Disney World . . . Today, It’s Just for Kids, Their Parents, and the Rich

America is a country that has grown up with Disney.  In many ways, it can be argued, Disney’s deep-rooted and generational influence can be considered the spark of America’s cultural imagination.

In the ’70s, Disney and Co.–movies, tv shows, theme parks–were regarded as kid stuff.  Teenagers had no desire to watch any Disney movie, and far less desire to be seen by their peers enjoying anything by Disney.  Then the ’80s happened.  Disney rebounded, largely under the influence of head Mousketeer Michael Eisner, and then he did something interesting: he opened the doors for Disney to entertain adults as well as their kids.  Touchstone Films gave us Disney movies for grown ups, such as Pretty Woman, Adventures in Babysitting (What a Chicago blues-based soundtrack!), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Throw Momma From the Train.  Hotels and more theme parks sprang up, with bars and attractions catering to adults.  And finally there was Pleasure Island.

pleasureislandmap
This official map is circa 1994-1995.

In the late ’80s, downtown Orlando offered Church Street Station, an assortment of (loosely) Western-themed bars and restaurants that drew the after dark crowds away from Disney World for entertainment without the kids.  Disney recognized the need to keep customers on property after the sun went down, so Pleasure Island was created–a man-made island of bars, restaurants and nightclubs designed to deliver a Disney experience to the adults-only crowd.

Disney is a publicly-traded company, and as such has no moral or ethical mandate to its customers, to Disney fans, to children…  Really, its only goal is to constantly grow in order to satisfy its shareholders with revenue and profit.  Under this revenue-based policy, Pleasure Island was closed.  Gone is the mandate or the wish to cater to adults with nighttime, grown-ups-only entertainment.  Current Disney administration is focusing only on children and families, and how to exploit their cash cows at maximum financial benefit to the company.

I went to Disney World with my lovely wife for the first time, after a nine-year absence, in August 2016.  And I saw that a lot of things have changed, and not all for the better.  The property is in a state of flux, with new attractions being built and other attractions getting changed.  But the overall impression I came away with is one of incessant and increasing corporate greed.  The end result is a less satisfying, yet more expensive, vacation experience–one that caters only to an amorphous, generalized, upper-middle class family demographic.

evil-mickey-mouse

Disney World has become a children’s Meet and Greet park.  Disney World is all about real estate.  Corporate looks at their property as parcels of real estate with shops, attractions, restaurants, and empty space.  I’m positive that corporate also has a financial goal per each square foot of property.  However they decide what the non-paying attractions or closed attractions are worth, they’ve found a way to get guests to visit areas that have nothing in them of any real value: they create a meet and greet zone so parents can get photos of their kids with various rubberheads . . . costumed characters.  Parents love the photo ops; kids love meeting their favorite Disney characters.  But these zones really don’t add to the Disney experience for grown-ups without children, and their prevalence through all four parks shows that Disney has embarked on a no-cost or low-cost philosophy for creating experiences.  Consider that the Magic Kingdom alone has 21 meet and greet zones.  21.  Doesn’t that mean that there are areas where a ride or attraction could go that would end up bringing in more paying customers in the long-term?  Or is Disney more interested in investing less and catering to a certain demographic?

Result: Bad show for grown-ups, and zero interest from me.

2o2er38
Forbidden Disney.

Good Food/Bad Food: Theme park food is notoriously bad, but Disney, in certain park restaurants, can deliver some incredible meals.  The San Angel Inn inside the Mexico pavilion at EPCOT deserves the accolades it’s received over the years, including an unexpected endorsement from Jimmy Buffett, who said he loves the restaurant.  We had a great lunch one day at the Liberty Tree Tavern, too; so good that we decided we needed to go back on our next trip.

Not anymore.  In fall 2016, Disney changed the Liberty Tree menu from individual meals to family-style meals.  Why?  Why would they tamper with a winning formula?  Because it costs them less to make a large portion for one table, and then charge the customer more for the family-style experience.

We know, Disney, that you’re in the business to make money.  We get it.  There have been many, many times I’ve just handed Mickey my wallet at the Magic Kingdom turnstiles and told him, “Do me.”

But when you take away from a good experience, and then slap us with a higher bill at the end, that’s really just a slap in the face.  And its a bad experience that we’ll remember.

There is currently no reason to go to Hollywood Studios or the Animal Kingdom.  Large portions of Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are closed in order for construction of new lands and attractions, including Star Wars land and whatever they’re going to call the land of Avatar.  (Personally, I’m not too sure about Disney’s decision to bank on Avatar and its forthcoming sequels, but I’ll give the place a chance.)  If Disney were to offer discounted tickets because so many things in these parks are closed, I’d take advantage of it.  But ticket prices are the same no matter how many attractions are closed.  My advice: save your money and hit up Universal instead.  Harry Potter land will blow Avatar land away, and Citywalk, with its nightclubs and entertainment, deserves to pull in the adults that Disney now refuses to acknowledge.

3_bb_cw_margaritaville_lone_palm
You can find me in Margaritaville, at Universal Citywalk, just an UBER drive away from WDW.

Disney Springs lacks a real Disney experience.

dis-sm

Disney Springs is the Orlando tourist’s version of Rodeo Drive: upscale shopping, imports, trendy retailers, and $$$$-$$$$$ restaurants, all designed to separate you from your money under the illusory umbrella of a Disney experience.  The stage entertainment is as good, if not better, than outdoor stage shows in the theme parks; but there’s not much Disney about Disney Springs.  Instead, it’s the very clean, modern feel of an outdoors “town center” shopping experience, and very little in the way of a signature Disney experience.

disney-springs
Map from Christmas season 2016

 

The West Side is largely unchanged, in terms of layout and landmarks, on the far left in the above map.  Also largely the same is The Marketplace, which is what is left of the original Lake Buena Vista Marketplace, over on the far right.  In the center are the new areas that define Disney Springs; so new that in the smaller map above, the Town Center is given no details.  The Landing is the refurbished area that was once the late, great Pleasure Island, and the new area below that, Town Center, was the Pleasure Island parking lot.  Two giant and ugly behemoths dominate the landscape when you drive by, the Orange and Lime parking garages.  For a company that prides itself on aesthetics and pleasing the guest’s eye, the parking garages simply block the line of sight.  The dynamism of the West Side’s skyline could have continued down the line with Town Center’s skyline, but Town Center is completely hidden by these gargantuan, grey boxes, and any excitement the skyline could have generated to those driving by is completely negated.

Shopping.  Dining.  Lights and colors.  Disney Springs looks great, and the times we went, it was always packed.  The stores were not; but there were a lot of people looking around.  So what’s missing?

Dancing.  Laughter.  Music.  Comedy.

Nightclubs.

The all-adult experience is missing.

And so is a true Disney experience.

The magic just isn’t there.

Disney Originals are best.  Every person who goes to any Disney park has their very own, favorite ride.  Today, regarding the parks, we are in a Disney era where the commercially-viable idea is king; where Disney properties are not only milked for every penny of profit, but squeezed–squeezed until all the creative lifeblood is drained from them.  Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is going to receive a thorough overlay, changing the attraction from an original, spooky idea to a concept based on a currently hot property, but one that may not last the test of time.  Norway is displaced to make room for Frozen.

It’s arguable, of course, but I believe that time has shown us that Disney’s best attractions are not those based on movies or shows.  They’re the original ideas that germinated under Walt, or sprang up shortly thereafter.  Here’s Wikipedia’s list of current Magic Kingdom attractions:

The attractions in red are the ones I see as Disney’s singular original park attractions.  By that I mean, they’re not based on any movies or shows, but instead sprang from the wishes of Walt Disney himself or from the minds of his Imagineers as original concepts.  And they are the best.  And they are the favorite attractions of most guests.

If this is the case, why doesn’t Disney get their Imagineers to come up with original attraction ideas any more?

Because they are afraid to take risks with original ideas, and instead want to invest in what they consider sure things, even though they may only be for the short term.

Considering how WDW basically destroyed Pleasure Island and, especially, the Adventurers Club–perhaps the most original attraction since Big Thunder Mountain in the 1970s–with slow deliberation (because their nightclubs only pulled in revenue for less than half a day’s operating hours), for them to create such an incredible venue as Trader Sam’s–on both coasts–makes me wonder . . . How?  Was it the promise of alcohol revenue?  Were the special effects easy to create and inexpensive to maintain?

I have no idea.  But Disney World needs more originality, and to take more chances.  If Trader Sam’s shows them anything, it’s that they have adults wishing to spend their money on Disney’s singular brand of entertainment.

Why not give grown-ups some original venues in the parks, too?  And some cool nightclubs in Disney Springs?

Oh, and . . .

adventurers-club1

BRING IT BACK.

Gatorlando

castle

The photo above, from today’s USA Today, shows you just how close the Grand Floridian Resort is to the Magic Kingdom.

The beach at the Grand Floridian, of course, is the site where an alligator snatched a two-year old from his father’s hand while the family walked just inside the waterline.

monorail
USA Today

The attack occurred roughly forty or so minutes after sunset, and the gator pulled the child under after briefly tussling with the frantic father.

