George Lucas Was Right

So I was browsing through Netflix the other night, looking at their range of mediocre to abysmal choices of things I haven’t seen when I stumbled across the newish documentary “The People vs George Lucas”. With no better choices at hand I proceeded to watch it as I wrapped up some late night editing for a project I’m behind on at my “real job”. Let me rephrase that: I tried to watch it. I got about halfway through it before I had to turn it off and put on a Beatles album (FYI: A Hard Day’s Night) to wash away the taste it left in my brain. At its most basic, this was nothing more than what any Star Wars fan has seen thousands of times in every nerd/geek/fanboy forum online since the special editions were released in 1997 up through Revenge of the Sith in 2005. And honestly, I’m kind of tired of going over the same ground over and over and over (Han shot first, Jar Jar sucks, George doesn’t care about us, fans have equal ownership, ad infinitum).

To make it perfectly clear, I didn’t really care for the film. Decently made, but I didn’t see the point to it (even if you tell me at the end they defend George’s right to do whatever he wants with his films…who cares? That point was debated a decade ago). But it did really open my eyes to something I’ve never really thought about before: George absolutely did the right thing when he made the prequels. What did he do right, you ask? Well, going all the way back to Star Wars in 1977, George has continually said that these are kid’s movies. Made for kids. Now, most fans see that as a cop-out. An excuse, a shoddy justification for everything they don’t like about the prequels. And I’m not the first person to point out that he is right, these are kid’s movies. We fell in love with them as children. If you really go back and look at Star Wars today with a clear, cynical grown-up’s eye, you can see how juvenile the first movie was. How black and white. How simplistic.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

Somewhere down the line, “kid’s movie” became synonymous with “dumbed down crap”, but it wasn’t always that way. E.T. is a “kid’s movie”. Every Disney classic is a “kid’s movie”. You can say that The Wizard of Oz is a kid’s movie. But what we’re really saying is that these are family films- enjoyable for all ages. Now, the prequels are regrettably lacking in finesse. They definitely could have used a rewrite or two and a little better character motivations. But look around: kid’s today still love these movies. They like Jar Jar. They think the Battle Droids are funny. Go read Drew McWeeny’s great series on introducing his sons to the Saga: http://in-my-head.org/2011/11/07/recommended-reading-drew-mcweenys-film-nerd-2-0-star-wars-edition/

George made the right call here. He kept aiming that target in the same place he aimed it in 1977 and 1980 and 1983. And the kids that are enjoying the prequels today (and the Clone Wars, and the video games, and the toys) are going to grow up thinking just as fondly about all of this as we did 20-30 years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. I know, I know. You wanted to see something else. You want Jar Jar gone. You didn’t want silly Battle Droids and endless Jedi fighting. Or C-3PO’s antics. I get it, I really do. But let me point you in the direction of a comparable genre that didn’t take the path that Lucas did. No, this property at some point decided that instead of staying aimed at kids, it would grow up with them. It would evolve and start experimenting with just how far it could push the characters and the existing boundaries. It would get dark, it would get edgy. You know where I’m going with this: it’s comics.

At the same moment that Star Wars was capturing a generation of kids, comics was telling those kids that it was OK to never grown up and leave them behind like the previous generations did. No, once the 1980s hit continuity became king. If you weren’t on board from the beginning it became harder and harder to get on the ride. And every year less and less kids were reading comics. And comics responded by catering to that 80s generation’s every whim in a self-destructing feedback loop. So here we are. Comics exist almost solely as fodder for merchandise and movies and once the 40 and 50 year olds stop buying them the industry is pretty much going to die off (How’s that New 52 treating ya, fans?). Or move onto the web. And collectors alone can’t sustain all the toys or even movies when they are anything but a crowd pleasing, family friendly hit (looking at you, Green Lantern!) But Star Wars? Well, kids will be watching that just like they do the Disney films. Every seven years a new generation will pick it up, and the juggernaut starts up all over again.

Because George Lucas was right.

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Happy April Fish!

