The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Why we’re obsessing over the numbers

with 15 comments

There’s been a lot of talking about numbers following the launch of John Carter. Too much of if you ask Corey at Just Atad. He’s had enough.

In an open letter he asks us to stop the budget and box office hysteria. Or as he puts it more bluntly: “Shut the fuck up about oversized budgets and surefire disasters. It’s boring and annoying and it’s not what should matter in appreciating movies anyway.”

I’m afraid his plead will fall on deaf ears. It’s been all over the place for the last week and when you thought that the topic was over and done with, you can be sure that there will pop up another blog post pointing out that John Carter had a huge budget and that it probably will end up being a loss for the investors.

Even my favorite film critic Mark Kermode, whose wits and insights I usually adore, is chiming in with a blog post where he talks about how this is an economical failure, as if we didn’t already know.

It feels repetitive. I have yet to see someone provide a good analysis of the phenomena of pulp fiction. It worked a hundred years ago, but how well does it work now? Is it possible to brush it up with a more modern view on for instance gender issues or will this inevitably take away some of the charm? How has John Carter influenced the science fiction and fantasy of today? What influenced Burroughs and what would he had made of this adaptation? Is it harder to please the audience with a desert adventure than it used to be? Is it possible to make it work? And so on.

I figure there should be SOMETHING more you could comment on about John Carter apart from the money. But money talk is what we get. And why is that?

An angle to use
Well, I suppose one reason could be that a lot of film critics and bloggers aren’t all that much into this type of stories. OK, I know I’m generalizing now, but you have to admit that it’s more likely that people will be up in their arms over a quiet drama such as A Separation or Certified Copy than that they’ll embrace a movie about some swords-fighting dude on Mars.

I’m sure there are a few fans, residing in blogs and magazines devoted to genre movies, who wear their geek status as medals and love to love what no one else appears to love. But they’re exceptions. I’d dare say the majority of those who post about movies haven’t read the novels about John Carter or haven’t even heard about the guy before the movie popped up. They’re unattached, under no influence of nostalgia.

So when they suddenly get a new angle to approach the movie from – the financial one – they throw themselves at it enthusiastically. Besides you can’t deny that there’s an unresistable element of Schadenfreude. “Look at that guy! He had all that money in his hands and he BLEW it!”

A part of the marketing
Of course John Carter isn’t the first or last movie where the size of the budget gets a lot of attention. Sometimes it’s a part of the marketing. The filmmakers want us to discuss exactly that aspect. The buzz is planted by the PR department in the hope that the astronomical sums put into the making will attract a bigger audience.  Perhaps people will believe that a very expensive movie must have very good special effects. Or something along those lines.

But we also have the opposite case. Small numbers can attract a different audience – people like me. It appears as if a very limited budget can give an extra injection of creativity and it seems to work especially well for science fiction and fantasy movies. Over the last year I’ve seen a number of excellent small or very small productions over the last year, movies like Cube, Moon, Timecrimes and Troll Hunter. We admire them as much as we get inspired. “Look at that guy! He had almost no money at all and yet he made a movie that ROCKS. Awesome! Just show them!” It’s the very opposite of Schadenfreude.

The price of a wine
Regardless of Corey’s wishes, regardless if it’s fair or not, I think we’ll keep coming back to the numbers in the future over and over again.

We’re doing wine testing with a couple of friends on a regular bases and it’s the same thing there. The issue of what the wine has cost is always up for discussion.

We’re doing the testing blind. Only the host knows the origins and price tags. A wine could cost anything from 10 to 50 dollars. Often there is a correspondence between what the wine has cost and how good it is. Often – but not always. Occasionally it happens that we end up praising the low budget wine and bashing on the most expensive bottle. Identifying bargains as well as scams is a part of the fun.

And you know what, that goes for movies as well as for wine. Of course the relationship between price and quality is almost non-existing in the case of films. But it’s just as fun to talk about.

Tonight I went to see John Carter. You’ll have to wait until later this week to see what I made of it. But I can tell you this much: I’ll do my best not to mention the numbers anymore. I’ll happily talk about them in relation to other movies because I think they are interesting from some aspects.

But as of John Carter I’m with Corey. I’ve had enough.

Written by Jessica

March 14, 2012 at 12:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. Oh hai, Lobby!


    Good to have you back blogging, and thanks for the linkage.

    Corey Atad

    March 14, 2012 at 2:22 am

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for providing me with a take-off point!