You’ve probably already absorbed all of this from cable or online news sources, so I won’t rehash any more of it.  So I’ll say something unexpected:

Statistically, this should have happened long ago.

I do not think this is Disney’s fault.  Signs were placed along the hotel’s beach warning guests not to enter the water.  You have to ask yourself why those signs are there.  It’s a man-made lake; there are no riptides or undercurrents; and not much of a danger.  Unless there’s something in the water.

This editorial in the New York Daily News gets a lot of things wrong.  Writer Shaun King, an admitted Disney World fan and frequent guest, along with his family, to Disney’s forty-square mile property admits that they had never once thought there would be dangerous alligators anywhere on Disney property.  How could there be?  This is Disney, for god’s sake!  Nothing bad ever happens here!  (Really?  Read this, this, and this.)  And then, to find five alligators in the lake?  That’s simply horrendous!

I can’t speak for the powers-that-be at Disney World, but after working at a major theme park and by studying Disney Parks for four decades, I can make some educated guesses about the signage along the beach.  First, they want you safe, so they clearly tell you that you shouldn’t go in the water.  Second, they don’t want to scare the bejesus out of you, so they don’t even whisper the word alligator to anyone.  They want you to keep coming back,  and frequently; not too scared to never come back.  This is PR basics.

The big secret is that there is no secret at all.  Alligators were already on the Florida swampland that Walt bought up in the mid-’60s, and they’re still there now–and they’re plentiful.

final map
ABC News Online

In summer of 1986, I watched from the deck of the Empress Lilly (at the then Walt Disney World Village) as tourists threw bread from their dinner tables at a three-foot long gator waiting to be fed.

Shortly before Christmas in 1991, I took the monorail from the Grand Floridian to go Christmas shopping for my wife in the Magic Kingdom.  The monorail track can be seen starting right above the upper right corner of the Grand Floridian box in the map above, leading to the station almost directly below the D in Walt Disney World.  See that star you passed on the way?  I placed that on the map.  I was standing in the monorail and happened to look down through the window.  That man-made canal is where Disney docks the Electrical Water Pageant, and that star is where I saw a gator basking in the shallows along the shore, its tail curled in a black question mark.

My wife and I both saw a gator in 1992, when Disney’s Coronado Resort first opened.  As annual passholders we were invited to tour the property, and an employee warned us away from a shallow pool only feet away from us in the grass.  “It’s a gator,” he said.  “We’ve already called to have it removed.”  All we could see were the ridges of its eyes just above the surface.  We crept around it.

On the road that guests drive to get to Fort Wilderness, there used to be a guardhouse less than a quarter mile past the camping resort.  It was customary back then to have the doors open on each side of the guardhouse so the guard could wave to the drivers as they passed by.  One night, an employee told us, the overnight guard heard a noise close beside him, and a gator stood in the road, hissing at him.  He exited through the other side of the guardhouse, and when the gator followed him–and entered the guardhouse–the guard slammed the door shut, then ran around and shut the other door, trapping the gator inside.

Consider this: Remember, the land area of Walt Disney World currently stretches (they sold some land a few years back) about 40 square miles.  To get a grasp of how big that is, look at it this way: It’s the size of the city of San Francisco.  There simply is no way Disney or anybody could build resorts and theme parks on top of forty square miles of Florida swampland, the natural habitat of Alligator mississippiensis, and get rid of gators entirely.  Florida is known for these monsters, so I find it naive that anyone would not expect that, even though they may not see any, alligators are always somewhere close by in the mid-Florida scrublands.  I mean, are visitors to the Serengeti shocked that there are lions roaming wild?  Hell, the Everglades still has panthers, not to mention a host of non-native Burmese pythons breeding out of control.  The wild is alive, and Florida is ground zero for the unexpected.

I don’t blame Disney, and I don’t blame the parents, either.  What happened is the clash between nature and civilization.  The gator did only what it would naturally do (even though they rarely attack humans); and who could fault a family, walking along a man-made beach on a lovely night, for not going in the water, but merely wading at the edges?

No matter.  A boy is dead and a family is broken.  Lawsuits will be filed, I have no doubt.  Money will be passed and settlements made.  Then corporate lawyers will order more signs, more fences, and perhaps even walls built around the resorts to insure that this never happens again.

It was bound to happen eventually.  I just don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner.

WTF Happened to John Carter? Critical Thoughts on the Film by a Barsoomian Heretic

Updated on 7/22/2015

In my previous post, I heaped praise–and deservedly so–on Michael D. Sellers’ authoritative book on the box office failure of Disney’s John Carter.
 
The classic 1971 cover painting by Frank Frazetta.
 
A Princess of Mars was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1911, and appeared in the February 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine, a classic pulp of adventure tales.  It has a history of many filmmakers trying their hands at making their version of the Barsoomian epic, and you can see some of their efforts on You Tube and on other online sources.  The earliest is an animation test by Bob Clampett in the late ’30s, and the most recent is a beautiful sample reel of paintings and storyboard art by Kerry Conran.  I truly wish that film had been made.
 
Bob Clampett’s demo reel

 

Kerry Conran’s presentation reel, using concept art and animation.  Wow!

 Don’t get me wrong.  I really like the 2012 movie that was finally released during the John Carter centennial, and there are parts that I absolutely love; parts that have raw, emotive, almost visceral power.  It is a solid science fiction adventure, and the fact that its legion of admirers is constantly growing proves that, with the proper marketing and exploitation, the film could have made much more money than what Disney ended up with.

I like it.  I really do.
 
That said, the critical response to the film was underwhelming, to say the best, and even I, who love the series of books that it was based on, came away from the film . . . well, underwhelmed.
 
Simply put, the books are rich with creativity and inventiveness, with heroes and honor and beauty.
 
The film, however, left me wanting much, much more.  It was good, but not great; fun, but not enthralling–and I believe that a better film, made with a a more imaginative vision, would have brought in more box office bucks.

Let’s compare it to another pulp-turned-into-movie.  John Carter is not the creative debacle that was 1994’s The Shadow.  That movie, also based on a classic and much beloved pulp character, was produced from a script that took a crimebusting, heroic avenger of the night and perverted the character in a way that Hollywood considered cool, but the American audience didn’t like or appreciate.  Everything about the movie felt wrong. 

There is no argument that the lack of marketing efforts—as well as the marketing efforts that were completely misguided–doomed John Carter at the box office.  But how much should the filmmakers be blamed?
 
They tried.  They really did.
 
It just wasn’t enough.
 
With John Carter, many things went wrong creatively . . . but in numerous, little ways that were interconected, and in ways that weren’t wrong, per se, but, simply, lame.  Nothing was really so weak that the movie was a creative disaster–indeed, the script and the filmmakers approached the Burroughs novels respectfully and, I think, with as much love and care as they possibly could.  However, their collective creative misfires watered down a lush and exotic tale of an American swashbuckler on a savage, alien planet, and turned it into a dust-colored western with four-armed monsters and muskets.
 
This was the precursor to Avatar, yet it had none of its descendant’s lushness or color.  This was the precursor to Star Wars, yet it had none of that original trilogy’s mythic sense of wonder.
 
It’s a B-.  At worst, a C+.
 
With $250 million spent on the production and storytellers such as Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon steering it into theaters, John Carter should have been an A+.
 
It needed to be a new Star Wars.
 
Eh.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
 
This essay is not a movie review.  A proper review should critically analyze John Carter–or any given film–based on everything that’s on the screen, and only what’s on the screen.  A good review cannot and should not concern itself at all with what the movie isn’t, or what could have been.  Admittedly, this essay contains elements of a review; but I am more concerned with the magical ride between two worlds that could have been, and what the filmmakers could have done to raise John Carter‘s grade from B- to A+.
 
In no particular order–these are just notes and a conclusion that I’ve made during repeated viewings–here’s where I feel the production went wrong, starting with a basic premise that all artists should have tattooed on the most visible part of their body, so they won’t forget it:
 
THE ONLY SIN IN THE CREATIVE ARTS IS TO BE BORING.
 
Don’t forget that one simple caveat as we go down the list.

 
 
THE TRADITIONAL WESTERN MOTIF DOESN’T WORK ANY MORE.
 
Hollywood doesn’t make a lot of westerns any more, and there’s a good reason for that: they so were overdone to death, in the movies and on television, they simply aren’t marketable any longer to sophisticated audiences that have grown up with computers, Xboxes and smartphones, and living on a diet of Syfy and Spielberg.  Today, the western is trite to mostly everyone under 60.  Seriously, what was the last western that made a huge splash…that people wanted to see?  The UnforgivenSilverado?  These films had adult concepts with big name stars, and offered new approaches to traditional material.  Cable tv’s “Deadwood?”  The same–a new approach and decidedly adult themes.  All valid, and all marketable.
 
