Andrew Stanton of Earth: A Plea for Cinema's Future

There's a very specific reason I'm writing this. I'm angry. I'm angry because I believe that people are making gigantic cultural mistakes that are dooming our cultural future. I'm writing in defense of John Carter. I know there are better films, less well-known films, and films far more deserving of my time and attention but I have a tremendous bone to pick with everyone who didn't see it or doesn't like it because by rejecting this movie, you're fucking directors everywhere out of a future in creative control of works that truly do need studio money. I know, I know, I know. I know Andrew Stanton isn't exactly Nuri Bilge Ceylan. I know this sounds melodramatic. I know you don't care because you probably didn't care enough to see the movie. Which is why we're here in the first place. I know the fault lies partially with Disney's marketing people who failed to make the film appealing. Which...fucking, really? You've been at this how long and you can't make people want to see a movie that does the Star Wars thing better than Star Wars? You fucked up and I hope you're apologizing to Stanton profusely everytime you fucking see him. But that's not what you're doing, is it?

Let me offer my defense of the film itself. It's a blast. It's a lot of fun, it's thrilling, it's kinda sexy and it's beautiful. Stanton created a film with a visual language at once distinct and rich in history. The thing I like most about it is that it's rich in cinema grammar from many different ages. It's got the feel of an old fashioned victorian sci-fi adventure, and I don't just mean because it's written by someone who was Jules Verne and H.G. Wells most prominent pulp successor, along with Robert E. Howard. I mean that it approaches an alien civilization with the same pedantic eye, but never feels like it's talking down to anyone and never feels less than exciting. George Pal's The Time Machine, the films of Byron Haskins and Ray Harryhausen films like First Men In The Moon and The Three Worlds of Gulliver. Working for Disney, Stanton is the latest in a long line of craftsmen out to sketch adventure that will age gracefully and he's more than achieved that. He's got a firm grasp on comedy, action and sci-fi conventions, he's a skilled director of actors and a confident world-builder. And I hate that so much of the criticism I read about this film was about A. How much money was spent and B. plot elements taken from the source novel, which for once, no one bothered to read. Everyone's read Dragon Tattoo and Hunger Games, but if the jacket collects dust, nobody wants it, evidently. Yeah, I sound like a petulant asshole, but I don't have time for populism when it's fucking us this badly. But back to it's critical reception; people seemed offended at the notion that 120 million dollars was spent on a movie. You know what? Doesn't matter. It's good, so, to me, the money's worth it. It's all on screen and not in a "let's explore Rivendell for a few pointless minutes" kinda way. There are no moneyshots, it's all about the moment and moving the plot along, so the film doesn't have the endlessly proud of itself feel of something like Avatar. Which was far and away the masturbatory film among the two. Money not an issue. I get that we're in a recession, but if you all constantly talk about the money spent on a movie, and refuse to talk about the cash forked over to movies that are actively bad. How much did American Reunion cost? Does that explain why it's pathetically written and indifferent directed? So get off that particular high horse, because it carries no water when you whip it out selectively and not for bullshit like Avatar. A diversion: someone look me in the face and tell me that John Carter isn't better than Avatar or any of the last four Star Wars films or the remake of Clash of the Titans or Ghost Rider or Green Lantern or any of the Avengers prequels (which are films I enjoy) or even The Hunger Games or The Adventures of Tintin, films I liked. And tell me so reasonably, don't give me a fanboy/girl grunt in the direction of this setpiece or that. Or for that matter, illustrate what about Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, another spectacle driven action film made by a former pixar animator makes it a better film than John Carter. And don't tell me about the individual set pieces, don't simply draw me the building. I can understand that Brad Bird does a dazzling job with suspense and highwire theatrics and I admit to being really very impressed with a lot of what I saw in Ghost Protocol. One thing I didn't do was care about anyone beyond what their cultural baggage brought with them. I liked Simon Pegg because I like Simon Pegg, not because he was delivering the most sparkling dialogue ever written. Frankly, I didn't even really enjoy Paula Patton's performance/character and Jeremy Renner, one of the most talented actors working today, has been a whole hell of a lot better. Bird didn't know what to do with his actors. Stanton does. No one phones it in, no one looks lost, no one strikes a false note. And if it needed saying, Mission is a sequel we didn't need. As for the other criticism, I've read reviews by people who don't like that the story starts in the old west or incorporates Victorian England into its backstory. Well guess the fuck what? It's in the book. Read it and shut the fuck up. I read a review in which someone complained that the man who reads the story-within-the-story's name is Edgar Rice Burroughs. He actually wrote the phrase "Eye roll." Like he's some goddamned unprofessional punkass blogger. I could write Eye Roll cause no one gives a tinker's damn about me. I can swear up and down and no one cares because It doesn't say Film Critic under my name. I don't write Eye Roll because I'm not an adolescent jagoff. If you're being paid to write film criticism, try not to act like a stupid motherfucker, do your fucking research, don't be obnoxious and don't be such a tremendous fucking knowitall.

