indeed.