When I was in high school French class I was introduced to the concept of “Poisson D’Avril”, literally, “April Fish Day”. This was the supposed origin of April Fool’s Day, where French people go around taping fish to each other’s backs on April 1st every year. This sounded like great fun to me and my high school buddies, so we started trying to see who can tape a fish to the other’s back without getting caught, pretty much on any random day of the year that we could.

We made mimeograph copies of a fish drawing that I made, and cut out hundreds of these paper fish. I’m not sure when we stopped this awesome practice, but I do remember for a couple of years after you could still be walking around the mall before someone told you that you had a fish on your back. Ah, the 1980s…

So how did April Fool’s really start? Well, no one is quite sure, but this video has a few theories (including the aforementioned April Fish!). Enjoy!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhVCTkpVX2Y[/youtube]

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Leader of the Pack

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As I’ve grown over the years, one thing I’ve always been afraid of is becoming a packrat. Scratch that, I’m afraid of becoming a hoarder. I already am a packrat (albeit with the more socially acceptable title of “collector”). I’ve spent years saving and collecting things that I will never need or look at again, all in the vague suspicion that I will one day regret it if I throw it out.

That is really not the case, though, as I’ve found out. In the past couple of years I’ve been actively throwing away decades worth of paperwork, toys, and clothes that have been packed away in boxes, unused and unseen. I don’t miss any of it. And while it never got to the point of cluttering my house, my eventual goal will be to divest myself of most things that I do not actively use. I’m not sure if I can give up the books and dvds just quite yet, though. Giving up my toys is a blog for another time.

What brought this up was discovering the story of the Collyer Brothers. This fascinating tale of maybe the two most famous hoarders ever is both cautionary and in a way romantic, as most larger-than-life endeavors are. What young boy did not make forts out of couch cushions and dream of living in a house full of bobby traps and secret tunnels? Of course, you didn’t exactly picture those same traps and tunnels being your downfall:

On April 8, 1947, workman Artie Matthews found the body of Langley Collyer just ten feet from where Homer died. His partially decomposed body was being eaten by rats. A suitcase and three huge bundles of newspapers covered his body. Langley had been crawling through their newspaper tunnel to bring food to his paralyzed brother when one of his own booby traps fell down and crushed him. Homer, blind and paralyzed, starved to death several days later.

I think I’ll be putting Ghosty Men on my Kindle reading list…and packing away a few more boxes for charity this weekend.

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Retro Reality

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZGG9Kw70BM[/youtube]

 I saw this video over at Kottke today, and after marveling at the sheer incorrectness from today’s perspective I got to thinking about how interesting these short subjects and newsreel fillers were back in the 1930s and 1940s.

And really, when you think about it, they were kind of the “reality shows” of the day. Many times they featured either an unusual or grotesque subject for viewers to gawk at as the waited for the main feature to start. Ripley’s Believe It or Not even started as a series of shorts. Of course, not all of these short subjects reflected the unusual; there were the forerunners to MTV, the prototypes of the sitcom, and my favorite, Dogville.

Dogville shorts all featured dogs in people clothing, walking on their hind legs and talking by way of both camera tricks and what we would most likely consider abuse. Still, who can argue with a college betting scandal? Enjoy! Also, you can find many of these on DVD at the great Warner Archive site!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u775XF6ihT0[/youtube]

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Things We Read Today


Last year Rolling Stone published a special edition that chronicled their picks for the 100 “Greatest Beatle Songs”. I never found a copy on newsstands, but now it is available online in its entirety. Lots of interesting nuggets of info on each song. The one tidbit that I hadn’t heard before was that the Beatles wanted to record ‘Revolver‘ in Memphis to capture more of the blues sound,

[It was] the band’s idea to record Revolver in Memphis. They had long emulated the bass and drum sounds found on American soul records, so they recruited guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG’s to produce and dispatched Brian Epstein to scout potential recording locations. All the studios wanted an exorbitant fee to host the Beatles, so they ended up back at Abbey Road.

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Get Carter


Tomorrow I’m going to see John Carter, and hopefully be vindicated in my view that Disney really dropped the ball in the advertising and it really is a great movie underneath all of the lackluster trailers and posters (speaking of posters, check out my really half-assed version of a more pulp styled poster at right).

