Went to see the movie John Carter Saturday with my good buddy, Jay Lake. I loved the movie. I’ve read some reviews where people were disappointed, but that’s okay. I don’t go to the movies to look for critical approval or even correct grammar. I go to the movies to be entertained. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Star Wars or anything, but I found echoes there. I doubt a generation of new science fiction fans will count this movie as a life changing event. But I think it is a damn fine way to spend a couple of hours.
What I don’t understand is why this huge pulp/space-opera is doing so poorly at the box office. Some folks have mentioned a rather odd and awkward ad campaign, which I can sort of agree with. Some blame it on Disney, and others seem to be apologetic for the fact it’s a huge, pulp/space-opera.
I find this amusing. It’s got action, it’s got adventure and it’s got romance. what more could you want? We go to movies to be entertained, do we not? I’m not in college anymore where I need to write a critical analysis and earn a grade. My goal is to settle into a comfy seat, hunker down in the dark and let my mind be taken over by an amazing story. John Carter did that for me.
When I was in the third grade my grandmother handed me the entire Burroughs John Carter of Mars series and promised me that it would change my life.
And she was correct. I devoured those books, learning that sleep is for sissies when you have a great book to read.
I knew they had flaws, even at a young age, but I fell in love with the characters, the adventure and the story. That’s what I’m in it for.
So when I watched John Carter I went in with the expectation of being entertained, wowed by the special affects and stunned by the beauty playing Dejah Thoris.
Afterwards I got to thinking about the value of success and critical acclaim. As an author, I want nothing more than to connect with readers and sell a lot of books, maybe get a movie deal somewhere and become a full-time writer without losing my house or family along the way.
I find the movie John Carter to be an excellent metaphor here. I loved the movie, others didn’t. The sales are not what the studio or the media pundits thought was good enough for the blockbuster budget this film had. But I know several people who have already seen this movie in the theaters two or more times. I plan to go see it again, paying the stupid price for the 3D and loving every minute of it.
I’ve seen many reviews that talk about how this movie was true to the books, and true to the Edgar Rice Burroughs vision of the characters, the world and the story.
So is it a success or not? I’m sure the film-maker is delighted with his product and perplexed why it isn’t being received better. And here is a very important lesson for authors. We cannot control what the audience does. We cannot control sales, marketing and most of us don’t get a vote on the cover art of our novels. We may truly love the work we’ve produced, have good art, great editorial support and still the books are not overnight sensations.
Hunger Games is in the theaters now. I’m sure it is going to break some records, earn some amazing box office numbers — similar to Harry Potter before it. But we can’t all get struck by lightning. We don’t all get to ride at the head of the parade with the prom queen and smile while adoring fans throw roses.
What we get to do is produce another work that shows our obvious love for what we do. Then we can send it out into the world and hope that there will be people who will fall in love with those things we love.
I’ll buy John Carter on Blue Ray when it comes out. I’ll also go back and buy another set of the Mars books to read again. I’ll always love those stories as they formed the foundation of my own journey into becoming an author.
But when I start to worry about whether or not my books are selling well enough, or see a review by someone who didn’t care for my style, I’ll look back on the movie John Carter and remember that we don’t always love the same things. Nor do we always meet the expectations of others. In the end, we have to entertain ourselves, pour our heart and souls into our work, and trust that someday we’ll reach a reader and change their lives the way Mr. Burroughs changed mine.
Besides, what do critics know?