Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. THE JOHN CARTER SCRIPT

THREE PROLOGUES?!

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. THE JOHN CARTER SCRIPT

JOHN CARTER "FAILED."

... SO WHAT?

FAILURE CAN BE A STRANGELY MEANINGLESS THING. THERE HAVE BEEN PLENTY OF GOOD MOVIES THAT HAVE FAILED AND PLENTY OF BAD MOVIES THAT HAVE SUCCEEDED. THE ONLY THINGS THAT CAN REVEAL A MOVIE'S TRUE RELATIVE "WORTH" ARE TIME AND RESONANCE. BUT SADLY, THAT RARELY STOPS US FROM WRITING THE WHOLE STORY OF A FILM'S FAILURE OR SUCCESS AFTER A SINGLE WEEKEND OF BOX OFFICE.

HULK PRETTY SURE WE COULD ALL LOOK AT JOHN CARTER'S FINANCIAL OUTCOME AND DISCUSS WHAT BROUGHT IT ON. MOST OF OUR ANSWERS WOULD BE THOSE FILM BUSINESS-Y CONCERNS: THE SCHIZOPHRENIC ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN, THE WEIRD COMBINATION OF RELEASE DATE, QUESTIONABLE STAR POWER AND SOME CENTRAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FILM'S IDENTITY. BUT DELVING INTO THOSE ISSUES DOESN'T HELP YOU MAKE A BETTER PRODUCT. THOSE ISSUES ONLY HELP YOU BETTER SELL A PRODUCT. AND IF THERE'S BEEN ANY RUNNING THEME TO ALL THESE HULK ESSAYS, IT'S BEEN THAT HULK IS PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH MAKING MOVIES - I.E. THE PRODUCTS THEMSELVES - BETTER.

PLEASE KNOW THAT HULK TOTALLY UNDERSTANDS THIS ISN'T SOME REVELATORY OPINION OR ANYTHING, BUT JUST A MERE CASE OF RESTATING WHAT'S IMPORTANT. ALSO, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS POSITION IS NOT SOME ATTEMPT TO UNDERMINE MOVIES AS LEGITIMATE COMMERCE, NOR UNDERMINE THE WORK OF EXPERTS AND PEOPLE WHOSE JOB IT IS TO ENSURE THAT MOVIES DO WELL FINANCIALLY, NOR UNDERMINE THE WORK OF THOSE WHO ARE MEANT TO PROGNOSTICATE THE BUSINESS OF CINEMA ITSELF. IT'S JUST THAT ALL OF THOSE ELEMENTS OFTEN HAVE VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH WHETHER OR NOT THE FILM ACTUALLY WORKS.

SO THAT'S THE REAL QUESTION: OUTSIDE OF THE REALM OF MERE BUSINESS CONCERNS, DID JOHN CARTER ACTUALLY "WORK" AS A MOVIE?

... NAH. NOT REALLY.

... HONESTLY, HULK THINKS IT WORKED PRETTY BADLY.

BUT LET'S GO BEYOND HULK'S MERE OPINION, AND TURN TO  THE 51% SCORE ON ROTTEN TOMATOES AS SOME SORT OF LARGER EVIDENCE. NOW, THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY THAT GETTING A HIGH ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE IS THE LONE INDICATOR OF TASTE AND VALUE. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST. IN FACT, SOME OF HULK'S FAVORITE MOVIES HAVE GOTTEN LOW SCORES, USUALLY BECAUSE THEY WERE INTENDED FOR A... UM... LET'S CALL IT A MORE NARROW AUDIENCE. BUT WHAT A ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE USUALLY TENDS TO BE A GOOD BAROMETER OF IS A FILM'S "WIDE-RANGING LIKABILITY." WHICH IN TURN MAKES IT A PRETTY DECENT BAROMETER FOR HOW THE LARGER PUBLIC RESPONDS TO BOTH FAMILY FILMS AND PG-13 BLOCKBUSTERS. WHICH, LEST WE FORGET, ARE THE FILMS THAT ARE DESIGNED TO BE ACCESSIBLE TO MOST PEOPLE. SO WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE 51% NUMBER IN THAT VERY SPECIFIC WAY, IT BECOMES SAFE TO SAY JOHN CARTER FAILED TO CONNECT WITH A LARGE PORTION OF ITS INTENDED AUDIENCE.

SO NOW THE QUESTION IS WHY?

WHAT MAKES JOHN CARTER SO UNIQUE IS THAT IT IS THE RARE BLOCKBUSTER WHOSE STORYTELLING FAILURES ARE NOT THE RESULT OF LACK OF EFFORT, INTELLIGENCE OR CARE. IN FACT, THE FILMMAKERS, WRITERS, ACTORS AND PRODUCTION TEAM ARE MADE UP OF A GROUP OF FOLKS THAT HULK VERY MUCH ADMIRE. AND YOU CAN TELL THAT ALL OF THEM ARE PRETTY MUCH DOING THEIR DAMNEDEST TO MAKE THE FILM WORK (WHICH SORT OF ENDS UP BEING A PART OF THE PROBLEM, WHICH HULK'LL GET TO IN A MINUTE). BUT IN TRUE ACHILLEAN FASHION, THE FILM HAS ONE SINGULAR FLAW WITH THEIR STORYTELLING APPROACH, WHICH GOES ON TO UNDERMINE EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THE FILM.

Wait... Storytelling approach? You're seriously going to go there, Hulk? Aren't the film's screenwriters Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Fucking Chabon? A group of talented and smart people who have accomplished more than you could ever imagine? Who seem like the kind of people who clearly understand how story and character motivation work?

HULK WOULD ANSWER YES, THEY TOTALLY UNDERSTAND HOW STORY WORKS.

... THEY JUST DON'T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND HOW DRAMA WORKS.

AND THERE'S A BIG FREAKIN' DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO.

***

LET HULK TAKE AN ASIDE FOR A MOMENT AND JUST RESTATE THAT IT IS A HIGHLY ASSUMPTIVE THING TO DO TO, PASSING JUDGMENT ON A SCRIPT. FOR ONE, IT WIDELY ASSUMES THAT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FINAL FILM'S STORY PROBLEMS  BELONG SOLELY TO THE WRITERS, WHICH MAY NOT BE TRUE AT ALL. SO MANY THINGS COULD HAVE CHANGED DURING DEVELOPMENT, PRODUCTION AND POST THAT MAY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THOSE FINE FOLKS WHO PUT PEN TO PAPER ALL THOSE MONTHS/YEARS AGO.

TWO, IT PRESUPPOSES THE PERSON PASSING JUDGMENT IS THE SUPERIOR INTELLECTUAL AND STORYTELLER, A PROVERBIAL VOICE OF REASON IN THE MADNESS (WHICH CERTAINLY ISN'T THE CASE. WELL...USUALLY).

THREE, IT SUGGESTS THE FILMMAKERS HAVE NOT PUT FORTH ENOUGH TIME, THOUGHT AND CONSIDERATION INTO WHAT THEY WERE DOING, WHEN REALLY THEY ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE PUT MORE OF THOSE THINGS INTO THE SCRIPT THAN ANYONE ON THE PLANET.

AND FOUR, USUALLY THE WRITERS AND FILMMAKERS ARE THE ONES WHO ARE MOST PAINFULLY AWARE OF THE FILMS FAILINGS, AND THEY SIMPLY DO NOT HAVE ANY PRACTICAL WAY TO FIX IT. THIS IS A SIMPLE REALITY OF FILMMAKING.

THUS, WITH THESE FOUR CONSIDERATIONS, HULK KNOW THAT PASSING JUDGMENT ON A SCRIPT IS AN ASSUMPTIVE AND SOMEWHAT MEAN THING TO DO. AND FOR THAT, HULK APOLOGIZE.