The reviews are mixed to put it mildly; some are fairly big raves, some are…not.  In any case, John Carter will have a tough time making back it’s budget + advertising costs, let alone qualify for a sequel. We’ll see how it does this weekend, although it’s not off to a great start just yet.

Speaking of profitability, A Cat Called Frank has a really great interactive chart showing just how profitable most movies of the past few years really were. Semi-Pro had a higher profit ratio than Avatar? Hmmm…

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99 Problems…

…but the GOP ain’t one?

As I was driving to work last week on my hour long commute I was listening to the Sirius XM channel “Backspin”, which for those who don’t know is a Hip Hop station. Well, really a “Rap” station. Actually, to be specific, an oldies Rap station. And I pondered that: has Rap really been around so long that it has an oldies station?!?

Well, yes. Back when I was in my formative years (the 1980s) I would often listen to the local oldies station (on AM radio!) while my friends were listening to Heavy Metal or New Wave, or yes, Rap. And it felt like that music was from a much distant time, one that had no reflection on what was happening around me. But I was seeing it strictly from the eyes of youth, where all time flow seems long and past events seem ancient. The truth is that the music being played, Rock from the 1950s and 1960s, was really only about 10-15 years old at it’s tail end. Because it hadn’t happen within my lifetime, it only seemed very old.

The same is true for Rap. To today’s kids, it probably very much sounds like oldies music. In fact, classic Rap is now edging on 40 years old, and most of the material on “Backspin” was popular between 20-30 years ago (full disclosure: I didn’t really become immersed in Hip Hop until my 30s. But my eclectic musical journey is the subject of its own future post). So if Rap/Hip Hop is hitting the big “4-o”, and we have a sitting president who is only 50 years old, is Barack Obama the first “Hip Hop President”? Now, obviously, this issue does involve his race a bit. Being the first black President makes him more likely to be the first Hip Hop President for two reasons: back then (and still true today) Hip Hop was mainly performed by black artists, and its popularity was larger in black audiences. So being black, he would more likely be on the Hip Hop train before a white person of similar age.

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Costume Or Uniform?

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Every time one of these big budget superhero movies is announced there is a process of fear that fans go through. Will it get a good director? Will they get the casting right? And what is the costume going to look like? This last bit has probably cause more anxiety and grief than any other element. Because the costume of the superhero defines them. In large part, it is what accounts for their popularity, as it is the instant visual hook that initially draws in the reader, garishly jumping out from the cover of a comic book.

It’s odd then that this is the one area where filmmakers keep getting the genre wrong. Over and over we see either wild departures from the comic look, or bad attempts to translates what works on the page into something that has no business existing in real life. And don’t get me started on Warner Bros., who can’t seem to figure out the genre at all if Christopher Nolan isn’t involved. Most of the attempts fall somewhere in between, though. The one studio that seems to have really been nailing it, though, is the one that actually owns the characters: Marvel. Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk have all been very true to the spirit of the character, if not the exact letter. And the Avengers movie looks to continue the trend, with a pretty faithful Ultimate Hawkeye outfit along with Black Widow. Except for one small thing: Captain America, the ostensible star of the picture.

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Happy Independence Day, Ya’ll!

When I was growing up I thought every state had this feeling of “state pride”, where they felt that their state was the best state. I thought everyone learned about their state’s history as mandatory classes in school. I thought most foreigners could recognize their state just by it’s outline. I thought everyone’s state was its own country at some point. You see, I grew up in Texas.

It took me quite awhile to realize what Texans take for granted is not the norm in other states. Sure, some states such as New York and California have rich, storied histories too. But I’ve found the people there tend to be more mythologizing of specific regions, such as Manhattan and Los Angeles than they are of the whole state.

Texans, on the other hand, are raised to believe that their state is the best state. The biggest state (of course, Alaska just doesn’t count).  And in fact, that it’s really its own country just borrowing space in the center of America (insert smiley here). A big part of that reason is that Texas actually was a separate country after gaining independence from Mexico, but before joining the Union. And today is Texas Independence Day, celebrating that fact.