Graphic novel from Barnes & Noble

That John Carter is a psuedo-western is an arguable point–and one that I think may have influenced audiences negatively.  Are the Tharks a symbolic twin to the Apaches that are present in the opening portion of the film?  Or are the Barsoomian red men the analog to the American red men?  Does the opening with Carter in the saloon reflect his disenfranchisement with the Civil War, or does it maintain stereotypes and imagery from westerns and, more importantly, “F-Troop?”
 
I won’t delve that deep; I think even the mention of “F-Troop” and its 1960s tropes makes the point for me.   I’m more concerned by the creative decisions to use the American West to stand in for Barsoom, and thus make the parallels all too obvious . . . and all too trite.
 
Trite = boring.
 
Using the West as a starting point, as imagery, as backdrop, was an obvious and weak choice.
 
Stanton and Company got Mars all wrong.  Mars may be a dying world in the novels, yet it is still very much alive.  The Mars in John Carter is a near-dead world, being ravaged by the immortal Therns.  The landscapes used, mostly, if not all, in Utah, are desert and rocky landscapes.  They are beautiful and awe-inspiring to sightseers who travel to the badlands just for the morning vistas–but what do they mean as imagery to the film-going public?
 
Unfortunately, not much.
 
Audiences today need, merely as visual engagement, lush landscapes that not only reflect the story, but evoke in us a longing to travel to that distant world.  We need to WANT movies to take us away.  Look at lush Dagobah, and the forested moon of Endor.  Look at the awesome majesty of the mothership from Close Encounters.  Look at exotic cities such as Bespin, or the wild world of James Cameron’s Avatar.  Disney’s Barsoom is more like Tattooine, a planet that was virtually dead, and one that Luke Skywalker desperately wanted to leave.
 
Why would an audience want to be on a planet of monochrome landscapes and endless emptiness?
 
Some of the various types of Barsoomian landscapes, as visualized by Michael Whelan.
 
Barsoom is a dying planet, but not a dead one.  Even though its oceans had dried millennia ago and its dead sea bottoms were covered with ochre moss, Burroughs envisioned Barsoom with lush landscapes of scarlet grass, of rocky areas where colorful crystal outcroppings dotted the vistas, of forests and swamps, of ruined, abandoned cities whose faded glory was still evident in their design and their trappings, despite their crumbling towers and palaces.
 
Disney’s Barsoom should have been as exotic as could be imagined by CGI and John Carter‘s teams of artists.  Instead, the landscapes were something we’ve seen too much of: mesas and sand, flatness and desert.  They were clearly landscapes of our mundane Earth–not those of an alien planet.
 
They were dull and uninspiring.
 
They could have been so much more.
 
 
WHERE WAS THE GRANDEUR?
 
The green hordes of Barsoom were largely nomadic, living in the ruins of ancient cities where traces of their long-dead peoples were still in evidence.  There was mystery in those ruins.  There was wonder.
 
Where is the wonder and the grandeur in John Carter?  We’ve seen these locales before–they have become archetypes of international travel–but never so muted, never so dun-colored.  The Colisseum of the Tharks appears Greek or Roman in design, but there is hardly a trace left of its design for us to get a handle on its former, long-dead occupants; and any decorations that are evident are clearly Thark in nature.  In the deserts, Carter and Sola ride their thoats past distant spires that were obviously man-made in ages past, but they match the dire emptiness and anonymity of the dead sea bottoms they ride across.  We never get a closeup of their majesty.  They are hints of the past, and curiously not enough for us to look at and wonder Who left these cities?  Who left these monuments?  What was Barsoom like in the distant past?  Instead, the ruins we see are mere stage dressing, when they should have been used almost as character.
An inanimate object as a character?
 
The cast of the original Star Trek series each got a lot of fan letters back in the ’60s.  But the one character who got more letters than even Kirk or Spock was the Enterprise itself.  Viewers believed in the reality of that ship.  Viewers wanted to be ON that ship.  In contrast, the Barsoom of John Carter is merely a setting, devoid of true personality, where things simply happen.
 
Stanton’s Mars is not evocative.  Stanton’s Mars was as blank as a tabula rasa.
 
Hand-drwan map of Barsoom by Burroughs.

A later, fan-created map of locales from the Mars series.

 

Viewers aren’t invested in the Mars of John Carter–and that’s a serious problem when we have a race of Therns trying to destroy the planet, and presumably Carter will eventually stop them.  That’s the thrust of the whole storyline of Stanton’s intended Mars trilogy: Carter will renew this alien wasteland.  We are supposed to care about this storyline; about this world.  But the grandeur and magic of this ancient planet are almost invisible.  Muted.
 
Dull.
 
Burroughs’ Helium was made of two cities, Greater and Lesser Helium.  Their spires and towers were magnificent and shining.  Their control of machinery was so masterful that homes and whole buildings would rise to the tops of their towers at night and stay there, stationary, until morning.  The Helium of John Carter may or may not be one or two cities–we don’t really know, for it has no real identity–and its towers and palaces, instead of hinting to the viewer of Helium’s scientific prowess or the might of its proud armies, its heritage are, again, merely color-coordinated with the drab Barsoomian deserts, and seem primitive or Assyrian in construction, instead of Martian.
 
I understand that art directors and designers use real-world referents for their original designs.  I get that someone on the John Carter team may have said,  Our Mars is a world of deserts, without oceans, and is dying.  Our sets and design should reflect that.  They should hark back to those desert cultures of old, and be based in reality.  So they based an alien world on our desert geographies and their native cultures, resembling historical Persian or Asian or even Indian culture.
 
Okay.  I get it–and, at times on the screen, it works.  But it doesn’t always have to be that way.  Sometimes, an alien planet should look alien.  Instead, John Carter‘s earthly design referents detract from the belief in this fourth planet from the sun.  Verisimilitude–the gradual belief, through the structure of storytelling, in something you would normally never, ever believe in–is lost.
 
The Barsoom of John Carter is not a place I’d want to visit.
I go to movies to experience new things, new visions.
 
Why would I, as a viewer, pay to see John Carter if Barsoom looks just like Earth, just decked out with a little stage dressing?
 
This is not grandeur, nor is it an echo of faded glory.
 
It is a lack of vision and imagination.
 
 
THE ABSENCE OF DYNAMIC VIEWPOINT
 
John Carter is a solid film.  The cinematography is straightforward and . . . okay, well, solid.
 
But there isn’t anything special about the film’s camera shots and setups; and in an action-adventure movie, the camera work has to enhance the vitality of the action occurring onscreen.
 
For the most part, John Carter‘s cinematography is lackluster and uninspired.  It’s almost as though the philosophy was to simply shoot the scene from an angle or vantage point that looked decent, and whatever CGI there was could be dropped in later.
 
The filmmakers should have taken some hints from past movies, and used the camera work to heighten the sense of adventure and urgency.  Black Swan; The Fast and Furious movies; the Mission Impossible series; Avatar; going back: the majestic cinematography of Close Encounters; the car chases from French Connection and The Blues Brothers; the cat and mouse game between starships in Wrath of Khan; the movement of the camera in Brian DePalma’s Carrie and The Fury.  All of these movies used cameras, lighting, and props placed not at good locations in which to catch the action, but at the optimal locations to catch and enhance the action, to play up the energy in the scene, and to impart that energy to the viewer–to make  viewers feel like they’re part of what’s going on.
 
John Carter‘s cinematography is curiously static.  It suffers from a lack of dynamic viewpoint, and the action scenes, while certainly good, needed just a little extra umph to make the movie work even better.
 
Sometimes, it’s all about the WOW factor.
 
We need to be wowed.  That’s what movies are all about: showing us something we’ve never seen before.
 
 
LITTLE GREEN MEN
 
Here’s the deal: the green tribes of Mars were tall.  Big, tall mofos.  Individuals averaged a height of about 16 feet in the books, and have been variously pictured by illustrators as having two sets of arms on each side of their torsos either extremely close together, or far apart and attached at four shoulders, with the big greenies having, basically, two sets of chests and ribcages.
 
I like John Carter‘s portrayal of the Tharks; they are alien creatures, strong, yet spindly, and clearly intelligent, yet still savage.
 
The very first representation of a Thark warrior, from 1912.
 
But I don’t love them.  And I should.  I want to love them.  I really do.  But I need to be impressed by them.  Even more importantly, I need to believe in them.
 
But they’re just not good enough.  They get the job done, but they don’t impress.
 
I need to be wowed.

Accurate representation of Thark and human heights.

Art by Thomas Yeates.  These sizes are fairly accurate, too.

 

Consider their height.  I understand the creative decision to make the green tribes average only ten or so feet tall: it makes for better and more natural camera angles when trying to show a human and a Thark in the same shot.  Go here for an analysis of Tharks and their size, as the issue pertained to the aborted Paramount production: http://www.erbzine.com/gw/1101.html)
 
But Burroughs wrote them as averaging sixteen feet in height.  Wow!  Think of the impact if we had seen a savage Thark that tall.  Tarkas would have been a monstrosity to Carter–larger and much more dangerous than those hatchlings in the incubator.  Think of the terror, the shock, Carter may have experienced upon first sight of Tars Tarkas.  He still thinks he’s on Earth . . . and this thing has just appeared out of nowhere!
 
