Life Lessons from John Carter – an Ebullient Movie Review

I watched John Carter a couple weeks ago with my buddies Chris, Cary, Josh, Brazle, and Tres.  We invited Kris, but he declined (he was the smart one).  I was wary of seeing the movie when I first started seeing previews, but after a few more previews I got interested in the cool CGI and interesting premise. Then, the night of the movie, we all talked about “hearing good things about the movie”, and my pre-viewing research showed the movie to have a decent user rating on imdb.  So I decided to go, and not reluctantly either (as would be normal for a January-April movie), but rather hopefully, hoping for a good movie experience.  After seeing the movie….its decidedly middle-of-the-road.  It does have a pretty good premise, but the idea is buried beneath lazy storytelling, bad acting, and less than stellar editing. Though it isn’t any worse than any other crummy January-April “throwaway” flick, the fact that it never really delivers after I had gotten my hopes up has left a particularly sour taste in my mouth.

Maybe it is my fault for having unfair expectations – I took the “good things” I heard too seriously, and I allowed the imdb score to color my hopes too much.  Perhaps if I hadn’t approached the movie with high expectations, it would not have disappointed me.  But, that’s not what happened.  I did the right things in deciding to see the movie (weighed the preview, bounced it off friends and checking “reputable” review sites), and I still got burned.  At this point, I’ve seen three movies this year (‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘, ‘The Grey‘, and ‘John Carter’) that featured really cool previews and good review scores but that proved to be not-so-great feature-length experiences.  Here’s the two major lessons learned: don’t trust previews too much and don’t trust review scores too much; .

1. Regarding previews: it seems like studios and directors are becoming increasingly skilled at building compelling previews while simultaneously becoming less skilled at releasing decent films.  And really, that is a reflection on how our society, in many peoples’ minds, is transforming into, for lack of a better term, an impatient and attention-deficit one.  We see something, we make the snap judgement of approval or disapproval, and then we live out the consequences.  Thankfully, the short-term consequence of seeing a bad movie is just $8-10 (or $14 in this case as I watched John Carter in IMAX), but $8-10 is $8-10 less to spend on something we know is worth it.  Studios understand viewer trends and profiles, and they know that if they can craft just the right preview, they can get a few more bucks than they might otherwise.

2. Regarding reviews: I mean, what the heck?  Why does an obviously crummy movie have a 7.0 on imdb??  The lesson here is, don’t trust reviews, whether they be viewer or critic reviews.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has a GREAT Rotten Tomato score and stinks; John Carter has a good imdb score and stinks.  Reviews are not what they once were.  It has to do with the instantaneous nature of sharing our opinions that we enjoy these days.  Even five years ago, the only people who left reviews were the diehards, the ones who took their reviews seriously enough to wade through the then-cumbersome review process, so they seemed to make their time worth it with more “spot-on” reviews.  Now, its easier than ever for people to leave their opinions for the public to see, so more people are leaving their thoughts than ever before.  This is not necessarily a good thing.  Its like people voting when they only have a surface-level ideas as to what the candidates stand for. Proceed with caution. (As for why critics loved TTSS – its beyond me. That movie is terrible.)

So there you go.  Beware good previews and reviews.  Here’s two more quick lessons learned:

3. Its still a good idea to talk to people about the movie to try to get a more concrete idea as to whether you will like it before shelling out $10.  The one thing to watch for, though, is hearing people say “I’ve heard good things” which is often code for “I read a review and the hyperbole got me fired up”.  This is NOT the same as hearing from someone who actually watched the movie.  While you’re at it, try to get some comparisons so you can decide if you think you’ll like it or not.  Now, if you decide to throw caution to the wind and watch a movie-that-could-be-terrible without following my amazing advice, then here’s the fourth lesson:

4. Keep expectations realistic so that you can be pleasantly surprised or at least pleasantly neutral.

NOTE: I can’t wait for some awesome movies to come out.

Grant Stevens is a freelance writer who threatens to win the Pulizter with every article he writes. He often writes his blog entries too late at night, and, as a result, he often ends with rambling autobiographies that can sometimes contain a smidge of hyperbole.  He is an avid advocate for the correct usage of the word “ironic” in addition to being a great big Houston Rockets/Oklahoma City Thunder fan.

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