Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton

I never saw Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and I won't be seeing Andrew Stanton's John Carter. The analyst in me is still interested in the contrast between the two.

Brad Bird
Made a sequel to a successful franchise
The film starred one of the few actors who can still "open" a film
Made a film that had similarities to his animated film The Incredibles

Andrew Stanton
Made a film based on a 100-year-old book with no preceding movie
The film starred someone who has never before received top billing in a feature
Made a film that was not similar to his animated films Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

John Carter is being touted as a flop that may not hit $30 million for its opening weekend. While Bird emerged from Mission Impossible as somebody who is bankable in both animation and live action, Stanton is already being declared a live action failure. I found this paragraph from Deadline Hollywood interesting. I have no idea how valid it is, but the fact that this is the perception in at least part of Hollywood doesn't bode well for Stanton's future in live action. The ellipses are in the original; the paragraph is quoted verbatim.
"To summarize: this flop is the result of a studio trying to indulge Pixar… Of an arrogant director who ignored everybody’s warnings that he was making a film too faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first novel in the Barsoom series “A Princess of Mars”… Of the failure of Dick Cook, and Rich Ross, and Bob Iger to rein in Stanton’s excessive ego or pull the plug on the movie’s bloated budget … Of really rotten marketing that failed to explain the significant or scope of the film’s Civil War-to-Mars story and character arcs and instead made the 3D movie look way as generic as its eventual title… Disagree all you want, but Hollywood is telling me that competent marketing could have drawn in women with the love story, or attracted younger males who weren’t fanboys of the source material. Instead the campaign was as rigid and confusing as the movie itself, not to mention that ’Before Star Wars, Before Avatar‘ tag line should have come at the start and not at the finish. But even more I think John Carter is a product of mogul wuss-ism as much as it is misplaced talent worship. More detail to come."
Deadline Hollywood is not the only one examining John Carter's box office failure. The N.Y. Times wades in as well.


Thad said...

John Carter actually highly similar to Stanton's Pixar movies. There is no decipherable personality or vision behind the picture, akin to Finding Nemo and WALL-E; just slick movie-making. Where it fails is not having the Pixar brand and marketing campaign that made as empty and dumb a film as WALL-E seem as poignant as Kubrick.

That said, the reviews are a little overly harsh. I thought it was as entertaining a sci-fi movie as any and as unpretentious. It was a better film by far than Avatar. Of course, when your budget is as high as John Carter's, perhaps you should aspire a little higher - but isn't that true of any $250+ million picture?

(I haven't seen Bird's Mission Impossible but it seems like a terrible match for his talent.)

Steve Schnier said...

"I never saw Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and I won't be seeing Andrew Stanton's John Carter. The analyst in me is still interested in the contrast between the two."

Mark, I honestly find the above statement troubling. If I were to analyze or comment on a movie, knowing that my opinion might have some influence - I would at least bother to actually see the film in question.

Call me crazy, but...

Mark Mayerson said...

Steve, I am not commenting on the content of the films. I'm commenting on how differently they did at the box office and with critics and what might be the source of that difference. There is no question that Bird played the stronger hand. Whether that was due to luck or brains, I don't know.

While the media angle on Mission Impossible was "Hey look! An animation director's making a live action film!" the media angle on John Carter is "Hey look! An animation director is in over his head on a live action film!"

Had I seen both films, my opinion of them would have no effect on how they were received critically or at the box office.

JPilot said...

"Of an arrogant director who ignored everybody’s warnings that he was making a film too faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first novel in the Barsoom series “A Princess of Mars”… Of the failure of Dick Cook, and Rich Ross, and Bob Iger to rein in Stanton’s excessive ego or pull the plug on the movie’s bloated budget …"

I am curious, when this article is championing risk management and demonizing the people who actually take risks and fail, is this guy a film critic or a business columnist?

I am sure Pixar directors don't take a piss until it's been previously approved by executives so they can be "reined in" and not let their excessive egos get away with making the films they wanted for the past 20 years. I mean, we're talking about a lot of investors money here being lavishly squandered on "creative types"...

Stanton directed a movie, and other than on its artistic merits, I will read the judging about its fiscal responsibilities and failed target box office numbers in the Wall Street Journal where it belongs.

I haven't seen John Carter either, by the way, but it does look better than "Release the Crappen... Again!" or whatever that Clash of the Titans sequel is called.

Steve Schnier said...

Hi Mark,

To paraphrase William Goldman, "Nobody knows anything."

While this was directed at the entertainment industry, it applies across the board. Just ask the executives at Research in Motion in Waterloo.

While your point may be to contrast why one film is a financial success and the other a boxoffice failure, the truth is that despite the 20/20 hindsight, nobody really knows.

They don't know now. They didn't know then. If 20th Century Fox had known that STAR WARS would become a cultural phenomenon, they would have never allowed George Lucas to keep the merchandising rights. They simply didn't know. They thought it would fail.