Instead, the art direction settled for an alien race that is clearly warlike (not really visualized through action up on the screen, but just because they say they are . . . and they have single-shot rifles that blow up things in a small way), and they’re certainly animalistic (the tusks are an indicator, but here they’re merely decoration instead of deadly weapons), but they’re still very close to humans in relative size, expression, voice, and in temperament.
 
Still can’t figure out how they breathe, since they don’t have any nostrils . . .
 
Yes, the green tribes work on the screen.  They look good.
 
But they don’t kick ass.
 
They should have been taller, broader, and more muscular.  They should have been angrier and less understanding.  They should have been sixteen foot-tall Klingons at a bar fight, scrabbling for what little they could scrape off the land, just to survive.  The ferocity and appearance of the Warhoons are what the Tharks should have looked like–consequently, the Warhoons should have been even uglier, greener and meaner.  (By the way, the scene of Carter single-handledly defeating the Warhoon tribe is stupendous. It made the movie for me. It was something straight out of the pulps–a cross between ERB and Robert E. Howard.)
 
And the movie’s green tribes are sexless.  Yes, yes, I know it’s a freakin’ Disney movie, but come on!  You may have noticed: males and female humanoids have some very obvious differences, right?  Well, JC‘s male and female Tharks have NO basic differences.  WTF?  Dejah has breasts, doesn’t she?  Belle and Rapunzel have breasts.  Even Tinkerbell has boobs, AND she was modeled on Marilyn Monroe.
 
So, where are Sola’s girly parts?  What idiot made the visual decision to de-sex the green tribes and to give them all one bland, unisex look?
 
Who was the boob who took away the boobs?
 
Seriously.  De-sexing takes away a lot of the basest, most human interest in characters.  We need to be engaged with a film’s characters on a visceral, unconscious level–one that is answered by simple sex appeal.  In other words, desexing = uninteresting.
 
Where is the wow factor now?
 
Visually, and in terms of storytelling and impact, the contrast between human and green man is an important concept that should have been heightened.
 
Why?
 
Because it is John Carter who has the most powerful influence on the green tribes.  It is he, and his friendship with a sixteen foot tall beast-warrior that, despite their enormous cultural and physical differences, starts to bring the Barsoomian races into harmony with each other.  It was through breaching the vast and long-standing differences between the two races that Mars would eventually be saved.
 
But the friendship between Carter and Tars Tarkas came much too easily in John Carter.  It was too much movie shorthand.   Because of convention and simple, basic movie shorthand, we got a superficial buddy movie instead of a nuanced, mature development of enemies who become friends, with very little initial conflict between the two.
 
It just isn’t enough.
 
Jumping human meets weird alien is an okay concept.  A human, lost on an alien world, taken prisoner by a horde of savage, gargantuan monstrosities, would have had much more holistic impact on the entire film, and especially on the climax, where green man and red man find a way to come together to fight side by side against a mutual evil.
 
This is a movie that has been weakened by shorthand: things that should have been developed, but weren’t.
 
If you don’t believe me, answer this:
 
In the movie, why does Tars Tarkas call Carter Dotar Sojat?
 
Think about it.  Was his name change ever explained?  And why does it matter in the denouement of the arena scene?
 
Dotar Sojat and its relevance is never explained in the film–but it mattered.  It could have been explained with just two lines of dialogue that would have given a deeper meaning to the life and culture of the Tharks–thereby deepening our understanding, and involving us more in the movie.

TARS TARKAS 

By Thark custom, I grant you the name of the foe you have vanquished–and all his belongings, and his rank.  Now, you are a Thark!

Two simple lines of explication and/or dialogue could have answered the question.  That’s all that was needed to explain that Carter was now a Thark, and was due the respect all Thark warriors are granted.
 
 
WHY ARE THEY DRESSED LIKE GLADIATORS?
 
Burroughs went with a shocking concept to post-Victorian 1911.  He decided to show just how alien most Barsoomians are . . . by making Mars a world of cultures whose peoples just don’t wear clothes.
 
Obviously, Hollywood would never make a major motion picture where all the characters run around naked (not counting the XXX variety from Los Porngeles).  Burroughs gave his Martians utility harnesses, which fit them snugly, and allowed for markings, indicating what city they were from, their military rank, their status.  The harnesses were also enabled with hooks and fasteners for some personal items, tools, daggers, and scabbards for their broadswords.  People also wore armbands, jewelry and personal decoration, including helmets and sandals.

Frazetta: Carter all harnessed up.
 
Frazetta established Dejah’s tiara.  Crown.  Whatever you call it.
 
The headgear tradition is maintained even today by most Dejah illustrators, here by Frank Cho.  Barsoomian thong sold separately.
 
Adam Hughes continuing the Frazetta-esque headgear/breastplate ensemble.
 
 
I think the film costumers got it absolutely right with the Tharks and their apparel.  But I think they went in the opposite direction and burdened the red people with too much clothing, and in styles that hearken back to the gladiatorial ages and, again, to Middle Eastern historical periods–eras and locales that, in all honesty, American moviegoers could not care less about.  Carter’s harness looks more like a horse’s harness than something an alien would wear.  It serves no function whatsoever, so why would a warrior race where harnesses at all?  More importantly, Dejah’s primary costume is so bulky and non-defining that it detracts greatly both from Lynn Collins’ femininity and her natural beauty.
 
Just like they did to the female Tharks . . .
 
THEY DE-SEXED DEJAH FREAKIN’ THORIS.
Let me say that one more time.
THEY DE-SEXED DEJAH FREAKIN’ THORIS.
 
Bottom line: snooze.  The costumes designs are neither interesting nor evocative . . nor are they very alien.  Instead, they’re clichéd, right out of the Italian gladiator movies from ’60s drive-ins.  They’re something we’ve already seen, and something Disney thought the public would be comfortable in seeing.
 
Steve Reeves, 1950s.
John Carter, 2012.

Their choices were safe ones.
 
Instead, they should have taken a chance and done something unusual and different.
 
And the Therns!  Their costumes look like nothing more than ugly-ass knock offs straight out of “Star Trek” circa 1964.
Thern?  Not a Thern?
 
The Talosian race.

 

The Vian race.

Which was the original Thern?  Talosians or Vians?  And which has the most original wardrobe?

 

YOU MAKE THE CALL.
So, if you haven’t gotten my drift from the previous 3000 or so words, here’s what I’m trying say:
 
John Carter isn’t a bad movie.  It doesn’t suck.  Not at all.  It’s actually a good movie; and, in places, it’s a pretty good movie.
 
But it should have been a great movie.  And the reason it didn’t appeal to the mainstream public (not even getting into the failure of its marketing efforts) is because it didn’t adhere to the only creative rule:
 
THE ONLY SIN IN THE CREATIVE ARTS IS TO BE BORING.
 
Instead of taking chances and pushing the boundaries of both traditional sci-fi and films of the fantastic, John Carter tried to appeal to the mainstream audience and remained within the genre’s accepted borders.
 
It pulled its punches.
 
It went for G instead of PG.
 
It colored within the lines.
 
Man, what long series of Big Little mistakes.  
 
 
GUNS VS SWORDS
 
Westerns are about gunslingers.  The Martian series is about swords–about fighting with honor, for causes that are right and just.
 
Yes, Barsoomians have large, one-shot pistols, rifles and cannons that shoot “radium” bullets:” projectiles of what Burroughs called radium, encased in an opaque shell.  When the outer hull bursts on contact, the inner core of radium explodes.
 
Even though the races of Barsoom use these guns, they tend to use firearms sparingly, and mostly in cases of organized battle.  However, their preferred weapon of choice is the broadsword.
 
How beautiful and how elegant it would have been to see a ballet of swordplay between John Carter and a detestable opponent?  Maybe it would have inspired young viewers to wear capes and play in the back yard in summer, or to take fencing lessons, and learn about the grace and elegance of the sport.  Maybe a new audience could have learned about fighting hand to hand, looking your opponent in the eyes, and doing close battle with the highest sense of personal honor.
 
But guns are easy to use in movies, and very easy to show.  Audiences are used to guns, not swords.  And they like guns–well, at least, that’s what studio executives think.
 
Mars is not a world of guns, though.  It’s a world of honor and chivalry; of swords and swordplay.

Burroughs even put SWORDS in a title.  They MUST have been important…
Abraham Sherman has an interesting essay over at Erbzine.  I urge you to read the entire piece here: http://www.erbzine.com/mag43/4399.html.  Sherman raises some valid points about the changes that Stanton/Disney made to ERB’s source material, and is primarily concerned with why those changes were made, and why they should have stayed truer to the novels.
 
I understand the need to change things from novels in order to be captured adequately on the screen, and I understand how hard some of these choices can be to make.  I also have no problem if a filmmaker wants to update an old property for today’s audience, or because they see something in it that no one else sees.  I look at Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a completely different property than Stephen King’s The Shining, and I don’t begrudge Kubrick’s changes at all.
 
Kubrick did what was necessary to tell the story that he saw underlying the plot of King’s original story.
 