      March 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

  2. Ohh, I’m very much looking forward to that piece of writing. The pulp-discussion is fascinating, but I would imagine that another reason for the money-issue to pop up conituously is what is perceived as the very essence of the John Carter Movie — money. It is easier (although not necessarily true) to imagine that small budget movies were made beacuse of a love of the medium and the urge to tell a godd story. In this case it is hard to avoid the impression that regardless of its content (John Carter, Transformers, Battleship), these movies were made for the single purpose of generating a revenue. Perhaps a little too much of painting by numbers? Feels like I was rambling, hope you got my point.

    I take the opportunity to shamelessly beat my own drum a little as well 😉


    March 14, 2012 at 6:19 am

    • Oh, just to make it clear – I’m not promising that I will be the one to write the ultimate John Carter review. I’m sure there are others out there who are familliar with the genre and far more capable of it. But hopefully I’ll manage to write something without the money talk. At least I’ll try. As of the single purpose of making a revenue I’m not entirely sure. I listened to a charming interview with the director who was the one to give Disney the idea to buy the rights. He sounded like a fan. Or possibly it was just how he wanted to come out, of course.
      Your review was very nice. I look forward to see what you make of the film, but I suppose it will be a while.


      March 14, 2012 at 7:32 am

      • I’m not saying that the movie’s single purpose is to generate revenue, but that it is _perceived_ that way and that this skewes the attitudes towards it.


        March 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  3. It definitely doesn’t matter how much a film costs but it’s interesting to note sometimes. It is extra annoying when something costs hundreds of millions and not many people like it. Imagine all the other films that could have been made from it. But then again, you never know what’s going to work before the film is released. Anyway… enough about money… sorry! Great post!


    March 14, 2012 at 8:37 am

    • Yeah it’s easy to think that way and yet I have the feeling that it might not be meaningful. It’s not as if they’d do loads of small indie movies if they didn’t make the blockbusters. The blockbusters pull a lot of money to the business that other movies can live on, isn’t that how it works? Sometimes blockbusters fail though and that’s sad of course. But what’s the saying – you can’t make cookies without cracking some eggs?


      March 14, 2012 at 9:16 am

  4. Welcome back matey…

    I wanna know what you thought of JC NOW!!!


    I didn’t think it did that bad GLOBALLY as it was supposed to do, and with a long enough time line (as Kermode says) it will come good. Who cares anyway. I am getting ready to turn my brain off and enjoy the money makers aka Blockbusters

    Scott Lawlor

    March 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

    • Hehe! I’ll keep you hanging for a little while longer… I can tell you as much as that I was highly motivated to love it, sick and tired of seeing it getting so much crap. But did I manage or didn’t I? Wait and see.


      March 14, 2012 at 9:49 am

  5. Interesting post!
    Although I agree the numbers are not always important, I do understand the necessity of talking about them. First of all, the movie industry revolves around money and it has huge budgets, so the attention is always centered around money and numbers, especially on the business side, and sometimes, that translates to the public and media, as well. In John Carter’s case, it tells me that the action movies are not guaranted to break box-office levels, especially if they are based on fairly unpopular books and with no big stars.; so, if it people didn’t go to see it and the reviews are so mixed, I will skip it in cinemas. There’s also Hunger Games, who’s presale tickets numbers are huge, even bigger than Twilight= hello new franchise and new teen stars (and from what I have heard, the movie is much better than Twilight). Those types of numbers influence me!
    So, yeah, I do pay attention to numbers, sometimes.


    March 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    • Yeah, I too can find the business side interesting. It’s just a bit sad when it takes over completely as in the case of John Carter. It wouldn’t have hurt to get a little bit more of discussion about the movie and the franchise, not just the budget. But I’m as guilty as anyone else of discussing movies in budget terms (especially when it’s a small budget.)


      March 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      • Yeah, the budget numbers took over completely, unfortunately, but the reviews were vey mixed, as well, and actually most people don’t like it, so it’s not all about the numbers!


        March 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm

  6. I loved movies like Cube and Moon but the only reason that I’ve seen them is word of mouth. However, for each Cube that gets made ten terrible movies are made which I never get to see.

    With big budget movies, the chance is a lot bigger that I’ll get to seem them, good or bad. Their huge budgets make sure that everyone knows about them, no matter the word of mouth.


    March 16, 2012 at 12:07 am

    • It’s true that I get to hear about them, but I don’t think it necessarily means I’ll see them. I have yet to watch a Transformer movie just to take one example, and I’ve only watched the first two of the four Pirates movies. But perhaps I’m a bit odd in this. I rather go for the small movies.


      March 16, 2012 at 12:39 am

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