I could say this about a lot of people, so why is it important that people recognize Stanton and John Carter? Because of the amount of money he was handed to make this thoroughly entertaining film. My issue isn't that I like something and other people don't; I'm not just a professional sore loser. My issue is that viewers are writing cinema history for the next ten years. By not seeing John Carter, what viewers are saying is that they don't want people with vision great enough to take this much time and resources that came from a childhood desire to see a beloved story come to life in the best fashion possible to do it. Because Stanton made Carter into the best possible film imaginable. Projects of larger scope and more complex narrative have derailed more talented filmmakers than Stanton and that the movie not only makes sense but soars in its best moments, is a true feet. The film defeated the likes of Robert Clampett and Ray Harryhausen, but he goddamn did it. Read the book and then watch the movie and tell me he didn't. So what people are saying is that they don't care when an artist wants to tell a story in the most amazing way he can. They'd rather have Hollywood remake whatever the fuck they want, James Cameron mercilessly steal from every third film ever made and Michael Bay jerk off all over our knees while making films about kid's toys that apparently suffered from a dearth of fake tan and women bending over. John Carter isn't objectionable, it didn't steal from anything but it's source novel, and it's not a remake. Everyone complaining about John Carter, especially those who didn't see it or are judging it based on a book they didn't read, are casting a vote for Transformers 4 and Avatar 2. Films that had no heart or soul to begin with. You're giving Hollywood the power to say "people don't want to watch movies like this, with ambition. They want
Transformers. Let's just make that."

I had the same set of complaints with a different slant when everyone gave Anonymous a critical blanket party last year. Most of those fucking people were judging it based on a hypothesis they found offensive because they felt that it was a classist statement, that someone who was poor and illiterate couldn't have written something so brilliant. Granted, if I thought Roland Emmerich was paying to have schools tell us that poor people can't be geniuses, I'd have been concerned. But it was fiction and no one buys history lessons from the man who made 2012. But the thing is, Anonymous is one of the most beautifully made films in recent memory. I goddamned loved it and I could find no one (but Tucker) to judge it on its own terms instead of letting bias dictate a pre-judgment and then writing off the rest. And I saw better films last year than Anonymous, but I'd still go to bat for it. It's fucking poetry, as much a living painting as Lech Majewski's The Mill & The Cross. I've seen better films than John Carter this year. To return to Ceylan, his Once Upon A Time in Anatolia may be a career high for a truly unique artist. Terrence Davies has made his best film since The Long Day Closes, which is perfect, so it's not exactly small praise to say it's almost as good. Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights does an admirable job returning a classic to the earth that spawned it, besting Cary Fukunaga's excellent Jane Eyre. Rafi Pitts' The Hunter gets under your skin and stays there. And Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness only lost the oscar to A Separation because that film is a fucking miracle and Iran's political cinema needs the spotlight desperately (FREE JAFAR PANAHI!!!). The difference is that films of quality will always be made outside the mainstream. They are not guaranteed when they're made by a major studio. I want to enjoy big budget spectacle as much as I do introverted arthouse masterworks. I know that a film like John Carter will be a little too busy building worlds and swashbuckling to tug at my heartstrings with the efficacy of a film by someone like Terence Davies, who has made efficacious heartstring tugging his goal in life, but goddamnit all it tries and it works, if not as well. I want quality from the mainstream and by voting with your wallets for movies without heart, then you fuck us all. You doom us to decades of movies with no emotional center and no concern for your intelligence or empathy. I don't want to look at the nearest marquee and notice that it's half-full of shit I don't fucking care about and that doesn't fucking care about me. Because Michael Bay and James Cameron don't care about you. They care about your money and about expanding their sandbox and recycling ideas. I resent that attitude, I resent their indifferently made tripe, I resent their fake concern for the artform, I resent the fact that they work in the medium I love. Please consider the future of the art before you pay to watch just whatever's out there. I'd recommend you buy or download a film in a language you don't speak before I'd tell you to watch something produced by Adam Sandler or Michael Bay. These people and their horrible ideas will never die if we don't kill them. Speak before your voice is taken.


Fox Johnson said...

Just got around to reading this. You make a solid case (the nod to me giving Anonymous a chance greatly increased my liking for it since I'm a narcissistic fuck). Whenever John Carter comes out I'll give it a fair try.

Scøut said...

You fuckin' better. 'lse I'ma come down dere and hold your eyes open.

Scøut said...

I wrote that with David Milch's Chicago accent, so I hope that's how you read it.