Both novel and film work as separate entities.
 
What I DO have a serious problem with is executives and producers making stupid and dull decisions to craft a movie that’s approachable to the 16-24 year old audience–decisions that, ultimately, have a detrimental effect on a film.  They took a wild, wonderful adventure story that has had personal impact on readers for 100 years because of its concepts and imagery, and watered down those concepts and  imagery in order to make it more palatable to the contemporary American ADHD audience.
 
They took a Filet Mignon and a glass of 1985 Cabernet and turned a wondrous meal into a bowl of Campbell’s Soup–“tasteless, yet inoffensive,” as Stephen King once said.
 
So I think Sherman and I are in agreement here:

In a change that is both subtle and profound, the Barsoomian “code of chivalry”, which is one of the most striking and memorable aspects of ERB’s world, is essentially absent from the film.  Many of the individual changes in the adaptation relate back to this foundational shift away from the key cultural particulars of ERB’s fictional world.  Those particulars owe much to mankind’s long history of storytelling, as will be illustrated throughout this article.  The chivalric code of honor on ERB’s Mars guides virtually every aspect of civilized Barsoomian life.  Personal behavior, culture, politics and war revolve around a system of principled conduct, rather than mere expediency.


In accordance with this code, duels for the sake of honor and military promotion are common.  A warrior may not respond to an attack with a weapon greater than the weapon wielded by the attacker.  If a warrior is killed in a duel or in fair combat, everything that was his is acquired by the victor.  The only way an airship may be surrendered is if the commanding officer voluntarily leaps off of the deck to his death.  The ruler of a nation can only be replaced if that nation’s council of advisors allows a challenger to engage in a mortal duel with the ruler.  Pledging one’s sword at the feet of another is equivalent to a lifelong promise of allegiance.  The Barsoomian mercenary class, composed of warriors known as panthans, is highly respected and trusted.

 
The swords of Mars are much more important than the guns of Mars, for many reasons.  Swords are both functional and symbolic.  They are intrinsic to the Barsoomian culture . . . and virtually ignored in the movie.  (They are also a vital symbol of male sexuality.  But since Disney de-sexed all the women, why wouldn’t they de-sex the main character, too?)
 
Carter, a superb and unparalleled swordsman, only used blades in the film with dull and brute force–not skill or intelligence.  Now, that’s not a problem if that’s called for.  The aforementioned attack by the Warhoons is a good example of where brute force by Carter was absolutely necessary–and its impact is stunning.
 
But to see Carter spar with an undermatched opponent over his princess’s honor?  To have seen Carter duel, one on one, the mighty Tal Hajus at the climax of the arena scene, instead of bluntly chop his head off in mid-leap?  How cool, how Wow! would that have been?  And how underwhelming did that scene turn out?  The viewer hardly sees the swordstroke that kills the evil Thark, and how understated and underwhelming was the shot of Tal Hajus’ head rolling though the air?  Seriously, I had to look for it when I bought the dvd.

Why would a filmmaker deliberately downplay the power of a scene?
 
That segment of the scene delivered no visceral, emotional or visual impact whatsoever.  The filmmakers downplayed–deliberately–the visual aspects of the action, virtually removing the underlying emotions and meaning.  It wasn’t good vs. evil.  It was just another fight.
 
What a waste.

It seems that Stanton abandoned this code as a means of “updating” the source material, particularly in order to accommodate the modern appetite for cynical and sassy characterizations.  The experience of Barsoom feels blunted and diffused because of those modernized personalities.  Several themes of the novels were altered to allow for the shift, which resulted in a world that was less uniquely Burroughsian.  When something is made less distinct in a nod to “formula” or to modern trends, it runs that much more of a risk of seeming generic or clichéd.

 
Clichéd.  Generic.  Bland.
 
Trite.
 
Dull.
 
We have to ask: Is John Carter truly Andrew Stanton’s vision, a film by an auteur, or was it merely a compromise of Burroughs’ story, made palatable to today’s audience?
Personally, I think the available evidence proves it was the latter, and it seems to me that most of John Carter‘s creative decisions were based not on a dedication to the story, but because of corporate and financial considerations that made paramount the movie’s appeal to the dullest of mainstream audiences, yet still adhered to the agreed-upon budget.
ABLE TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS
 
With a single bound, Carter can apparently violate the law of gravity.  He’s almost flying in John Carter; that scene where he carries Kanto Kan to Dejah Thoris in her towertop suite sure looks real cool . . . but, man, is it stupid!
 
You can see where young Shuster and Siegel got the ideas for Superman.  Superman, at first, couldn’t fly.  But he sure could leap over tall buildings in a single bound.
 
 
It was all because of the difference in planetary gravities.  Earth’s gravity was heavier than Barsoom’s; Krypton’s was heavier than Earth’s.  Thus, Carter’s and Kal-El’s stronger muscles worked better on lesser-gravity worlds.
 
Hey, the jumping–Sak!–looks great.  But could we be a little more realistic, please?
Leaping as high as a tower, or hundreds of feet into the air and onto a warship, goes far beyond the boundaries of Martian gravity—and credulity.


A FEW OTHER, LITTLE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE I COME TO THE REAL PISSER
NUMBER NINE, NUMBER NINE . . .
There’s nothing wrong with the concept of the Ninth Ray—an energy that will not only allow interplanetary transport, but its destructive power is immeasurable—but the special effects that accompanied every shot of the Ninth Ray were about as thrilling and as innovative as watching a bad, Italian Star Wars ripoff from the early ‘80s . . . and that’s exactly where the special FX came from.  Bright blue rays; bright blue lightning; a bright blue glow emanating from a strange device . . . completely derivative from grade Z movies.  Disney could have been more imaginative and dramatic.
FLY ME AWAY
Why were the Barsoomian fliers so over-designed?  I’m sure they were meant to look different and ultra-cool, but instead their appearance has the opposite effect.  The battle fliers look like giant insects with shiny wings.  Why not design an anti-gravity (Eighth Ray) flying battleship that actually LOOKS like it was made for war, death and destruction?
Form follows function.  The shiny metal wings had absolutely no function in the movie (although they were explained in the excised Intro . . . but that doesn’t count.  Only what’s in the movie counts.), and they obscured the purposes of the aircraft.
And Carter’s one-man flier was a steal from the pod racer scene in Return of the Jedi.
SHE’S GOT LEGS
But the thoats Carter and company ride do not.  Seriously.  Did you notice?  There are very few shots where we can tell how many legs these multi-legged beasts really have, including Woola.  I had to look constantly and try to count them.
The alien-ness of the flora and fauna has a huge impact on the reality of the world we’re watching, and by not showing what makes these beasts different makes John Carter feel like just another movie . . . nothing special.
Why didn’t they show the animals in all their beastly glory?  EXCUSE: No need to, because their legs don’t enhance the story.  FACT: CGI and animation cost a lot of money, and Disney didn’t want to spend any more than they had to.
DOPPELDEJAHGANGER
Oh, come on.  Dejah fighting her evil twin, who’s really a shapeshifter?
This is a direct steal from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
If you’re going to steal from Star Trek, why’d it have to be from the worst of the Trek movies?
WTF IS THIS MOVIE CALLED, ANYWAY?
  

Pissant Disney Executive

Listen, boss.  Marketing says we gotta change the title.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

Why?  John Carter of Mars says it all!

Pissant Disney Executive

Yeah, yeah, I agree with you, boss!  But Marketing doesn’t like it.  They say it’s doesn’t skew for some of the demographics.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

What demographics?

Pissant Disney Executive

Women, boss.  Age 16-24.  They say the word Mars in the title will chase off women.  And they got a whole list of movies with Mars in the title that bombed like Hiroshima.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

Those clowns in Marketing really think one word in a title will affect the gross?

Pissant Disney Executive

Their data indicate a negative response to Mars -– anything that evokes sci-fi or aliens.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

Hm.  John Carter of Mars.  It’s accurate, I guess, but . . . uninspiring.  Hey!  Didn’t this project have some other name years ago?

Pissant Disney Executive(looks through notes)

Yeah, yeah.  But that wouldn’t work, either.  A Princess of Mars.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

You know, that’s ain’t bad . . .

Pissant Disney Executive(reading notes)

. . . and before that, it was Under the Moons of Mars.

Disney High Muckety-Muck

Hey!  That’s actually beautiful!

Pissant Disney Executive

Yeah, but then you got that whole Mars thing again . . .

Disney High Muckety-Muck (throws down his Mont Blanc)

I give up!  Just call it John Carter for all I care!  No Mars, no Princess, no nothing!  Maybe the female demographics will think he’s that pretty boy from ER!  Yeah, that’ll bring in the chicks!  And tell the Marketing execs to give themselves raises.  They deserve it for all the hard work they do.

 

 

THE PART WHERE I SAY WHAT SOME JOHN CARTER FANS DON’T WANT TO HEAR . . . AND WILL REFUSE TO EVEN CONSIDER BECAUSE I’M JUST A MEAN, MEAN MAN WHO DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING, SO THERE.
 
