Sunday, September 9, 2012

Taylor's Bad Year

Poor Taylor Kitsch. It's not been a good year for the young actor, thus far. Best known for the critically acclaimed NBC series "Friday Night Lights" (2006-2011), he also co-starred in "X-men Origins: Wolverine" as Gambit alongside Hugh Jackman and Leiv Schreiber. This year looked great on paper. Early spring 2012 would bring the (very) big budget, and eagerly awaited cinematic arrival of Edgar Rice Boroughs' Kingdom of Mars books where Kitsch would take the title role in "John Carter". It arrived to mixed reviews and low attendance, though it did ultimately pull in over $250 million. However it was reported to have cost the studio over $200 million to make, so disappointing might be an understatement. Then in the early summer came his starring role in "Battleship", a big budget science fiction adventure based on, of all things, the board game of the same name. It sunk rapidly at the box office with dismal reviews, and like "John Carter" barely made back the cost of production.

While both movies were major disappointments to the studios, they are very different in quality. I saw "John Carter" when it hit the theaters and overall, I liked it. It was well acted, the effects were top notch and it was an interesting story. I think what really knee-capped the film was its own PR. The studio spent a lot of money on ads, including a Super Bowl spot, but the problem was that they never really gave you a sense of what the movie was about. The previews showed aliens and snippets of action, but left the viewer scratching his head as to what the hell was going on. They lacked focus and rather than try and sketch out the premise for viewers, they relied on wowing us with special effect shots. It just wasn't enough. I figure it will make up some fiscal ground on DVD and PPV, but it will best be remembered as a flop. In my opinion "John Carter" was a solid movie that was served badly by the studio's marketing department. It deserved better.

I only just saw "Battleship" on PPV the other night. I'd have to say it deserved every empty seat in the house. It's not that it was horrible, exactly. I mean, it wasn't on the scale of the 2011 remake of "The Three Musketeers," but it wasn't good. However, I would say that, like the last Musketeers flick, the writers deserve the lion's share of ridicule. Though, in fairness, the writers were given a truly herculean task. Take Aliens, a major naval presence and a planet in peril and somehow tether it to a simple, grid based, two dimensional guessing game. What you end up with is a plot strewn with holes and WTF moments. In isolation, some of the choices seem to work, but many fall apart when you roll it all together.

!SPOILER ALERT! (A minor one, anyway)

For example, aliens travel to earth from deep space, yet seem incapable of avoiding a simple satellite collision that destroys one of their ships. I guess whoever planned this little intergalactic excursion skimped on radar. Then they submerge in the Pacific Ocean, and from then on seem capable of only moving in small, though cinematically impressive, hops across the ocean surface. Maybe the salt water washed off the special hull coating that allowed them to fly? And the aliens' most used weapon, though cool looking and destructive to naval vessels, really didn't seem like it would be of much use in any other circumstance. This weapon also seemed to have a propulsion and guidance system little better than conventional artillery and only marginally more destructive, shot for shot.  While you can certainly think up a bunch of imaginative reasons for each anomaly, we shouldn't have to and it's making the viewer work way too hard to justify a shoddy screenplay.  I remember thinking that the showiest alien weapon, a sort of self directing sphere, was very Transformer-like. On reflection, I'd say the entire script was reminiscent of "Transformers." Way more flash than substance.

Two big budget movies, two big budget bombs, and both headlined by Taylor Kitsch. Neither was his fault, of course. He did a good job in "John Carter" and did what he could with the dreck he was given for "Battleship" but I still feel for him just a little. Either of these movies could have been his stepping stone to the movie star 'A' list, but it was not to be. Gotta wonder how that will work out for him. Stars that can bring in the crowds with name recognition alone can get movies made, but what happens when your name is associated with financial disasters? Kevin Costner did manage to pull himself back, at least somewhat, from his "Waterworld" and "The Postman" debacles, but it took quite a while and he's never recaptured the heights of "Dances with Wolves". I hope Taylor weathers things, because I think he is a talented actor and deserves to rise or fall on his performance rather than the studios box office expectations. But only time will tell. As to these two films? I recommend "John Carter", but unless you're looking for mindless special effects or a Mystery Science Theater level viewing experience, don't bother with "Battleship".

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