BUT IF THERE'S ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR THIS, IT'S THAT HULK THINKS THIS COLUMN IS GOING BEYOND MERE JUDGMENT AND INTO THE REALM OF ACTUAL ADVICE FOR THE READER... WHICH IS ALSO ITS OWN KIND OF PRESUMPTION (THAT PROBABLY DESERVES ITS OWN KIND OF APOLOGY TOO), BUT THIS IS ALSO "WHAT HULK DO" SO TO SPEAK, SO HOPEFULLY HULK CAN ARTICULATE SOME INPUT BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE, ESPECIALLY NOW THAT THE FILM HAS BEEN RELEASED FOR A FEW WEEKS AND YOU'VE HAD A CHANCE TO SEE IT. AND EVEN BEYOND THAT, HULK IS NOT APPROACHING THIS COLUMN FROM THE STANCE OF "LET'S CRAP ON THIS MOVIE," BUT INSTEAD LOOKING AT IT AS A GENUINE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY GOING FORWARD.

BECAUSE IN ALL HONESTY, THIS FILM REALLY PROVIDES SO MANY WONDERFUL CHANCES TO TALK ABOUT THE ART OF STORYTELLING AND PROVIDES CONCRETE EXAMPLES OF HOW GOOD INTENTIONS CAN GO AWRY WITH THE WRONG DECISIONS.

***

BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND.

SINCE THE FILMMAKERS CARED SO DEEPLY ABOUT THE FILM "WORKING" ON THE STORY LEVEL, THEY ALSO MAKE THE MISTAKE OF GOING OVERBOARD IN TRYING TO FIX WHATEVER STORY PROBLEMS THEY PRESUME EXIST. WHICH TURNS JOHN CARTER INTO A TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE OF A FILM THAT FEELS LIKE IT HAS BEEN "NOTED TO DEATH."  IT'S THE KIND OF THING YOU CAN HONESTLY TELL IF YOU'VE SEEN THE PROCESS IN ACTION ENOUGH TIMES. IT FEELS LIKE AT EVERY MOMENT THERE WAS SOMEONE STANDING OVER THE FILMMAKERS' SHOULDERS GOING "Now why are they doing that right now? We should tell the audience why!" AND THE FILM RESPONDS ACCORDINGLY. NOW, THIS ISN'T TO LAY BLAME WITH THE STUDIO HEADS OR ANYTHING. IT COULD HAVE BEEN ANYONE ON THE PRODUCTION. IT EVEN COULD HAVE BEEN STANTON HIMSELF (THIS NEW YORKER ARTICLE MAY EVEN SUPPORT THAT THEORY).

BUT IN THE FILM'S EFFORT TO "MAKE EVERYTHING WORK" THEY TRY TO FILL OUT EVERY. SINGLE. TINY. STORY BEAT. IN. THE. ENTIRE. FILM. AND IT CLUTTERS THE FUCK OUT OF IT. JOHN CARTER IS CONSTANTLY TELLING US ALL THE REASONS FOR US TO CARE. ABOUT JOHN. ABOUT TARKAS. ABOUT THE PRINCESS. ABOUT BARSOOM. BUT THE BIG PROBLEM IS THAT IT WAITS TO TELL US TO CARE AS THE CONFLICT IS HAPPENING. YOU KNOW, SO WE CAN MAKE THE OBVIOUS CONNECTION AS TO WHY EVERYONE IS DOING WHAT THEY'RE DOING. TO RESTATE: THE FILM NEVER LETS US FIND THE CONNECTIONS OURSELVES, BUT FORCES THEM ON US AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE. THE RESULT IS A FILM THAT HAS LITTLE TO NO FAITH IN THE AUDIENCE'S CARRYING THE DRAMATIC THROUGH-LINE.

PUT SIMPLY INTO A PSYCHOLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS, THE FILM HAS TRUST ISSUES.

AND WHEN A FILM HAS TRUST ISSUES, YOU END UP GETTING A GOOD DEAL OF WHAT WE CALL "STORYTELLING ON THE FLY."

ALL THIS MEANS IS THAT WHEN THE FILM/CHARACTER IS ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING, IT/THEY BASICALLY STOPS WHAT THEY'RE DOING AND EXPLAINS WHY THEY'RE DOING IT. THIS HAPPENS CONSTANTLY IN JOHN CARTER. JUST AS A CHARACTER IS ABOUT TO ACT, WE'LL BE TOLD SOME NEW INFORMATION AS AN ATTEMPT TO GIVE IT MORE RESONANCE. TO DRAW CONNECTIONS. TO HAVE IT ALL MAKE PERFECT SENSE.

TAKE THE REVEAL OF SOLA BEING TARS TARKAS' DAUGHTER, WHICH IS BASICALLY REVEALED THE VERY MOMENT BEFORE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP AND RIGHT BEFORE THEY HAVE A PAINFUL GOODBYE. THE FILM CONSTANTLY STAGES REVEALS WHERE WE'LL BE PROVIDED WITH SOME EMOTIONAL FLASHBACK THAT FINALLY GIVES US THE CHARACTER MOTIVATION, ONLY IT WILL BE HAPPENING AT THE SAME EXACT TIME WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE CARING ABOUT THAT VERY THING. THE BEST EXAMPLE OF THIS IS WHEN WE FINALLY GET TO THE REVEAL OF WHAT HAPPENED TO CARTER'S FAMILY... ONLY IT COMES RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A BIG, VIOLENT FIGHT WITH SOME WEIRD ANIMALS FOR SOME REASON. SOMEONE ONLINE (HULK LOOKED AND LOOKED AND CAN'T FIND WHO SO PLEASE PIPE UP IF IT WAS YOU) CALLED THE FILM "RUSHED AND STALLED ALL AT ONCE" AND HULK THOUGHT THAT A VERY GOOD WAY OF EXPLAINING THE SENSATION OF WATCHING ANY FILM THAT OVER-RELIES ON "STORYTELLING ON THE FLY."

WHICH AGAIN, IS NOT TO SAY THAT THE WRITERS MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF STORYTELLING. TECHNICALLY, THEY'RE DOING EVERYTHING "RIGHT" WHEN IT COMES TO THE STORY LOGIC. THEY'RE ESTABLISHING MOTIVATION, DRAWING CONNECTIONS, ADDRESSING NARRATIVE PROBLEMS AND MAKING THE CHARACTER'S ACTIONS PERFECTLY REASONABLE. A STORY IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE COHESIVE AND CLEAR AND THEY REALLY GO FOR IT BECAUSE, AGAIN, THESE GUYS KNOW STORYTELLING.

SO WHY THE HELL DO ALL THESE "CORRECT" STORYTELLING METHODS HAVE LITTLE TO NO EFFECT ON THE VIEWER? WHY DOES THE FILM SIT THERE AND FEEL INEFFECTUAL BEYOND THE "RUSHED AND STALLED ALL AT ONCE?" WHY DOESN'T THE FILM ACTUALLY RESONATE AND INVOLVE US?

BECAUSE "STORYTELLING ON THE FLY" IS A COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDING OF SOME OF THE CORE PRINCIPALS OF DRAMA.

PART 1 - DRAMA

DRAMA MUST NOT BE TOLD; DRAMA MUST BE EXPERIENCED. A DRAMATIST ACHIEVES THIS BY FAMILIARIZING THE AUDIENCE WITH BOTH EMOTIONS AND STAKES BEFORE THE DECIDING ACTION TAKES PLACE. WHY IS IT HARD FOR THE CHARACTER OF JOHN CARTER TO TRUST AND FALL IN LOVE? WHY IS IT HARD FOR TARK TARKAS TO PUNISH SOLA? THE RULES OF TRADITIONAL DRAMA SAY TO GIVE US THE UNDERSTANDING FIRST. A REASON TO CARE ABOUT PEOPLE SO WHEN THE STAKES ARE RAISED AND THE DANGER THREATENS THOSE PEOPLE WE WILL THEREFORE RALLY BEHIND THEM BECAUSE WE ARE ALREADY INVESTED IN THEM. WHEN WE UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR EXACT MOTIVATIONS, WE WILL LATER WILL THEM INTO ACTION.(1) BUT WE REALLY, REALLY NEED TIME TO PROCESS IT FIRST.