Having lived all over, I’ve always found it fascinating how some people treat Texas (and Texans) as larger than life symbols of the legend and others have an instant disdain for those very same outsized qualities. As for myself, I love my state. It’s hard not to self-identify as a Texan, being from the heart of this great state, but even more so knowing my heritage: I’ve always know that my family was descended from the earliest settlers of San Antonio, but I didn’t find out until I was an adult that my great-great-grandfather was the last living survivor of the Battle of the Alamo. And his Uncle, José Navarro, was one of the fathers of the Texas Revolution. In recent years my parents have become very involved in preserving the legacies of this important time in our history, so my ties to the state have only become stronger as time goes by.

So all of you out there who may feel overwhelmed by the typical Texas braggadocio please let us slide just a bit as we celebrate this day that marked the birth of a new country. Yee ha!

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Just Do It.

Change is hard. This is the number one reason most people don’t accomplish what they want to accomplish: they cannot change their current state of inactivity to activity (also known as a correlation of  Newton’s First Law of Motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest). I’m here writing on this blog nearly every night to force myself to do something other than just surf the web when I should be working.

In fact, to motivate myself to do just about anything I don’t want to do, but especially exercising, I repeat a well-known mantra to get me into motion and through the task at hand: “Just do it“. To me, this is one of the most brilliant slogans ever created, and it gets to the heart of what it takes to keep moving. Whenever I want to quit on the treadmill, when I don’t want to go that extra bit past what is comfortable or easy, I say this over and over.

Just. Do. It.

It’s that simple. You will never do anything by wanting to do something. Or hoping you will do something. Or wishing someday that you will do something. You have to do it yourself. No one ever got to the top by taking the easiest path. There is no easy path anywhere but downhill.  It sounds simple and cheesy, but it’s true. Don’t let “cheesy” give you an excuse to cop out.

And one of the best explanations I’ve ever read for how and why to get what you want is this blog by Jesse Thorn, full of real world examples to go with the motivational pep talk. I know, I know, it’s long and you don’t have time to read all of it. Trust me: Just Do It. You’ll thank me later.

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Gimme an “F”…

…for “Furry Fandom”! Namely, those crazy mascots that show up as the cheese in between the meat of the sports sandwiches that we love so much. What? I wasn’t going to talk about the sports? Well, then I guess I will let Chris Jardieu do the talkin’ in his new series about all the crazy mascots you may not have heard about. Head on over to his blog, ‘This Is How We Jardieu It’, and check it out!

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Severely Arrested Development

I haven’t followed the comics industry much in the past 20 years, but I’ve stayed aware of it through my connection with toys and toy culture (much of which is based on comics). But up until I was in college, I was an avid reader and a frequent customer of many comic shops across Texas. So I understand the culture, and appreciate how much of today’s entertainment is driven by those who grew up as I did, like Joss Whedon (writer and director of this Summer’s Avengers film) and J.J. Abrams (creator of LOST, Cloverfield, Super 8, etc).   So it’s too bad for us that AMC seems bound and determined to throw away whatever good will they spent years building with prestige series such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. First came the beyond infuriating “The Killing” last year, and now they’ve unleashed a “reality” series, Comic Book Men, that has easily set back Geek Culture 20 years.

Wait, let me rephrase that: it’s set back the perception of geek culture. This is an important distinction, because for a long time being a “nerd” or “geek” meant being seen as the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, a socially awkward know-it-all who is by turns overbearing and grotesque. But over the past decade we’ve seen those proto-geeks of the 1970s and 1980s grow up to drive popular culture, and their spawn have embraced all things nerdy, from Lord of the Rings to Spider-Man, to The Big Bang Theory (the tv show, not the science phenomenon).