Sorry, kids, but this is it:
Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins were completely miscast.
 
Bottom line.  It’s not that they can’t act—they can.  They’re GREAT actors.  Kitsch was one of the brightest lights on “Friday Night Lights.”   He is sensitive and angry and perhaps the best thing about 2015’s “True Detective” on HBO. Lynn Collins kicked ass in 13 Going on 30, The Lake House, and “True Blood.”  And they both did fine jobs as their respective characters in John Carter.
 
They just didn’t look like the characters at all.
 
Kitsch wasn’t an ideal John Carter, in terms of casting only by appearance, but he was passable.
 

 

 

 

 
Collins, however, appeared older than Dejah Thoris (and perhaps a little older than Carter), and was a completely different body and facial type than ever represented before in art or in text.

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life… Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.

The character of Dejah Thoris was, simply, incomparable (a point that Carter/Burroughs stated on several occasions).  Why did not Disney cast an actress who was also unique . . . also absolutely, 100%, unforgettably incomparable?
 
The reason was Projected Revenue.  To make as much money as they needed to make on a $250,000,000 movie budget, Disney executives had too much say in the production.  They had to make the Projected Revenue figure, and to do that, they ignored the movies that really make it big in Hollywood–groundbreakers and risk takers–and instead followed the Mainstream Edict:
 
TAKE NO CHANCES.
 
And you can be damn sure that Andrew Stanton got the message from on high: With this much money in play, he had to deliver a movie that appealed to the masses, and would be reflected in the gross profit.  Males, females, 16-24, 25-34, families, kids . . .  Stanton knew well the demographics that Disney was going for, and he knew well what kind of homogenized demands Disney made on their filmmakers.  He knew he had to follow the formula.  NO AUTEURS ALLOWED.
 
So why were Collins and Kitsch the stars?  Why were they the figureheads on the front lines?
 
Disney and Stanton followed the corporate line . . . straight down the middle of the road.  They hedged their bets instead of going to extremes.  It’s the Mainstream Edict:  By going too far, by being too different, you risk the chance of alienating your audience.  But by staying in the middle, you cater to the lowest common denominator.  And you also make movies that are easily ignored . . . or forgotten.  Here’s how Zack Snyder, director of Watchmen and Man of Steel looked at the issue in an interview in Japan Times:

For me, a good movie has a pokey feel, and its surface has sharp edges. It’s hard to hold in your hand, but fascinating to look at. The ‘Hollywood committee,’ on the other hand, is always trying to get rid of those edges, to make it softer, lighter, more palatable. Those movies are easier to sit through and accept but once the lights come on you’ve forgotten all about it. It winds up not moving you, and the experience doesn’t stay. The best movies are the ones that cut you a little.

Disney is the epitome of Hollywood by committee.  Safe bets; play to the audience; don’t do anything original or to the extreme.
This wasn’t really Andrew Stanton’s John Carter.  This was Disney’s John Carter.
 
Safe.
 
Palatable.
 
A Hollywood snoozefest.
 
Kitsch and Collins were not the ideal choices to play John Carter and Dejah Thoris, but they were safe choices.  The pair had just come off X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Disney thought they would strike a chord with the movie-going audience that loved X-Men: males age 16-24.  They also thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine would do a lot better at the box office than it did.
 
Kitsch has a look, a swagger, that girls love.  Collins has a natural beauty and grace . . . and, more importantly, her charms are decidedly non-threatening to women.  Anyone sexier, and Disney would be taking the chance on alienating the female audience.
 
They were Disney’s Carter and Dejah, watered down and just a few notches above average.  Were they Stanton’s ideal casting choices?  I have no idea, and as long as Stanton is a Disney/Pixar employee, he won’t be spilling the Barsoomian beans.  But they definitely weren’t anything like the characters pictured in the books, the comic books, the illustrations, the book covers, the newspaper strips . . .
 
Collins and Kitsch weren’t even close.  They were good enough, but not the best.
Aw, hell.  They looked nothing like John Carter and Dejah Thoris at all. 
 
There are a host of reasons Tim Burton’s Superman movie was aborted, but the most telling–and the most blatantly obvious–was that he wanted Nicholas Cage to portray Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton.

Which of these guys, just by looks alone, is Superman?
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Looks do matter.
Sure.  Taylor Kitsch could be John Carter–I mean, he got the job done, didn’t he?  He created his own interpretation of the character—and that’s fine.  That’s what every actor does when he takes on a role.   But why didn’t Disney pick someone who really looked the part?  Why didn’t they choose someone who simply nailed it?
 

 

 

 

Henry Cavill.  He has . . . the Look.


Because of his teen popularity, the choice of Kitsch was not an ideal choice, but he was a decidedly safe choice for the mainstream audience . . . and a certain draw for the young female demographic.

 
Why pick Lynn Collins?  She can definitely act up a storm, and her interpretation of Dejah Thoris is remarkably strong and determined . . . but does she really look the part?
 
Producers knew she could get the job done.  She was attractive and highly talented . . . and safe.
 
Actresses who are incomparable, however, are not safe.  Casting them risks turning off some female moviegoers, as they would be considered almost too attractive.  They’re too sexy.  They’re too powerful.  They’re too singular.  Look at the drumming Megan Fox received when she made it in Hollywood—all because of her looks. If you turn off the female audience, there go half a movie’s profits.
So, you decide: just by looks alone—because some of these ladies are models who have The Look, but who may not be actresses–who could have made a better, undeniably incomparable Dejah Thoris?
 
Mila Kunis

 
Phoebe Tonkin

 
Rosie Jones
 
Georgia May Foote
 
Minka Kelly
 

Olivia Wilde (with Dejah headgear?)

 

Georgia Palmas

 

Kelly Brook

Louise Cliffe

Ana De Armas

 

1400073763_michelle-keegan-lipsy-collection-corrie-mark-wrightMichelle Keegan

emma-rigby-312580651Emma Rigby
margotMargot Robbie
libby powellLibby Powell
By casting Collins, a safe choice, and by wrapping her in garb that concealed her curves, they completely de-sexed the character of Dejah Thoris—a female character who has been a sex goddess and an unparalleled romantic ideal in the minds of male readers since 1912.  Her sensuality, her powerful, feminine essence, her regal personality, make up a large part of the allure of Barsoom—holistically, an enormous part of the series’ magic.  She was more than Carter’s love interest.  She was the reason he fought the Therns, returned to Barsoom, restored the planet, and became, eventually, the Warlord of Mars.  All for the woman he loved.
 
Every male who ever read the Barsoom series yearned in their hearts to find and love and do anything and everything for their very own Dejah Thoris.
 
Sadly, that primal yearning is not elicited at all by John Carter.
 
Disney’s Dejah is not the evocative, sexy, magnificent warrior-princess we all wanted by our sides or in our beds.
 
Disney de-sexed Dejah Thoris to keep the movie safe.  This safe Dejah could have become the newest Disney Princess.  No threat to the female audience.  No curves, no implied sexuality . . . and completely safe for family movie night.
 
Palatable.
 
They used guns more than swords to keep the movie palatable.
 
They dwarfed the Tharks to make them more palatable.
 
They used unoriginal costume designs and art direction to make the movie more palatable.
 
Alien landscapes were eschewed for more earthly landscapes . . . to make them more palatable.
 
And they softened John Carter, a born warrior and swordsman, to make him more palatable.

SO . . . WHAT DID WE END UP WITH?

 
John Carter is a good movie.  A fine movie.
 
But it’s the Campbell’s Soup version.
 
Tasteless and inoffensive.
 
Palatable.
 
THE ONLY SIN IN THE CREATIVE ARTS IS TO BE BORING.
 
 
Disney reaped exactly what they sowed.
 
There will be no sequels.  Why?  Because the financial results of John Carter were merely . . .
 
. . . palatable.
 
________________________________________
 
Some interesting stuff:
 
 
An incredible compendium of Dejah thoris art (and one cosplayer): http://pinterest.com/xanditz/dejah-thoris/

 

Disney’s Dirty Little Secret?

As a tried and true Disney fan, I just don’t know what to make of the news from today’s post at Jim Hill’s Disney and entertainment blog. Here: read the whole report for yourself. I’ll just paraphrase the juicy part:

Disney has registered two very strange Internet domain names recently. Ready? Here you go:

YOUNG-HOT-AND-LATINA.COM

… and …

WHATSMYPORNSTARNAME.COM

Hmm. Mickey so horny?

Newspapers: Learn from Vegas

Here’s a post by L.A. writer Mark Evanier. He talks specifically about what Disney needs to learn from Las Vegas.

Whistle While You Don’t Work

Disney is laying off people left and right at its theme parks. Several Dwarfs have been let go and believe me, they’re not Happy.

I know the economic news is not all bad but the part that is bad is bad enough to drown out the good. Still, I would like to suggest that today’s dire Disney news may not be wholly the fault of the usual villains — the deregulation nuts who let Wall Street go Ponzi. Yeah, they crashed the Dow but one reason Disney revenues are down is because in times like these, people can’t afford to pay Disney prices. Las Vegas is dropping its prices sharply since they figured out how tight recreational moola was becoming. Disneyland is just Vegas with mouse ears and bad food. They need to learn the same thing.