INSTEAD, JOHN CARTER FOR SOME REASON TRIES TO MAKE ALL ITS BIG EMOTIONAL MOMENTS "RESONATE" BY DROPPING DIALOGUE OR VISUAL EXPOSITION THAT WE REALLY COULD HAVE USED MUCH, MUCH EARLIER.

TO PROVE THE UTTER POWER OF THE CONVENTIONAL DRAMA, LET'S GO BACK TO AN EARLIER WORK BY ANDREW STANTON HIMSELF, THE WONDERFUL FILM FINDING NEMO. THE FILM OPENS WITH A SCENE OF OUR MAIN CHARACTER MARLIN AND HIS WIFE BEING LOVING WITH EACH OTHER, AS THEY DISCUSS WHAT TO NAME THEIR HUNDREDS OF PROSPECTIVE CHILDREN (WHO ARE NOW JUST A BUNCH OF EGGS RESTING BELOW THEM). AND THEN SUDDENLY THEY'RE ATTACKED BY A PREDATOR FISH. MARLIN'S WIFE IS KILLED AND THE EGGS ARE ALL EATEN. ALL EXCEPT FOR ONE TINY, SMALL EGG, WHO GOES ON TO BECOME HIS ONLY SON NEMO. THE SEQUENCE IS DRAMATIC. SCARY. AND DEEPLY AFFECTING. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, FROM THIS POINT ON,WE UNDERSTAND ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ABOUT MARLIN AND HIS MOTIVATIONS. THUS, BOTH HIS SENSE OF LOSS AND OVER-PROTECTIVENESS GO FROM BEING SOMETHING THAT COULD BE CONSTRUED AS ANNOYING, TO SOMETHING TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE AND EARNEST. EVEN IN THE MOMENTS WHERE HE CLEARLY GOES TOO FAR, WE STILL UNDERSTAND HIS DISPOSITION AS RECOGNIZABLY HUMAN.

THIS IS THE IMPACT OF CONVENTIONAL DRAMA. FROM THE VERY ONSET, WE UNDERSTAND, EMPATHIZE AND RELATE, AND THUS WE ARE INVESTED AND FEEL THE GENUINE STAKES OF OUR CONFLICT.(2)

NOW, IMAGINE IF FINDING NEMO HAD DECIDED TO HOLD THAT ATTACK SCENE UNTIL A MUCH LATER POINT IN THE FILM. IS HULK CRAZY OR WOULDN'T THAT BE A WASTE? SURE, THE REVEAL MIGHT BE TOUCHING IF IT WAS HANDLED PROPERLY, BUT WOULDN'T WE LOSE SO MUCH? DURING THE ENTIRE FILM, WOULDN'T THE AUDIENCE BE LESS CLEAR ABOUT WHY MARLIN WAS BEHAVING THAT WAY? WOULDN'T WE HAVE TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING HIM AND EVEN BE A LITTLE ANNOYED BY HIS OVER-PROTECTIVENESS?

OF COURSE WE WOULD!

AND NOW IMAGINE IF THAT HARROWING SCENE WERE FLASHED BACK TO IN THE MIDDLE OF SOME SHARK CHASE SCENE OR SOME OTHER SHIT. WOULDN'T THAT BE AWFUL AND TONALLY INAPPROPRIATE?

OF COURSE IT WOULD!

... BUT SADLY, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS IN JOHN CARTER.

IT'S EVEN THE SAME EXACT INFORMATION: JOHN CARTER HAS LOST HIS WIFE AND FAMILY. WHICH IS TOTALLY OKAY BY THE WAY. WE USE THE PLOT ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IT'S GENUINELY AFFECTING IF DONE RIGHT... BUT IN THIS FILM IT BARELY EVEN REGISTERS ON A DRAMATIC LEVEL. IT'S JUST PRESENTED AS "INFORMATION" VIA QUICK FLASHBACK. AND EVEN THOUGH THE REVEAL IS CUT BEAUTIFULLY INTO ONE OF JOHN'S BIG FIGHTS, COMPLETE WITH SAD MUSIC AND GREAT EDITING, IT JUST DOESN'T WORK. IT IS WHOLLY LOGICAL ON THE STORY LEVEL AND YET COMPLETELY DISAFFECTING ON THE DRAMATIC LEVEL. WORSE, THE SCENE IS ACTUALLY A TONAL NIGHTMARE: OUR LEARNING OF HIS PROFOUND LOSS IS NULLIFIED BY AN ELATION OF AN EXCITING FIGHT AND AN EXCITING FIGHT IS NULLIFIED BY OUR LEARNING OF HIS LOSS. AND THUS, WE COMPLETELY LOSE THE DRAMATIC VALUE OF BOTH SCENES.

NOW THIS SEQUENCE AND REVEAL ARE OBVIOUSLY THE LYNCHPIN OF THE CHARACTER'S MOTIVATION, BUT JOHN CARTER SEEMS TO REPEAT THIS GRAND MISTAKE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. IT CONSTANTLY TAKES THIS PATH OF MYSTERY / REVEALS / IN-THE-MOMENT STORY CONNECTIONS OVER THE BASICS OF CONVEYING TRADITIONAL DRAMA. AND IT SUFFERS SO MUCH FOR IT. ASIDE FROM A FEW MOMENTS IN THE LAST ACT WHEN EVERYTHING IS FINALLY EXPLAINED, HULK CAN'T RECALL A SINGLE MOMENT THAT EVER FEELS LIKE THE FILM IS SIMPLY "BEING." IT'S JUST CONSTANTLY TRYING TO EXPLAIN OR JUSTIFY ITSELF AS IT HAPPENS.

AND HULK SORRY, BUT DRAMA MATTERS WAAAAAAAAAY MORE THAN STORY. AND HULK SAYS THAT AS SOMEONE WHO REVERES THE PRINCIPALS OF STORYTELLING. BUT DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY FREAKING SPIELBERG MOVIES DON'T MAKE A LICK OF DAMN STORY SENSE? THE VAGUE ANSWER IS MOST OF THEM. BUT HE'S SO GOOD AT PRESENTING COMPELLING DRAMA AND INFECTING YOU WITH THE STAKES AND CONFLICT THAT IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER. WOULD A LITTLE BIT MORE STORY LOGIC BE GREAT FOR SPIELBERG? YEAH, SURE! BUT HE MAKES MASTERPIECES WITHOUT IT SO WHO CARES. AND HE IS ABLE TO DO SO BECAUSE HE COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDS THAT DRAMA IS HOW HUMANS ACTUALLY RELATE TO THE WORLD.

DON'T BELIEVE HULK?

LET'S GO WITH A HYPOTHETICAL. PRETEND YOU ARE... WELL... YOU. THIS IS TOTALLY REAL LIFE. NOW PRETEND SOMEONE SUDDENLY SHOWED UP AND SAID "HI, I'M YOUR LONG-LOST BROTHER. QUICK, THERE'S SOMEONE AFTER ME! HELP!" ... WHAT WOULD YOUR REACTION BE?