But AMC’s new show does a really good job of ignoring all that in favor of a truly distasteful look at a group of unlikable caricatures and stereotypes, all led by that paragon of the downtrodden, Kevin Smith. Hey, I like watching Smith perform his speaking engagements. He’s a gifted raconteur who really understands his material and sells it. But like his movies, this shows just wallows in the vulgar and is so transparently staged it is nearly unwatchable. (And not surprisingly, Smith is the best part, even if his participation on camera feels like an afterthought.)

gsi-160x250.jpgDaniel Pickett and Jason Lenzi do a really good job of explaining just why this type of thing is bad for those who actually do read comics in their latest “Geek Shall Inherit” podcast. “How much of this is even remotely real?”, says Lenzi. And it’s worth listening to for his viewpoint, as Jason has been a producer of these types of shows himself while at the same time is very much a part of the geek masses. As for me, I can only hope Comic Book Men gets cancelled quickly and AMC returns to the type of quality programming that allowed it to make such drivel in the first place.

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Revenge of the Star Wars Concepts

Jason & Chinese Engineers at the factory in Dongguan, China, 1998

Have you ever spent your life wishing for something to happen, but it seems so fanciful and out of reach that you never really believe it has a chance to come true? That was what it was like for me and Star Wars. I was one of those kids who grew up obsessed with the original trilogy, the first film having been released when I was 7, the perfect age to become immersed in this amazing new world that was like nothing I had ever seen. Since they announced there would be a new trilogy of prequels I had wanted to do something to work on these movies. But after taking a very long, circuitous route through college and emerging with few jobs prospects, I had very little hope of doing anything for a career, let alone one that would let me be involved in any way with Star Wars.

So take it on faith, dear reader, that sometimes if you wish hard enough good things will happen. Within a year of having no job and being forced to move back in with my parents at the age of 27 I was gainfully employed designing toys, something I honestly had no business being hired to do (hat tip here to my old boss, Michael Hawkins, who was amazing at spotting talent. He put together the most creative group I have ever worked with, none of us having prior experience). Within a year of starting that job I was designing promotional merchandise for Star Wars: Episode One, as it was known then.

I remember telling my CEO there were only two things I wanted to do: go to Skywalker Ranch and see the manufacturing process in person in China. And this is the part about being careful what you wish for… I not only went to Skywalker Ranch multiple times, and was able to present my work to Lucasfilm in person, but I ended up embedded at the factory in China for many months, teaching the craftsmen at the factory how to paint thousands of Yodas and Jar Jars.

Anyway, this long preamble is just to give context to my latest article in a series highlighting all the wonderful concepts that were never made that my co-workers and I designed for The Phantom Menace, back in 1998. Go check it out on Action Figure Insider. There’s a link to part one in that article, too. The images below are just a sample of everything we did.

Posted in Collecting, Design, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Star Wars, Tomfoolery, Toys | Tagged | Leave a comment

I wonder what they think about this in North Korea?

Mad props to whomever came up with the cover headline for this week’s issue of Time magazine, nicknaming new NK leader Kim Jong Un “L’il Kim”. I wonder if this makes Kim Jong Il “Biggie”?

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Mars Needs Marketers

Move your mouse over me

“You take out ‘of Mars,’ you don’t tell where he came from? That’s what makes it unique!” a former Disney executive said. “They choose to ignore that, and the whole campaign ends up meaning nothing. It’s boiled down to something no one wants to see. - ‘John Carter’: Disney’s Quarter-Billion-Dollar Movie Fiasco”

So in a couple of weeks we’re going to see the long awaited (and I mean long awaited!) debut of both the first big-screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” books, and the first live-action film from noted Pixar director Andrew Stanton. Sadly, most of the people who might be the target audience for this film probably have zero awareness of either of those two facts. And that is unfortunately only a very small part of the utter failure of Disney to market this movie.

But before I talk about the marketing muddle, first I need to address a few issues with the movie itself that did the marketing team no favors in my eyes. Let me preface all of this by saying that I haven’t seen any of the film past the trailers and featurettes released, and that I’m assuming that it is a good solid film based on Stanton’s track record. Word trickling out so far has been good to great, from the journalists who have seen it so far. I’m not really a fan of the character, having never read any of the books. However, it has permeated pop culture enough that I am fairly aware of the popular image of John Carter & co. And although Taylor Kitsch may be a great actor, he just doesn’t seem right for the part of a Civil War veteran described as being a 6’2″, steel-eyed, clean shaven, man in his 30s. Kitsch is just too “current”, he seems every bit a boyish young man of the 21st century. This part needs a Sean Connery, a Harrison Ford, a Gregory Peck. A “man”. And a man who not only has a steely resolve, but a sense of humor. A swashbuckler. That is not Kitsch.