Likewise, no studio greenlights a $250 million production while expecting it to fail. They simply don't know. They roll the dice and take a chance.

There is a malaise in the animation industry, and has been for some time. People are expecting and hoping for projects to fail so they can say "I told you so". My feeling is that if you're going to comment in any way about a film, you should at least care enough to see the film.

I saw "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol" and enjoyed it. Great cinema? No. But it was fun and that's what I expected. I haven't seen "JOHN CARTER", but I do plan to. From what I've heard, it's worth a look.

warren said...

I'll see John Carter, and without the glee of watching someone fall on his face.

I hope.

I've read the books, and making a believable movie out of that would be next to impossible from what I could tell. At least they let a talented fan of the original material try. The marketing really does suck for this movie though. Reminds me of the blown release of 'Bolt'. Disney has had a few misses in the marketing dep't over the years, fouling up releases for animation and live-action films, too bad this is one of them.

I saw Ghostly Proctologist, and it's a competent action film with the odd tonal quirks and logic holes that are pretty standard in animation...but it was fun! I didn't see it as 'A Brad Bird Film', whatever that is. It was definitely a Tom Cruise Movie. It had Tom Cruise Moments all over the place. (Watch more than one Cruise movie in a row and you'll see what I mean.) And I think that's to Mr. Bird's credit, really, that he can make any genre of film work as it should. And I imagine there is no way Bird could out-politic Cruise on set, so Cruise got what he wanted. It wasn't genius, but it wasn't Micheal Bay bad, either.

Here's to hoping Johnny Cutup proves to have legs, just so Stanton can break one.

Anonymous said...

The film is not very good. There is some fun stuff, but very little. The overall purpose is unclear, and the individual characters motivations struggle for attention--and aren't helped by the ham fisted writing and confusing designs. There seems to have no attempt to create a believable world for these characters to inhabit. The acting is a very mixed bag, with Willem Dafoe coming across as the clearest and best example of great motion capture since Gollum.The leads are very weak, although a lot of that could be chalked up to the lines they're being asked to say.

When you see that the first entire season of The Game of Thrones or the entire miniseries John Adams or Band of Brothers were made for around $60 million, a budget this size for such a mediocre script is a question worth asking. I'm sure stockholders will.

Pete Emslie said...

I seem to recall Bob Iger saying some time ago that he wanted Disney to concentrate on just making big budget, "tent pole" movies, in the hopes that they'd develop into additional "franchises". Unfortunately, modern day Disney suffers from all this corporate Hollywood marketing mindset, always looking to create new "brands" and all that other silly BS. I too have no interest in seeing this John Carter flick, but Disney's idiotic marketing department should have at least played to its strength and kept the entire title of John Carter of Mars so that people would have a better idea that it was a sci-fi fantasy film.

Floyd Norman said...

It would appear Disney wants to sell a film based on what it isn't - instead of what it is.

They've been doing this for a while, and it needs to stop. Finally, "Rapunzel" was not a hit because they changed title.


Anonymous said...

No, Disney marketed the film on what is is. Crap. Stop blaming the lame marketing. They worked with a dud of a film. There are worse films, but few as boring.

Don Sullivan said...

An analysis is only of use to others if it points out things that aren't obvious to everyone... You didn't do that.

Anonymous said...

I was dragged to see "Snow White and the Huntsman" and it was TERRIBLE, just visual eye candy, but terrible storytelling. John Carter was a better movie, yet Snow White is considered a box office success. Of course there are many reasons for this, but I think one of the main reasons is the casting.

John Carter had an excellent cast, but not a blockbuster cast. It had Caesar and Marcus Aurelius from the excellent HBO show, Rome, but that show only lasted 2 seasons. But more importantly, the romantic leads are 35 yr old Lynn who? with 31 yr old Tim Riggins?

Had John Carter been casted with Hemsworth, Worthington, Fassbender, or anyone else with a bit of credibility, it could have done better. And the Princess could have been Stewart, Wilde, Biel, or ANYONE who's already someone under 35.

Snow White, a terrible movie, is killing it at the box office because of star casting and eye candy alone.

idleprimate said...

the failings at the box office of john carter are a product of neglible marketing that failed to use anything bankable, and a frothing blogosphere that generated bad buzz from the moment the film was announced.

It was a glorious movie, and a swashbuckling adventure the likes we don't see very often. It felt epic and was moving. It is the kind of film that whomever was young when they first saw it, it will stick with them their whole lifetimes.

There is no getting around the fact that it didn't make money and the blame will fall with the director, same as he would have gotten the applause had it raked it in, but make no mistake, Stanton turned in a film to be truly proud of and i bet in twenty years the critics and people looking back will sing a different tune and wonder how the film could have tanked.