ANSWER HONESTLY. MOSTLY YOU WOULD BE CONFUSED AS ALL HELL. YOU WOULDN'T KNOW IF YOU WANTED TO TRUST THIS PERSON. YOU MIGHT GO ON INSTINCT IN EITHER DIRECTION. THE ONLY THING THAT WOULD DRAW YOU IN IS A SENSE OF MYSTERY AND THAT IS IT. NOW, WOULD IT BE A RUSHED AND CRAZY SCENARIO? SURE! WOULD IT BE EXCITING? SURE! BUT AS FAR AS YOU, THE PERSON YOU ARE, AND YOUR MOTIVATIONS ARE CONCERNED,WOULDN'T YOU MOSTLY JUST BE ALL "WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!?"

WELL GUESS WHAT? THAT'S EXACTLY HOW AUDIENCES REACTS TO NEW INFORMATION TOO. "REVEALS" JUST DON'T HAVE THE SAME EFFECT AS A PREVIOUSLY-ESTABLISH LEVEL OF INVESTMENT. HOW COULD THEY? WE MAY LIKE SOMEONE AND BE INTRIGUED, BUT IF WE'RE NOT EMPATHIZING WITH SOMEONE, THEN WE'RE NOT SO WILLING TO GO OFF ON A CRAZY JOURNEY WITH THEM. WHICH, GUESS WHAT, IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DO WHEN WE WATCH MOVIES.

AS A COUNTERPOINT, IMAGINE IF YOU HAD LONG-STANDING, GREAT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR HYPOTHETICAL BROTHER. AGAIN, THIS IS REAL LIFE. AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN HE SHOWED UP AND SAID SOMEONE WAS TRYING TO KILL HIM. WHAT WOULD YOUR REACTION BE THEN? WHEN IT WAS SOMEONE YOU GENUINELY LOVED AND HAD BUILT TRUST WITH? WHY, THEN YOU'D HAVE MOTIVATION TO HELP. YOU'D EVEN HAVE UNDERSTANDING AND CLARITY ABOUT YOUR MOTIVES. YOU'D WANT TO HELP HIM AND CARE WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM, BECAUSE YOUR RESPONSE IS BASED ON SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN BUILT AND EARNED.

WELL GUESS WHAT? THAT'S EXACTLY HOW AUDIENCES REACT WHEN THEY HAVE BUILT A RELATIONSHIP WITH A CHARACTER IN WHOM THEY ARE INVESTED.

AND ALL OF JOHN CARTER'S PROBLEMS COME FROM THE FACT THAT THE NATURE OF REVEALS AND "STORYTELLING ON THE FLY" DON'T GIVE TWO SHITS ABOUT HOW AN AUDIENCE BEST RELATES TO THE STORY. IT ALMOST SPITS IN THE FACE OF DRAMATIC CONVENTION. IT'S LIKE WATCHING SOMEONE DO THE MATH ON SOMETHING FOR HOURS AND THEN FINALLY REVEAL WHATEVER THE QUESTION WAS AND IMMEDIATELY FOLLOW IT UP WITH THE ANSWER BEFORE ANYONE CAN EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

DRAMA IS ACTUALLY HOW WE RELATE TO THE WORLD.

AND IT'S HOW WE RELATE TO MOVIES.

PART 2 - THE "MYSTERY" COMPLEX

THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT THESE TWO HYPOTHETICALS IS THAT THEY ILLUSTRATE THE EXACT MOTIVES OF MYSTERY VERSUS THE MOTIVES OF DRAMATIC STORYTELLING. YES, THEY HAVE DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT MOTIVES. MYSTERY WANTS TO CONFUSE AND ALLURE YOU. DRAMA WANTS TO INVOLVE AND MOVE YOU. BUT IT HAS BECOME UTTERLY AMAZING TO HULK HOW OFTEN PEOPLE CONFUSE WHEN TO USE ONE OF THE TWO AND WHY. MOST OFTEN SHOWN BY A PROBLEM WHERE FILMMAKERS DON'T SEEM TO REALIZE WHICH INFORMATION SHOULD BE GIVEN UP FRONT AND WHICH INFORMATION SHOULD REVEALED LATER.

LIKE THE FACT THAT THERE IS LITERALLY NO FREAKING POINT TO HANGING ON TO THE FACT THAT JOHN CARTER'S FAMILY DIED UNTIL LATER IN THE MOVIE. NONE. IT DOES NOT ALTER THE STORY. CONSEQUENCES DO NOT DEPEND ON IT. AND WORSE, IT'S THE VERY THING THAT MAKES HIS CHARACTER CLICK FOR US. HULK HAS TALKED WITH A FEW FRIENDS AND THEY ARGUE THAT BECAUSE "HE STILL WEARS THE RING AND HE'S CLEARLY EMOTIONALLY DAMAGED! IT'S HINTED!" AS IF THAT THAT'S SOMEHOW ENOUGH. HINTING IS NOT DRAMATICALLY AFFECTING. IS IT STORYTELLING? SURE. BUT PUTTING THAT HORRIFIC, DRAMATIC SCENE UP FRONT WOULD HAVE SET OUR MENTAL "I FEEL AWFUL FOR THIS GUY, LET'S HELP HIM" BUTTONS FROM THE ONSET. SO WHY THE HELL DO THEY OPT FOR THE LATE REVEAL?

HULK HAS NO IDEA. IN FACT, IT'S PART OF THIS ALARMING TREND THAT HAS GONE ON THE LAST FEW YEARS WHERE MORE AND MORE MOVIES ARE OPTING FOR "THE REVEAL" AS THE METHOD OF PRESENTING CRUCIAL CHARACTER INFORMATION, OR HECK, JUST REVEALING ANY INFORMATION IN GENERAL, WITH NO THOUGHT TO AS TO WHY THEY ARE DOING IT.

HULK HONESTLY KIND OF BLAMES THE JJ ABRAMS SCHOOL OF THOUGHT FOR THIS RECENT RESURGENCE. HE AND HIS COHORTS ARE SO GOOD AT SELLING THE MYSTERY THAT IT'S STARTING TO FEEL LIKE HE'S INFLUENCING A GENERATION OF PEOPLE (OR AT LEAST THOSE WHO SAY YES TO SCRIPTS) WHO ARE BEHOLDEN TO THE POWER OF MYSTERY, WITHOUT MUCH UNDERSTANDING OF HOW IT ACTUALLY WORKS. AND DON'T GET HULK WRONG. MYSTERY CAN BE A POWERFUL TOOL. IT CAN PULL YOU INTO THE WORLD. IT ENGAGES THE ACTIVE PART OF YOUR BRAIN INSTEAD OF THE PASSIVE. IT MAKES THE VIEWER UNEASY. AND EVEN WITH HIS CHARACTER WORK IN SOME OF J.J.'S PROJECTS, THE MYSTERIES AND REVEALS THAT ARE EXECUTED ARE COMPLETELY WONDERFUL (LOST'S "WALKABOUT" IS AN ALL TIME-HIGH FOR HULK).

BUT, WHEN IT WORKS, THE NATURE OF THOSE REVEALS MAKE PERFECT SENSE FOR THE KINDS OF STORIES THEY ARE TELLING. LOST WAS A TV SHOW THAT THRIVED ON CONSPIRACY, SECRETS AND AMBIGUITY. A SHOW WHERE A GREAT CHARACTER REVEAL COULD ACTUALLY PROPEL YOU INTO LIKING THAT SAME CHARACTER THE NEXT WEEK. THAT'S THE ADVANTAGE OF TELEVISION (AND ULTIMATELY THE DISADVANTAGE WHEN PEOPLE GREW TIRED OF NON-STOP MYSTERY). BUT THINK ABOUT ALL THE WAYS THE MYSTERY APPROACH DOESN'T WORK IN 2 HOUR MOVIE CHUNKS. FOR INSTANCE, SUPER 8 IS A FILM THAT ESTABLISHES SOME FUN RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN A BUNCH OF KIDS MAKING A MOVIE AND THAT'S WHY YOU BECOME INVESTED, BUT THEN IT ABSOLUTELY CRAMS THIS SUPERNATURAL / MYSTERY ELEMENT IN WITHOUT MUCH REGARD FOR WHETHER OR NOT ANY OF THOSE ELEMENTS HELP TELL THE STORY. THE RESULT IS A COMPLETELY INCONGRUENT FILM. COWBOYS AND ALIENS FARES MUCH WORSE, AS IT PLAYS THE REVEAL GAME WITH ITS TWO MAIN CHARACTERS (CRAIG AND WILDE) FOR SO FREAKIN' LONG THAT YOU END UP HAVING NO IDEA WHAT THE FUDGE THEY'RE EVEN TALKING ABOUT OR WHERE THEY'RE COMING FROM UNTIL AT LEAST, LIKE, THE LAST TWENTY MINUTES OF THE MOVIE. IT'S BOTH BORING AND RIDICULOUS.

