Never Get Involved in a Land War on Mars

by Michael Auslin

So, John Carter is shaping up to be the Ishtar of the 2010s, the Gates of Heaven of the Obama years. Disney is taking a $200 million bath on a movie that cost nearly a third of a billion dollars to make. Who would ever green-light such an absurd amount of money for a project whose original fans were driving Model T’s and listening to the organ while watching the latest moving picture from the Lumiere brothers?

I haven’t seen the movie, which makes me the perfect person to pan it, because it’s people like me who are adding to that $200 million write-down (the fact that I haven’t seen a movie in theaters since Jerry Maguire has no bearing on my objectivity). The ads were awful, and it seemed a misguided attempt to go retro for retro’s sake. Unearth long-lost cultural artifact, polish him up, and CGI him all the way to the bank. 

But there has to be a point to retro. Mad Men has a point, so did Miller’s CrossingThe Hat Squad didn’t. It’s all in the story. And if Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation was a hit when we thought little green men inhabited Mars, we’re all a bit too blase in our planetary science knowledge to accept the premise in the 2010s. Of course, I don’t know how the movie deals with the whole Mars angle. But that’s the point, I never will, and Disney’s accountants will be hard at work filling in the massive crater their creative staff produced. Maybe there’s an idea: An asteroid threatens Earth, and John Carter has to deflect . . .

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