Why we’re obsessing over the numbers
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.