IN ALL THESE J.J. EXAMPLES WE GET THE STORY TEXTURE AND ALLURE, BUT WE DON'T GET THE MOTIVATION. MYSTERY CAN BE GREAT AND ALL, BUT HULK SINCERELY BELIEVES IT CAN HURT YOUR STORYTELLING IF YOU DON'T KNOW HAVE A REASON FOR IT OR DON'T KNOW HOW TO IMBUE THE STORY WITH ACTUAL DRAMA.

IT SO PERFECTLY GETS AT TWO CRITICAL, INTERRELATED QUESTIONS:

1) WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MYSTERY?

2) WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A REVEAL?

THESE ARE THE CENTRAL QUESTIONS THAT JOHN CARTER SHOULD HAVE ASKED. AND TO BEGIN ANSWERING THEM, LET HULK ASK YOU ANOTHER QUESTION:

WHY DO WE REMEMBER HARRY LIME?

[SPOILERS FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THE THIRD MAN, A 63-YEAR-OLD MOVIE WHOSE REVEAL IS SO FAMOUS THAT HULK PRETTY MUCH DOESN'T EVEN NEED TO MAKE THIS WARNING, BUT WHAT THE HELL, LET'S BE DIPLOMATIC.] WE REMEMBER HARRY LIME BECAUSE OF THE HIGH STAKES THAT ARE ESTABLISHED BEFOREHAND. BECAUSE OF OUR INTEREST IN WHAT HE WAS UP TO BEFORE HE DIED. BECAUSE OF THE WAY THE ENTIRE FILM'S NARRATIVE DRIVES TOWARD FINDING OUT EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM. AND AFTER THE REVEAL? WE REMEMBER HARRY LIME BECAUSE OF ALL THE AMAZING DRAMA THAT FOLLOWS. THE FAMOUS VIENNA FERRIS WHEEL. THE SEQUENCES IN THE SEWERS. THE CONFLICT. THE RESONANCE. THERE'S BEEN A MILLION "REVEALS" LIKE THAT IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA, BUT THAT ONE STANDS OUT BECAUSE THE ENTIRE MOVIE REVOLVES AROUND IT: IT'S THE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING ABOUT THE FILM. THE REVEAL HAS DEEP MEANING AND IMPACT TO THE CHARACTERS AND IT DRAMATICALLY AFFECTS THE PLOT. IT IS THE ENGINE FOR EVERYTHING. AND THUS THAT ICONIC IMAGE OF LIME COMING INTO THE STREET LIGHT REPRESENTS NOT JUST A MOMENT, BUT THE LYNCHPIN OF THE ENTIRE FILM, WHICH REVEALS SOMETHING FAR MORE IMPORTANT.

MYSTERIES ARE NOT TRULY DEFINED BY THE ALLURE OF THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK, BUT BY THE PROFUNDITY OF THEIR ANSWERS.

SORRY JJ & CO. IT'S TRUE. YOU CAN HAVE YOUR LITTLE TED TALK ABOUT THE MYSTERY BOX AND YOU SURE AS HELL UNDERSTAND THE DRAW. YOU CAN LOVE THE AFFECTATION OF MYSTERY ALL YOU WANT, BUT ALL YOUR GOOD MYSTERIES HAVE BEEN GOOD BECAUSE OF EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THEM. THE PROVERBIAL MYSTERY BOX ITSELF HAS AN INHERENT LIMIT IN ANY STORY. THE DRAMA THAT THEY CREATE IS PALPABLE, BUT IT IS NOT A MIRACLE WORKER FOR DRAMATIC ENDS AND CATHARSIS. IT DOES NOT RESONATE ON ITS OWN. IF YOU HAVE A MYSTERY IT MUST BE PROPELLED BY THE STORY; IT MUST BE PROPELLED BY THE CHARACTERS. THINK ABOUT HOW LOST WAS AT ITS MOST AIMLESS WHEN THE MYSTERY WAS MERELY HAPPENING AROUND THE CHARACTERS, NOT DRIVEN BY THEM. THE BEST CHARACTER REVEALS IN THE SHOW CAME AS A KIND OF CATHARSIS AND COMMENTARY ON EVERYTHING WE HAD SEEN IN THAT EPISODE.

IN THE END, CHARACTER MYSTERY AND REVEALS HAVE TO SUIT THE PURPOSE OF THE KIND OF STORY YOU'RE TELLING.

TO ILLUSTRATE HOW THIS IS TRUE, LET'S CHANGE IT UP AND THINK ABOUT REVEALS IN BROAD COMEDY. SPECIFICALLY, LET'S THINK ABOUT JOHN CANDY IN PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES... SERIOUSLY. THINK ABOUT HIS CHARACTER AT THE MOST BASIC LEVEL: WHY IS HE ANNOYING? HIS ANNOYING BEHAVIOR IS THERE TO PROVIDE CONFLICT. MEANWHILE, STEVE MARTIN IS THE NORMAL GUY, AND THUS HE'S THE AUDIENCE SURROGATE. WHICH MEANS THAT BY RELATING TO HIM, WE THEREFORE EXPERIENCE HIS ANNOYANCE AT JOHN CANDY. BUT WHEN THE TIME COMES FOR CATHARSIS AND UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE TWO, WE LEARN ABOUT JOHN CANDY'S WIFE AND THUS WE FINALLY UNDERSTAND HIS MOTIVATION. WE, AT THE SAME TIME AS OUR AUDIENCE SURROGATE, FEEL COMPASSION FOR CANDY AND THUS THEIR COMING TOGETHER HAS MEANING FOR US, TOO. THE REVEAL ULTIMATELY PROVIDES A TRANSFORMATIVE ENDING.

SEE HOW IT WORKS? THE REVEAL DOUBLES AS A RESOLUTION FOR THE MAIN CONFLICT, NOT JUST SOMETHING THAT HELPS THINGS MAKE SENSE. IF WE WERE TOLD ABOUT CANDY'S WIFE UP FRONT WE WOULD ACTUALLY LIKE MARTIN LESS AND IT WOULD PUT US IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE PLACE FOR MOST OF THE FILM'S COMEDIC CONFLICT (THERE'S A SIMPLE REASON THE BASICALLY-A-REMAKE DUE DATE DOESN'T FUCKING WORK. YOU LOVE GALIFIANAKIS AND THINK RDJ'S AN ASSHOLE WHEN THE DRAMATIC CONVENTION IS EXPECTING YOU DO THE OPPOSITE. IT IS THE MOST BASIC MISUNDERSTANDING OF HOW AUDIENCE SURROGACY WORKS).