Star crossed lovers, or soap stars?

His female counterpart, Dejah Thoris, needs to be the opposite. Tough, but sensuous. Voluptuous. Striking. I’ve heard good things about Lynn Collins’ performance, but like Kitsch she seems eminently forgettable. Good casting for Dejah would have been Angelina Jolie, circa 2003. Not because Jolie is necessarily perfect for the role, but that combination of allure and otherworldlyness that she exuded is what the role needs. Both parts should be an alpha male and an alpha female. But we didn’t get that, regrettably. How Disney bankrolled such a huge budget with no stars is puzzling, but maybe they expected the same luck they had with Pirates of the Caribbean to strike again.

The other thing that really bugs me are the design choices for nearly everything. Stanton seems to have fallen into that very modern trap of needed to make everything in the film “real” and grounded in some sort of explainable reality. So the Tharks (four-armed green men) are equated to the think, sinewy Masai warriors, both being desert cultures. And the Martian landscape itself is a slightly modified version of Utah’s Monument Valley, with no red vistas to be found. Since Burroughs described Dejah’s people as “red-skinned”, and they found that actually coloring the skin looked problematic, Stanton chose to cover them in red tattoos to explain away the reference (which is odd that he picked that to be so literal about, but ignore the descriptions of Tharks or John Carter himself).

The creature design falls prey to nearly all creature design cliches that we’ve seen since the advent of CGI; either animals that are made to look as if they could actually exist, or ones so fantastic that they couldn’t be made without CGI (see nearly everything ever designed by Neville Page). Hey, even the Star Wars prequels fell into this trap. As a kid I was fascinated by the Tauntauns and dewbacks, and Wampas and Rancors of the original trilogy. I don’t think there is a single creature in the prequels that inspires any love (much less countless toys). I look at the banner on top of this article and at first glance it looks like a guy riding an elephant, with a giant frog next to him. You can barely tell the middle figure is an alien, and almost assuredly can’t tell it has four arms. And the “hot chick” is so far back she may as well be just another guy. With the uninspired costumes, creatures, and landscapes, this may as well be Prince of Persia 2 instead of a timeless space fantasy.

And that right there nails what this movie is not being promoted as, but should be: space fantasy. It is NOT science fiction…but the marketing team seems to think it is. The books that the film is based on were written 100 years ago, literally! Countless movies have stolen generously from them, and audiences have seen these concepts many times before. So even though the stories may be somewhat well known to a small readership, the general public has no idea who these characters are, what they should look like, and the context of what was “fantastic” in 1912. Why on Earth would anyone try and make this thing “realistic”?!? Why wouldn’t you reimagine those parts that were stolen and give us a version we aren’t expecting? Tarzan has never been faithful to those (outdated) stories, so why does this need to be? Before I go into the terrible promotion of John Carter, just move your mouse over that top banner. That’s the difference of how the publisher sold the books (with seminal art by Frank Frazetta) vs how Disney is selling the movie.

The biggest marketing sin is right up front: nothing about the marketing materials (posters, trailers, title) tells you ANYTHING about this movie, other than it’s some kind of science fiction film. It doesn’t tell you it’s from the visionary directory of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, it doesn’t tell you it’s based on the groundbreaking, influential books by the creator of Tarzan. It doesn’t scream Romance! Action! Adventure! No, instead they dropped all mention of Mars from the title in favor of the lead character’s boring name. I can’t imagine being excited as an eight year old wanted to see a movie called “Luke Skywalker”. But the name thing has been hashed over enough. I’ll just say that when everybody’s first reaction to hearing the new title is some form of rebellion, it should be evident that you’ve made a mistake. As I pointed out above, the posters leave much to be desired: no custom logo for the movie, just an average looking typeface (but one that would be dead on for a cerebral sci-fi film). Horribly desaturated color palette. The lead character is tiny (this is almost worse on another big piece where Carter is upstaged by two uninspired ape/mole creatures on the set of Attack of the Clones) and bored looking. It’s sad when the two best pieces of promotion are a poster made by a niche company for a midnight giveaway and a fan made trailer that is 50 times better than any “official” one put together by Disney.