Needless to say, newspapers are laying people off left and right, but they’re not learning the lesson. They’re not doing what needs to be done.

Las Vegas and Disney provide products that people desire. Las Vegas has learned that their product has to be affordable for Las Vegas to be successful. Disney needs to follow suit.

Newspapers need to make their product affordable to both the readers and the advertisers. Even more importantly, they have to offer a product that people want. This means the current print newspaper has to change into something exciting. Vibrant. Colorful. Fresh. Innovative.

As much as I want newspapers to evolve, I’m not so naive as to believe they really can.

I don’t think the bow ties really want to.

Pleasure Island memories

This is it, people. If you’ve been to Disney World since the spring of 1989, you’ve seen the searchlights, you may have even been there, dancing and drinking. The rack cards were in every Disney bus; the commercials were on every hotel TV and every Orlando station.

Pleasure Island, the premiere destination for adults visiting Disney World, is closing in three short days.

This blog at the Orlando Sentinel was the inspiration for tonight’s entry about hot summer nights, and hedonistic pleasures, and tropical islands — even if they’re man-made. Submitted for your consideration is my own list of 19 years of Pleasure Island memories. I hope you and your families have many, and that they are good ones.

• 1989 • We expected a French Quarter of night clubs and fun, and were not disappointed. Maria and I found the Adventurers Club, and like the day I stepped out of my dad’s car in 1971 and saw the color of the blue, blue Florida sky for the first time, I realized I was home. We were greeted at the door of the Adventurers Club by Graves, the butler, as portrayed by Andy Clark (Andrew B. Clark in Woody Allen’s Radio Days). We sat immediately at a mezzanine table overlooking the main room and wondered just what the hell was going on. Then Maria and I noticed a man on the opposite side of the mezzanine, looking down. Leather jacket, leather hat, whip. I asked Graves, “Is that who I think it is?” Graves said, “Yes sir. Dr. Jones frequents the Club on his days off from University.”

Later that year, different vacation. The Club opened at 7. Still daylight. We were the only ones in there, sitting at the bar. Fletcher Hodges came out (an actor named Michael, who soon thereafter moved to L.A., and the next time we saw him was in a men’s room in a hilarious Halloween episode of Roseanne), placed some PI matchbooks on a barstool and started spinning them into wildly and madly oblivion. Later that night (I believe) we were still at the bar when a bunch of suits with walkie talkies came through, escorting Bob Hope on a tour of the Club. Maria still regrets not getting his autograph for her middle sister. But hell — who wants to bother Bob Hope?

• 1991 • We moved from Hampton to Orlando, got annual passes to the parks and Pleasure Island. Maria’s 60 year-old mother visited once, and we danced and partied on PI, and our main memory is of her sitting in the giant beach chair outside XZFR’s, smiling, smiling, smiling.

• After ’89 or so, every night at PI was New Year’s Eve. The PI Marching Band marched through the Club every night, down PI. At midnight, a curse was placed on the Club, and when it was successfully removed by the chanting of the audience, the band would strike up and confetti would be blown through the Salon, mirroring the celebration outside. When the confetti stopped, it was after the outbreak of the Gulf War, and the public was told it was because children were getting scared by the indoor fireworks. Who did they think they were kidding? It was budgetary, and the clean up crews were tired of doing their jobs.

• My friend Mike Speller started out at the Club in ’89, even doing previews for Michael Eisner, and if you remember any of the promos or commercials from that time, he was the guy in the waiter’s suit and gorilla mask. He and some of the other guys portrayed Marcel, the Club’s simian valet, who would occasionally enter the salon and pick lice from the female visitors’ hair.

We didn’t really become friends until we moved there. Then two bartenders, Ray and Jackie (all named Nash at the AC), became our close friends, and they (well, primarily Jackie) brought us into the actors’ circle. Mike and Darin DePaul (follow the link if you want, but it does not chronicle his successes on stages across the country or Broadway…or the upcoming Meryl Steep movie…) quickly became two of our best friends, because we somehow connected. There was a mutual bond between us all that extends to this day. I miss them both. I was Darin’s best man, and I don’t think I could have lived a prouder day.

• The real New Years Eves. they were best at the beginning and got cheap at the end. Dancing in a conga line with Buster Poindexter. Larry “Bud” Melman going to every club and saying “Happy Goddamn New Year!” Paul Schaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band. Weird Al. Joan Jett. Peter Gabriel and Roseanne Arquette touring the Adventurers Club. Buffets at every night club, two free drinks, and free party favors, starting at $65. By the last year it was over $125, no drinks, no buffets, and no party favors. At the right place, at the right time. Trying to get out of the PI parking lot jam, jumping out of the car, white shirt, red vest, black pants, stopping traffic, waving cars, then jumping back in the Bluesmobile and shouting, “Hit it!”

• After every night at PI, Maria and I would pause just pass the Empress Lilly and look across the water at the Lake Buena Vista Villas. My parents took us there in 1980, and then we took my mother in 1986. By the time we moved to Orlando, both were gone — and we would stop and silently say goodnight to them, watching the reflections of the villa lights rippling on the lake, and wondering why.

Now the villas are gone, too.

• Darin, playing Emil Bleehall, nerd extraordinaire, at the Adventurers Club. He comes up and asks me a stupid question, to which I reply one of HIS lines — and he replies, in character, “Hey, thanks for nothing, fuckface!” I nearly spit out my gin and tonic — which, by the way, was comped by my friends.

• Mentioning that we wanted to see the comedy show to one of our actor friends; and suddenly we’re escorted from the Adventurers Club and backdoored into prime seats at Comedy Warehouse. We met a LOT of wonderful people!

• Writing a complimentary letter in 1990 to the AC manager, and the next time we visited, it was displayed in a shadowbox near the bathrooms (really, where it belonged).

• The story was that newcomer Emil Bleehall just arrived to Pleasure Island from Sandusky, Ohio. The actor portraying him would start out walking from the far end of the island (near the long-gone Fireworks Factory), suitcase in hand, and ask his way, interacting with bystanders, to the Adventurers Club. One of my regrets: I never saw a single actor do this. We were always in the AC before or after.

• 1989 • Spur of the moment: on the mezzanine, I opened a drawer of the desk. Inside was a handwritten letter from Graves to one of the Club adventurers. Funny. Unique. I kept it. It’s in a desk drawer here in our own library right now, waiting for someone to find it.

• Ray, the bartender, and his magic tricks. He wasn’t great, but he was FUN; and he was the best at impressing semi-drunk 20-something babes at the main bar. This boy put the ooooooo in smooooooth. He’s now at the Outer Rim Lounge at the Contemporary resort. Say Hi from Rusty.

Kristian Truelsen, actor and sender of semi-annual Christmas cards, God bless him, pulls me away from the bar, hands me a cup of water, says, “Let me sit on your lap and you drink this water, okay?” I say okay and he leads me to a chair facing the poof — the poof is the big couch surrounding the statue of fishing Zeus. There he sits on my legs, I place my right hand below his neck as though he’s a ventriloquist’s dummy, and I proceed to say, “I will drink this water as my dummy talks.” I drink the water, I move my hand, Kristian opens his mouth dummy-style, and water pours out of it.

I laughed for days. During the Clinton campaign, he, I, Darin and Mike attended an Orlando Clinton/Gore speech, then had lunch at Orlando’s best ever restaurant, the original Pebbles. Kristian regaled me with Lateral Thinking Puzzles, all of which I remember 16 years later. Damn you and your perfidious influence! DAMN YOU!!!!

• Dinners at Portobello. It was then Portobello Yacht Club; now, menu changed, just Portobello. Dinners in the restaurant were always good. But appetizers and drinks sitting at the bar were even nicer; talking with the maitre’d and the wait staff, the thin pizzas, ordering dishes that weren’t listed on the menu! Damn, I love personal restaurants like that.

About ten years ago, having medium-rare tuna for the first time at a table for two. It may have been the night Maria had Halibut in Grape Sauce, which she craves to this day, but it has never since been offered. A group of about 10-15 walked past our table, and at the end of the line was a deeply tanned, wavy-haired, shirt open to his belly, Wayne Newton. They sat at the big table way in the back. I said to Maria, “Maria, that was Wayne Newton.” She said, “Who?” I said, “The guy at the end of that big group. Wayne Newton.” She craned her head and looked and said, “Yeah. Right. Sure.”

My own wife still doesn’t believe me.

