9 Apr 2012, 8:05am
reading The outside world:
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John Carter of China

So, Forbes is reporting that JOHN CARTER has earned back its budget overseas, partly by topping the box office for two weeks in a row in China.

Of course, there’s still the marketing budget, but never mind about that. DVD preorders are strong and I like to imagine that quality will out.

But this does give me an excuse to revisit the film, just a little, in a way I couldn’t before.

After seeing it a few times, I think I might have worked out one of the reasons people didn’t go for it in large numbers. The ending. [Spoilers, obvs] In most movies, the big fight scene/marriage would be the end of the film. It feels like an ending.

Then you cut to Dejah waking alone in bed, and Carter walking around the tower deciding to throw away his amulet (wouldn’t it have been nice to take Dejah to Jasoom at some point to see the sailing ships, assuming she could survive in Earth’s gravity?).

Then he’s back on Earth, and we return to the journal and ERB, and…

Okay, here’s where I make a confession: One of the tropes I completely fucking hate to see in a book or movie is “Death will reunite you with the ones you love the most.” I seriously hate it, because to me it seems to be objectively pro-suicide.

There was a novel–I thought it was written by Dan Simmons but a scan of his bibliography doesn’t show anything familiar–that ended that way. His family died at the start, he traveled around like Kwai Chang Caine until he finally jumps off a bridge and is reunited with his loved ones. God, how I hated that ending! I hated it so much that I felt queasy at the finale of GLADIATOR.

But the ending of JOHN CARTER is pretty similar: the protagonist happily walks into his own tomb and shuts the door, then lies back with the lilies around him. He smiles speaks the words that take him out of the this world and into the one he calls home.

And as much as I love this ending, I think it’s the reason people were soft on the movie. Lawrence Block tells the story of a time he sat on a plane while the man beside him watched the movie BURGLAR, which is based on one of Block’s novels. As he tells it, the man was engaged throughout, laughing often. When the film ended, Block asked him: “What did you think of the movie?”

The reply: “It was okay.”

Block believes it was because the ending was soft. The guy enjoyed the whole thing, but it didn’t have a strong ending so his last experience of it was a let down. And what about the people who see JOHN CARTER, expecting a typical action movie denouement? So many folks complained about the nested flashbacks (always with the tone of “Some other people might find this troubling, but not me) that I think the real source of the objection is that ending, where things feel like they’ve been wrapped up, but there’s a whole frame scene story that everyone’s forgotten about.

Did I mention that I love the way it ends? I love fantasy novels and movies. I love adventure stories. And the end of the movie seems so like the way I enter into a fictional world that it felt like falling into a story all over again. Very powerful. Yeah, the movie is flawed, but for me that ending was quite strong.

And now I’ll stop writing about this movie for a while.

 
  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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