LET'S DO ONE MORE EXAMPLE AND GET AWAY FROM COMEDY. LET'S THINK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE ACTION/ADVENTURE AND CLOSER TO THE MOVIE WE'RE DISCUSSING... OKAY, HULK GOT IT: ATTACK THE BLOCK. MOSES' CHARACTER REVEAL COMES LATER IN THE FILM AND HE'S TOTALLY THE LEAD. HE'S TOTALLY THE ONE THE FILM IS ABOUT, SO WHY DOES IT STILL WORK? BECAUSE THAT'S WHEN OUR AUDIENCE SURROGATE, SAM, ALSO DISCOVERS THE REVEAL. EVEN IF SHE'S THE PERIPHERAL CHARACTER IN SOME WAYS, SHE'S THE ONE WE START WITH AND THE OPENING DISPOSITION OF THE MOVIE. SHE FIRST SEES THE KIDS AS CLOAKED AND DANGEROUS. AND THEN WE JOURNEY WITH HER TO UNDERSTAND THESE KIDS WHO HAVE IT ROUGH; THIS COMPLETES HER ARC THE SAME EXACT WAY IT DOES OURS. FOR THE REVEAL, SAM COMES TO UNDERSTAND THE KIND OF DIFFICULT LIFE MOSES HAS HAD AND IT MAKES HER EMPATHIZE. BETTER YET, THE FILMMAKERS LET THE MOMENT RESONATE, JUST BEFORE WE PUT MOSES IN SERIOUS, SERIOUS DANGER FOR THE CLIMAX. SEE HOW THE INTERACTION WORKS AND SUITS THE STORY THEY'RE TELLING? THAT'S HOW YOU DO A LATE REVEAL.

YOU DISCOVER THE SCIENCE OF THE REVEAL WHEN YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU MEAN TO DERIVE FROM THE REVEAL. WHAT KIND OF CONFLICT DOES WITHHOLDING THE INFORMATION CREATE? (THINK JOHN CANDY IN PLANES, TRAINS. REVEAL IT TOO EARLY AND THERE'S NO MOVIE.) WHAT KIND OF CONFLICT DOES REVEALING THIS INFORMATION CREATE AFTERWARD? (THINK OF ALL THE GREAT THIRD ACT TURNS IN SHAKESPEARE.) HOW INTEGRAL IS IT TO THE PLOT AND UNDERSTANDING? WHERE DOES THE REVEAL GET THE MOST VALUE TO THE CONFLICTS? HECK, A BETTER WAY TO APPROACH THE POTENTIAL DANGERS OF "THE LATE REVEAL" IS TO ASK YOURSELF "WHAT KINDS OF CONFLICT DOES HOLDING ONTO THIS INFORMATION PREVENT?"

BECAUSE THE BIG PROBLEM WITH THE JOHN CARTER CHARACTER IS HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE OUR AUDIENCE SURROGATE... RIGHT? HULK'S NOT TALKING OUT OF TURN HERE. HE'S THE GUY WE'RE SUPPOSED TO TRAVEL WITH TO EXPERIENCE MARS. HE IS THE GUY WE LIVE AND DIE WITH IN THIS ROCK EM' SOCK EM' EPIC ADVENTURE. HE IS THE GUY WE ARE SUPPOSED TO FOLLOW INTO CONFLICT. HECK, HE'S THE THE NAME OF THE FREAKING MOVIE. SO TO EXPOSE HIS TRUE CHARACTER MOTIVATION AS A "LATE REVEAL" AND CONSTRUCT A MOVIE WHERE WE ARE CONSTANTLY LOOKING AT HIM FROM THE OUTSIDE WITHOUT A REAL IDEA OF WHAT HE'S UP TO OR THINKING OR EMOTING... WELL. DOESN'T THAT JUST SEEM TO BE INCREDIBLY BACKWARDS?

YES... IN FACT, THE WHOLE MOVIE IS PRETTY MUCH BACKWARDS.

SERIOUSLY. WE'RE KEPT AT ARM'S LENGTH FROM ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IN THIS MOVIE THAT MATTERS FOR THE LONGEST POSSIBLE TIME: THE THURN, THE PLANS, THE STAKES - IT'S ALL HINTED AT AND THEN HELD ONTO FOR SOME REASON. EVERYTHING JOHN CARTER THINKS OR DOES IS A SERIES OF HINTS OR VAGUE INTUITION, NOT REVEALED TILL THE EXACT MOMENT IT ACTUALLY MATTERS.

AND YET ON THE DRAMATIC FUCKING LEVEL DO THEY THEREFORE TREAT THE ENTIRE PLOTTING OF THIS FILM AS A MYSTERY OR PUZZLE THAT HAS TO BE UNLOCKED? DO THE CHARACTERS DRIVE THE MYSTERY FORWARD? NO. THEY LOUNGE AS IT'S EXPLAINED. AND FAR FUCKING WORSE, THE FILM ACTUALLY EXPECTS ALL THE BENEFITS OF MAKING STANDARD SWASHBUCKLER FARE WITHOUT DOING ANY OF THE BASIC STAKES AND GROUNDWORK TO EARN IT. THEY EXPECT TO GET ALL THE AUDIENCE AFFECTION FOR CARTER'S PERSONALITY FROM THE ONSET JUST BECAUSE. AND BETWEEN THIS INCLINATION OF PLOTTING LIKE A MYSTERY BUT DRAMATIZING LIKE A REGULAR FILM, WE GET SOMETHING THAT FEELS COMPLETELY BI-POLAR.

BUT EVEN IF THAT SOUNDS LIKE A REALLY NICE SUMMARY STATEMENT, WE CAN STILL GET TO THE HEART OF THIS PROBLEM AND EXAMINE ALL THE WAYS THE FILM CONVEYS INFORMATION IN AN UNHELPFUL MANNER.

PART 3 - STORY STRUCTURE, INFORMATION OVERLOAD AND THE STATE OF MOVIES

IN ADDRESSING THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS OF JOHN CARTER, LET'S START WITH THE FACT THE FILM HAS THREE PROLOGUES.

YES, THAT'S RIGHT. THREE FUCKING PROLOGUES.

... AND *GULP* NONE OF THEM ARE THE "RIGHT" ONE.

FIRST, WE'RE INTRODUCED TO SOME VAGUE MARS VOICE-OVER AND A BATTLE WE HAVE NO COMPREHENSION OF BETWEEN FACTIONS WE DON'T UNDERSTAND. BESIDES, THEY SEEM TO MAKE UP "RED" AND "BLUE." (3) THE BATTLES ENDS WITH THE MYSTERIOUS BAD GUYS ARRIVING AND KILLING SOMEONE AND HANDING SOME GUY A WEAPON. IT'S MEANT TO INTRODUCE BOTH OF OUR BAD GUYS AND OUR ALLEGIANCE, BUT IT LITERALLY DOES NOTHING, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE FACT THAT IT WON'T MATTER FOR LIKE ANOTHER FIFTY MINUTES. IN FACT, HULK IS CONVINCED IT'S ONLY THERE BECAUSE THERE'S NO OTHER GOOD PLACE TO PUT THIS SO THEY WENT VAGUELY CHRONOLOGICAL. EVEN WORSE, THE SCENE DOESN'T NEED TO BE SHOWN WHATSOEVER AND THE WHOLE "WHERE DID HE GET THAT WEAPON?" THING WOULD PROBABLY WORK AS A BETTER MYSTERY REVEAL (THE ONE TIME THEY DON'T GO FOR A REVEAL!). EITHER THAT OR THEY WERE AFRAID WE DIDN'T KNOW THE MOVIE WOULD EVENTUALLY FEATURE MARS IN A MOVIE CALLED JOHN CARTER OF MA- OH.