It’s funny that every film like this aspires to be Star Wars (especially in the eyes of the studio execs and accountants) but no one looks to the lessons of Star Wars when they are making these films. Star Wars (and I’m talking Episode 4: A New Hope, here, not the prequels) was a fantasy film through and through. There was no explaining how so many aliens could exist, or how they knew English, or how the space ships worked…they all just did. And the designs were iconic, with attention paid more for impact and “cool factor” than how “real” they might seem. The casting was either mainly unknowns who totally embodied the roles, or gifted veterans to lend gravitas. And every set piece was fantastic in the truest sense of the word. Nothing about Star Wars felt pedestrian. It felt earnest, and exciting, but every where you looked was something you had never seen before. Hey, Disney: I’ve seen Utah.

No, the lesson filmmakers take away is that George made everything worn and rusty as if it existed in a “found universe”. Which was a brilliant conceit on his part to ground the fantasy. It was not the ends in itself. George also understood how to sell his movie to the public, as a space serial. As wonder. As “fun”. Look at the original Star Wars posters, and you can see where George understood the power in those Frazetta illustrations. And why is this movie rated PG-13? It has DISNEY on the title! From on of the founders of Pixar! People tend to overlook something else that made Star Wars a massive hit. It was a movie for kids. Kids who turned out in droves, and brought the family along. Kids who grew up spending money on Star Wars and buying, buying, buying Star Wars toys. And boy, George knew how to sell toys. Lots and lots of toys. And I keep seeing reference to Disney making John Carter in the first place to be a licensing powerhouse tentpole for the studio. Except…where are the toys?

In fact, where is any John Carter merchandise? See, the movie opens in a few weeks and the industry rule of thumb is that most movie-based toy lines will have made 60% of their sales before the movie opens. Heck, Avengers doesn’t open until the Summer and those toys are currently on shelves everywhere. But nothing for John Carter. At all. This, I just can’t understand. Sure, sure, I get that Disney may be gun shy after the debacle of Prince of Persia, a movie that sold few tickets and almost no toys. And that was followed by an even bigger failure in their eyes, Tron:Legacy. It bombed with most audiences, and the toys were lackluster peg warmers that didn’t even make it to the planned second series. Why would Disney take another chance on these toys just sitting around?

Well, maybe because this movie is supposed to be Disney’s “Star Wars”! The stories that set the mold. And it has no toys. How are kids going to get excited about a movie that gives them no ownership after they leave the theater? What plants the idea of John Carter and his amazing world in their heads to drag Mom & Dad to opening day? How are they going to beg to go back for a second showing without having spent their afternoons playing “John Carter” with their action figures with little Ricky down the street? Well, they’re not. You know why? Because thanks to Star Wars, every license is a blockbuster waiting to happen in the eyes of the studio. George Lucas famously gave up an increase in his fee in exchange for the merchandising rights to Star Wars. No studio exec will ever let the possibility of giving away the golden goose happen again, for fear of their job.

So the licensing fees for a potential tentpole film are astronomical. If the budget is huge then it goes up even more. And when toy manufacturers, themselves burned by all the Trons and Prince of Persias and Terminator:Salvations don’t want to risk that much money on what may seem to be an iffy prospect, the studio opts for no toys to be made rather than lower their price. You know what? To sell this movie they should have given away the rights for next to nothing. They should have held back Pixar toys as a package deal with John Carter. They should have paid their existing partners to crank out John Carter toys to stand as free advertising in every toy store, Walmart, and Target months before the movie came out. But now it’s too late. I truly hope in spite of all of this that John Carter is a big hit. That Andrew Stanton hits it out of the park. That it becomes something more than a one-off, destined to be a cult favorite one day. But I remember another film based on a pulp hero that Disney mismarketed and had no toys. And I know the Rocketeer had no sequels, either.

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