• There are other nights and other years, like the night an Imagineer, on an endless expense account, bought us a bottle of Dom Perignon; the night a woman flashed her tits for cameras at the beach club and smiled at me as I laughed at the sight; the night my bro-in-law ruined Art’s “table-hopping” line; dancing in 8-Trax to disco music I used to hate; the hookers that would show up, not looking like tramps, but ultra-sophisticated escorts; the one and only time we saw the shrunken heads over the AC bar shiver; learning that the Cage, what 8-Trax started out as (a teen club) was the most violent-prone place on property; the nights talking with the private animator who’d call ahead to the AC to put his Coronas in the freezer; Darin’s best night, where he imitated all of the actors at the Club, and Darin’s last night, where we surprised him by driving to FL in a 12-hour spurt; the one-way mirrors in the mens room of Fireworks Factory; Len, who valet-parked our cars for at least five years then went on to law school (YOU OWE US!); the 1992 Miami refugees of Hurricane Andrew who came to Orlando for electricity, a hot bath and a cold beer (you are remembered!); the cheap FX in the AC — did you know the Colonel’s voice is not amplified by a microphone, but by the echo effect of a highly expensive…plastic cup? The night after actor Phil Card’s vasectomy, when he went around to every woman in the Club and pronounced that he was “built for pleasure.”

And should I even mention seeing Pauly Shore?

Naaaaaaah.

I will miss you, Pleasure Island. The big, leg-moving Jessica Rabbit sign, the giant beach chair, the games no one really played, the cheap souvenirs, the expensive animation souvenirs, the coin-operated boats, the shrimp bars, the Jazz Club and the cigars, the Neon Armadillo, the roller-skating, the half-naked women, the imagination that has now given way to annual budget goals.

Pleasure Island is dead.

Long live Pleasure Island.

The Last Glorious Days of the Adventurers Club


Seems like the Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island — the one the Disney suits are closing because it just wasn’t making enough money — is raking it in during its last month of normal business. My friend Mike Speller, former cast member and actor at the Club, is planning on being there for its last closing weekend, and I was hoping to make it as well; but this report from Disney reporter/critic Jim Hill explains why I may just have to live with the Adventurers Club glory days — 1989 – 1993 — in my memories and in my heart. (Reprinted below/link above)

Mike, Darin, Andy, Sheila, Tim, Fran, Art, Joan, Kristian, Phil — you were the best they ever had.

And may God bless Marcel.

This past Friday night, visitors to the Adventurers Club got to see a brand-new artifact added to the wall in the Main Salon : A video projection screen.


Photo by Max Schilling

Given that this piece of Pleasure Island is supposed to be a recreation of a gentlemen’s club from the 1930s, one might wonder why the Mouse was adding this technological anachronism to AC’s carefully themed interior. But — sadly — the reasoning behind this particular installation at the Club was all too obvious.

As one PI vet told me this past weekend:

“What we did on Friday night was a test. Over the next two weeks, we anticipate that a record number of Adventurers Club fans will be coming back to Pleasure Island, trying to catch one last Balderdash Cup or Hoopla. And given that the Library has limited capacity … Well, we don’t want any of our Guests to go away disappointed. So we’re experimenting with doing simulcasts at the Adventurers Club. Projecting the Balderdash Cup & the Hoopla out in the Main Saloon at the very same time that these live stage shows are being presented in the Library.”

To be honest, Friday night’s test of the Adventurers Club’s new video projection system wasn’t entirely a success. Why For? The way I hear it, when the video feed for the Balderdash Cup was projected out into the Main Saloon, people literally stopped in their tracks to look up at that screen.

Which — as you might imagine — totally disrupted guest flow within the Club. To the point that Friday night’s presentation of the Balderdash Cup wound up playing to only 2/3rds of its usual house because … Well, many AC visitors couldn’t actually make it down into the Library that night. They found their way blocked by all of those Guests who were standing there in place, staring up at that video screen.

Still, this new video projection system was back in operation on Saturday. And it’s a good thing that it was, because the Adventurers Club got totally slammed that night.

As one longtime visitor to the Club told me last night:

“I’ve been visiting the Adventurers Club for over 15 years now, and I’ve never seen this place that busy. At one point, the manager literally had to tell the doorman ‘One in, one out.’ Meaning that the Club was at absolute maximum capacity. And before anyone new could be allowed to enter that building, someone who was already inside the Club first had to go outside.


Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

The place was completely packed on Saturday night. I’m talking body-to-body. The Main Salon was so crowded that the cast members who were leading the New Induction ceremony had to literally warn the Guests who were gathered there to ‘Please be careful when you do the Adventurers Club salute. We don’t want you to accidentally take someone else’s eye out.’

To accommodate the crowds, they had both the upstairs & downstairs bars open that night. With all three of the bartenders in the Club going full tilt, serving drink after drink after drink.

According to cast members that I spoke with last night, it’s been like this for two months now. With huge crowds coming out every night in order to say ‘Goodbye’ to the Adventurers Club. Given the enormous amount of money that Disney obviously has to be making off of alcohol sales at this one Pleasure Island nightclub, you have to wonder if they’re now having second thoughts about killing off this cash cow.”

At the very least, Pleasure Island managers are now doing everything that they can to milk this cash cow. Even going so far as & increase the Adventurers Club’s capacity by changing the seating arrangement in the Library (i.e. removing most of the tables that used to be located in this part of the Club and opting to go with fixed rows of seats instead) as well as getting rid of most of the over-sized, over-stuffed chairs that you used to find in the Main Salon.

To further increase AC’s capacity as this much beloved Club gets closer & closer to its previously-announced September 28th closing date, PI officials are also talking about returning this nightclub to its original 1989 traffic pattern. Meaning that — after Guests have seen a show in the Library — they’ll then be directed to exit the Club entirely. Duck out through that door that’s located next to the bar. And then — should these WDW visitors actually wish to re-enter the Adventurers Club … Well, they’ll have to get on line with all of the other Guests who are already queued up outside of this nightclub.


Photo by Max Schilling

In the meantime, Guests are desperate to have something tangible to remember their last trip to the Adventurers Club by. Which is why the Club’s souvenir cups (Which the bartenders offer AC’s signature beverages in) are flying off the shelves. This past weekend, the AC actually sold out of those glasses that feature Arnie & Claude’s faces (i.e. those two talking heads that you’ll regularly find hassling tourists in the Mask Room). And in the coming week, the Club expects to sell through all of the Yakoose-shaped mugs that it currently has in stock.

Meanwhile the Club’s managers regularly patrol the upstairs and the downstairs. Making sure that the AC’s more rabid fans don’t help themselves to other sorts of souvenirs. And by that I mean trying to pry some of the artifacts & photographs that are currently on display in the Club right off of the walls !

Which — I know — sounds like crazy, crazy behavior. But trust me, folks. It’s a crazy, crazy time at the Adventurers Club. With people standing 5 deep at the bar in the Main Salon, with the cash registers there constantly opening & closing in order to accommodate all of those drink orders … And yet Disney officials still insist that Pleasure Island has to be closed because places like the AC just don’t appeal to WDW visitors anymore.

Oh, really? Try telling that the people who were still standing on line outside of the Adventurers Club at 1 a.m. this past Saturday night trying to get in. Try telling those folks that this PI nightclub is no longer popular. I’d imagine that those Guests might have a few choice words for you. None of which would be “Kungaloosh.”

Anyway … It’s a very sad & frustrating time for Adventurers Club fans … Made sadder still by the news that just came out of Glendale. Which has three Imagineers who were closely associated with the creation of Pleasure Island (i.e. senior vice president Rick Rothschild, executive producer Chris Carradine, director of concept design John Horny) being let go from that division of the Walt Disney Company earlier this month.

Speaking of Imagineering … The guys from WDI quietly put out the word late last week that the opening date for Disney’s Hollywood Studios‘ newest attraction — the “American Idol Experience” — has been pushed back from January of 2009 to the Spring of next year.


Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Why For the delay? Well … As I understand it, the retooling of the interior of the old “Superstar Television” Theater is taking far longer than Disney originally expected. Which — given how large & lavish the sets for the “American Idol Experience” are supposed to be — isn’t really all that much of a surprise.

I also hear that Disney Parks — working with 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia, the co-producers of the “American Idol” television series — has hatched this elaborate promotional plan for the “American Idol Experience.” Which involves this new DHS attraction being prominently displayed and/or mentioned as part of each episode of AI that airs on Fox in the coming season.

This promotional effort will culminate in late May of 2009 when the winner of next season’s “American Idol” is named. The very next day (or thereabouts), this individual will then be flown down to Walt Disney World so that they can then take part in the grand opening of the “American Idol Experience.” Which will (in theory, anyway) garner lots of free publicity for Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ newest attraction.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean WDW Entertainment still won’t be holding AIE soft opening sometime in the last winter / early spring of 2009. The way I hear it, those folks want six to eight weeks of daily performances under their belt before they then invite the press in to check out DHS’s newest attraction.

The only wildcard here is … Well, because AIE was originally scheduled to open in January of 2009, DHS managers then felt justified in cutting “Fantasmic !” back to just two days of performances during that exact same time period. But now that the “American Idol Experience” ‘s soft opening has been pushed back by at least a few weeks, one wonders if Disney World officials will now revisit their earlier decision? Perhaps return Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ nighttime extravaganza to its rightful seven-days-a-week spot on that theme park’s entertainment schedule.

Anyway … That’s the latest on AC & AIE. With one getting ready to close its doors, while the other postpones its grand opening.