SECOND, WE'RE INTRODUCED TO JOHN CARTER HIMSELF, BUT HE'S IN THE FUTURE (WHICH IS STILL THE PAST) AND WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HE'S DOING AND HE'S SEEMINGLY ARRANGING THIS WHOLE VICTORIAN STORY OF INTRIGUE AND PEOPLE ARE FOLLOWING HIM AND IT SETS UP HIS DEATH THAT SERVES ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER POINT THAN BEING A BOOKEND FOR LATER IN THE MOVIE (IT'S A FRAMING DEVICE THAT ONLY WORKS WELL IN FICTION TO BE HONEST). THE WHOLE SCENE IS JUST A LONG LIST OF INFORMATION.

THIRD, WE FINALLY GO TO THE REAL START OF THE MOVIE WHEN JOHN CARTER IS A DESPONDENT ASSHOLE GENERICALLY LOOKING FOR GOLD FOR SOME REASON. A FEW ELABORATE CHASE SCENES AND HINTS AT CHARACTERIZATION, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH - WE FINALLY GET TO THE WEIRD BALD GUY AND MAGIC TABLET AND BOOM WE'RE OFF TO MARS FOR THE REAL START OF THE FILM.

... GUESS WHAT? NONE OF THESE PROLOGUES ARE ACTUALLY NECESSARY. SURE. THEY MAKE SENSE ON A STORY LEVEL AND PROVIDE LOGICAL INFORMATION THAT WILL BE KINDA SORTA USED LATER, BUT NONE OF THEM, REPEAT NONE OF THEM, DO A SINGLE THING ON THE DRAMATIC LEVEL.

THINK ABOUT THAT. THINK ABOUT HOW UTTERLY NOT ENGAGING THIS IS. THE VERY IDEA OF OPENING YOUR FILM WITH TWENTY PLUS MINUTES OF INFORMATION THAT IS ONLY THERE SO THAT IT CAN BE OF (NOT SO COMPELLING) USE TO US LATER, IF THAT. THIS WHOLE UNLEASHING OF RELEVANT INFORMATION IS SOMETHING THAT ONLY A FEW MOVIES OF A CERTAIN KIND CAN GET AWAY WITH... YOU KNOW, LIKE MYSTERIES! WHERE INFORMATION AND PLOTTING AND THE PUZZLE ACTUALLY MATTER AND PROVIDE PROPULSION FOR THE STORY. THEY CERTAINLY DON'T BELONG IN A SWASHBUCKLER EPIC THAT SPENDS THE MIDDLE HOUR ON CHARACTER, BECAUSE IF YOU DO THAT IT PLAYS LIKE DEATH.

OKAY MR. HULKY-PANTS, SO WHAT'S THE "RIGHT" PROLOGUE?

HULK ALLUDED TO IT BEFORE. THE BACKGROUND STORY WITH HIS WIFE AND FAMILY DYING IS ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT ONE FOR THE KIND OF STORY THEY'RE TELLING. SURE, IT'S THE NEMO BEGINNING AGAIN. BUT THERE'S NO DOUBTING THAT IF YOU DO THAT, YOU'RE THEN WITH THIS CHARACTER FROM THAT POINT ON, NO QUESTIONS ASKED. WE CAN THEN FLASH STRAIGHT FORWARD TO HIS BEING A DESPONDENT ASSHOLE IN SEARCH OF GOLD AND WE TOTALLY UNDERSTAND IT, THE SAME WAY WE UNDERSTOOD WHY MARLIN WAS OVERLY PROTECTIVE OF NEMO. HE'S AN ASSHOLE WE'D EMPATHIZE WITH. AND WE WOULD IMPLICITLY UNDERSTAND THAT CARTER'S SECRET MOTIVE IS TO FIND LOVE AGAIN, WHICH IS REALLY THE WHOLE POINT OF THE MOVIE. THE POINT IS THAT WE WOULD TOTALLY HAVE DRAMATIC STAKES IN HIS ROMANCING OF THE PRINCESS IF THEY ESTABLISHED WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS FAMILY FIRST. HECK, THE WAY IT'S PRESENTED IN THE FILM, HULK KNEW PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT HE MIGHT BE SCREWING AROUND ON HIS EARTH WIFE! HULK LAUGH! BUT IF THIS SIMPLE SOLUTION WAS DONE FROM THE ONSET, WE WOULD LOVE AND UNDERSTAND THIS GUY. WE WOULD HAVE THE AUDIENCE SURROGATE WE NEED.

... WHY HIDE FROM THAT?

CAUSE WHAT? BECAUSE HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE HAN SOLO? A.K.A. NOT THE LEAD OF THAT MOVIE? AS THE SECONDARY CHARACTER, SOLO'S "TURN" (WHICH IS SORT OF LIKE A REVEAL) MAKES UTTER SINCE THERE. HE'S NOT THE ONE THE AUDIENCE DEPENDS ON AT FIRST; HE'S THE ONE THEY EVENTUALLY NEED. THE PUSH-PULL OF BEING SOLO WORKS WHEN HE'S THE COUNTERPART. NOT THE LEAD.

ARE WE SEEING THIS FIRST STUPID PROLOGUE BECAUSE WE NEED TO KNOW WE'RE GOING TO MARS LATER? TELL YOU WHAT. THE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT MOVIE THEY'RE SEEING. IT'S ABOUT A DUDE GOING TO MARS. AND BETTER YET, IF WE HAVE A REASON TO EMPATHIZE WITH THE PROTAGONIST, WE WILL FUCKING FOLLOW HIM ANYWHERE.

UGH... THE WHOLE PROLOGUE DEBACLE FEELS LIKE MORE OF THAT LACK OF TRUST. LIKE A FILMMAKER OBSESSED WITH EVERYTHING IN HIS STORY MAKING SENSE AND LOSING TRACK OF THE ACTUAL EMOTIONAL SENSE. HULK KEEPS SAYING IT, BUT THE WHOLE MOVIE PLAYS LIKE PUZZLE THAT HAS BEEN PIECED TOGETHER BY LOGIC. AND JOHN CARTER NEEDS TRADITIONAL DRAMA. IT'S NOT A MYSTERY. IT'S SCI-FI SWASHBUCKLER DESIGNED FOR EVERYONE. IT NEEDS THAT NEMO-ESQUE PRIOR CLARITY SO THAT WE CAN GO ALONG AND JUST LET THE FILM "BE." HOW COULD STANTON, WHO OBVIOUSLY SAW THE VALUE OF THIS BEFORE, SO COMPLETELY MISS THE MARK? IN OTHER WORDS...

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

IN SOME WAYS, IT REALLY IS A RARE EVENT. A PERFECT COMBINATION OF HYPER-AWARENESS TO SOME FACETS OF FILMMAKING AND A SEEMING COMPLETE UNAWARENESS TO OTHERS. AND IT ALL ROLLED UP INTO A PERFECT STORM OF MISMANAGEMENT.(4) THE UTTER RESULT IS A FILM THAT JUST SITS THERE, PLAYING OUT TO AN UNENGAGED AUDIENCE. BUT WHAT'S SOMEWHAT FUNNY IS THAT MOST MODERN BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE THE EXACT OPPOSITE PROBLEM OF JOHN CARTER, IN THAT THEY DON'T TRY TO MAKE STORY SENSE AT ALL. HULK IS ALWAYS QUICK TO SCRUTINIZE MICHAEL BAY (YOU KNOW, FOR BEING A TERRIBLE FILMMAKER), BUT AT LEAST THAT DUDE KNOWS THE VALUE OF JUST BEING LIKE "FIGHTING ROBOTS! GO!" AND THAT'S IT (NO REALLY, THAT'S OFTEN ALL THERE IS).

BUT THE REAL TRUTH AS TO WHY THIS HAPPENS IS THAT WE OFTEN LOSE THE DRAMATIC UNDERSTANDING VERY EARLY IN THE FILMMAKING PROCESS. YOU WRITE SCRIPTS OVER AND OVER AGAIN. YOU WORK ON SCENES OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN REHEARSAL. YOU FILM SCENES WITH A TON OF TAKES. AND AFTER THAT, YOU GET IN AN EDITING ROOM AND YOU SEE THAT SAME SCENE A HUNDRED TIMES AND BY THEN YOU LOSE ALL SENSE OF OBJECTIVITY. THERE'S NO EMOTION ANYMORE. YOU HAVE TO GRASP AT EVERY LITTLE BIT OF GENUINE REACTION YOU CAN. IT'S PURELY AN EQUATION IN YOUR HEAD THAT MUST BE BALANCED.

AND THAT'S HOW IT ALWAYS HAPPENS. IT'S A DISCONNECTION FROM THE DRAMA, PURELY THROUGH THE SHEER TYRANNY OF TIME AND FAMILIARITY. AND THAT DE-PERSONALIZING PROCESS OF FILMMAKING IS WHY WE MUST ALWAYS CLING TO THE PRINCIPLES OF DRAMA ABOVE ALL ELSE. BECAUSE WE'LL ALWAYS BE ABLE TO MAKE SENSE OF STORY ON A LOGICAL LEVEL. BUT WE MUST KEEP THAT AUDIENCE'S FIRST WATCH IN MIND WHEN WE WORK AND TRY TO REMEMBER HOW THEY EXPERIENCE IT EMOTIONALLY. IT IS THE ONLY THING THAT TRULY MATTERS.

HULK WON'T PRETEND IT'S AN EASY THING TO DO. THE ART OF STORYTELLING AND FILMMAKING AND DECIDING WHAT INFORMATION COUNTS AS A REVEAL IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT. HULK MEAN, THERE'S A REASON THERE'S ONLY ONE SPIELBERG. BUT WHILE ANDREW STANTON MAY NOT BE HIM, HE'S STILL SOMEONE WHO HAS MADE TWO INCREDIBLE ANIMATED FILMS BEFOREHAND. IT'S A FORMAT THAT CAN BE TINKERED WITH AND HAMMERED OUT TILL IT WORKS. BUT LIVE ACTION FILMMAKING IS ANOTHER BEAST. AND THAT ACHILLEAN MISUNDERSTANDING OF DRAMA ENDED UP BEING CRIPPLING. AND ALL HIS EFFORTS TO FIX JOHN CARTER MAKE IT DIE A HORRIFIC QUICKSAND DEATH; THE MORE IT STRUGGLES TO EXPLAIN AWAY EVERY MOMENT IS ANOTHER MOMENT IT SINKS DEEPER.

IT SIMPLY FORGOT THE TRUE NATURE OF HOW EMPATHY WORKS. AND HULK SAYS IT ALL THE TIME: EMPATHY IS YOUR MOST POWERFUL TOOL AS A WRITER.

PEOPLE WILL TELL YOU IT'S ALL ABOUT "LIKABILITY" BUT THAT'S A MARKETING WORD. IT'S MEANINGLESS TO WHAT MAKES FILMS WORK. OUR FAULTS, DEMONS, QUIBBLES AND ROUGH EDGES ARE THE VERY THINGS THAT BIND US AND ATTRACT US TO ONE ANOTHER. IT'S HOW WE COMMUNICATE SUBCONSCIOUSLY. IT'S HOW WE KNOW THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE IN WHAT WE BATTLE. THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THE TOUGHEST CONFLICTS IN LIFE. SAY WHAT YOU WILL, BUT HULK TRULY BELIEVES THAT'S WHAT MAKES MOVIES WORK. THE RELATION OF FAULTS. IN ONE OF HULK'S DISCUSSIONS WITH COMIC/PODCASTER KUMAIL NANJIANI, HE EXPLAINED IT SO SUCCINCTLY AND BEAUTIFULLY: "You see a guy who spills coffee on himself and you go 'Oh okay. I'm that guy.'" IT'S A VERY SIMPLE WAY OF PUTTING SOMETHING SO UNIVERSALLY IMPORTANT: EMPATHY IS THE TIE THAT BINDS.

SO WHY DOES IT SEEM SO UTTERLY LOST IN TODAY'S FILMMAKING?

WHY ARE WE SO CAUGHT UP IN THE NATURE OF ALLURE? WHY DO WE FIXATE ON THE MYSTERY AND THE COOL? YOU COULD SAY IT'S JUST MARKETING, BUT IT'S NOT. WE DO IT OUT OF THIS HORRIFIC NEED TO REALIZE OUR FANTASIES. WHY ELSE WOULD WE HAVE INVINCIBLE BADASSES BEATING UP PEOPLE IN COOL WAYS AND EXPECT THAT TO BE DRAMATICALLY COMPELLING? WHY DO WE ABANDON DANGER AND MENACE IN THE NAME OF CONFUSION AND AMBIGUITY? WHY DO WE LOSE SIGHT OF THE REASONS THE AUDIENCE ACTUALLY WANTS TO ESCAPE? AND WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES THEM DO IT?

WHY, WHEN PEOPLE SAY THEY "WANT TO TURN [THEIR] BRAIN OFF," DO WE NOT REALIZE THAT THE BEST WAY TO ESCAPE ISN'T TO WATCH ILL-CHOREOGRAPHED EXPLOSIONS BUT TO GET ABSORBED IN A STORY?

WHY DO WE MISS THESE MOST ESSENTIAL THINGS?

HULK'S NOT SURE. HULK JUST KNOWS IT'S BOTHERSOME. AND EVEN IF THIS IS JUST A COLUMN ABOUT ONE SCRIPT IN PARTICULAR, HULK STILL FEELS LIKE IT IS THIS GENERAL CULTURAL CONFUSION ABOUT OUR PURPOSE AND WHAT WE WANT THAT LEADS US HERE... BUT PERHAPS HULK IS GOING TOO FAR WITH IT. PERHAPS ALL THIS JOHN CARTER TALK COULD BE BOILED DOWN TO ONE SIMPLE STATEMENT TO FILMMAKERS: DON'T FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THINGS TO US IN THE MOMENT.  GIVE US A GOOD REASON TO CARE BEFOREHAND, AND THEN JUST LET US CARE.

BECAUSE THAT'S ALL WE REALLY WANT TO DO.

<3 HULK

THIS ART BY ANGRY SCIENTIST! CHECK OUT GREAT STUFF HERE AND FOLLOW HER HERE!

ENDNOTES:

(1) HULK RECENTLY TALKED ABOUT THE VALUE OF "OBVIOUS STAKES" IN ALL OF HULK'S ACTION COLUMNS AND MOST RECENTLY ON THE RAID. CLEAR STAKES ARE SUPER USEFUL.

(2) YES, UP USED THE SAME "RESONANCE FIRST" DEVICE THAT GOT US TO LOVE AND UNDERSTAND GRUMPY OLD CARL. AND IT WAS 1000 TIMES BETTER FOR IT.

(3) COMPARE TO THE OPENING OF STAR WARS. TINY SHIP. HUGE SHIP. GOOD GUYS. BAD GUYS. IT TELLS IT THE VISUAL STORY SO CLEARLY.

(4) OH AND DON'T GET HULK WRONG EITHER. THIS ISN'T THE ONLY PROBLEM IN THE MOVIE. THIS IS JUST THE ONE THAT SORT OF EXPLAINS ALL THE PROBLEMS. BUT REALLY THERE'S A LOT OF PROBLEMS. IT FEELS LIKE LOTS OF DEAD AIR. THE PLAYS FOR LAUGHS DON'T REALLY LAND. HULK COULD GO ON FOR THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS MORE WORDS ABOUT THE THURN AND THE PLOTTING OF THARKS, AND THE BACK AND FORTH WORLD TRAVERSING, WHICH IN NO WAY FEELS LIKE A JOURNEY.

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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