Liz Tells Frank What Happened In the “John Carter of Mars” Trailer

Dear Frank,

You didn’t come see Real Steel with us on Sunday night, which I feel sad about because Real Steel, Frank? Was totally awesome. However, it was preceded by something perhaps a little less awesome — the trailer for John Carter of Mars — and Frank, I think we need to talk about it a bit.

You see, I have seen this trailer many, many times now, but it was this most recent viewing that finally cemented my firm opinion that this trailer is not a good trailer, and is perhaps an actively terrible one. Here it is, for your reference:

I freely admit that I have no familiarity with the source material, as my childhood was spent reading Bradbury obsessively, and while I know he read Burroughs obsessively when he was a child I never bothered to close the loop. So the thing I have to apologize for is this — Frank, today I have failed you. For officially, I’m here to tell you what happens in this trailer, but even though I have seen this trailer many times, I have no idea what is happening in it.

In fact, if I didn’t know that at one point it was called John Carter of Mars, I even wouldn’t know that it takes place partially on Mars. But it also takes partially in Victorian-era London? Or New York? I’m genuinely not clear on the accents, nor am I clear as to why ten seconds of this 1.5 minute trailer are devoted to establishing the protagonist’s nephew. Aside, of course, from providing a reference to the writer of the original stories, the existence of which maybe one percent of the American movie-going public are aware of?

Also, Frank, I know you prefer the ladies, but give me a moment here to discuss the bare chest of one Tim Riggins. Tim Riggins’s bare chest was one of Friday Night Lights‘s most generous gifts to television viewers, and John Carter seems conscious of this fact. But the very minimalist body armor Tim Riggins wears during the bulk of this trailer is cut so as to put his nipples on display — nay, it EMPHASIZES them at the expense of the rest of his chest. This, I am very sad to report, is not a good look for Tim Riggins.


Here is another thing that happens in the trailer, Frank — the pretty alien lady with a nice midriff says “My world is dying.” Dying from WHAT? From having pretty winged space ships flying overhead? From the influence of CGI Martians? From the psychedelic light shows she keeps triggering in the desert? Alien lady, I don’t know much about your dying world, but I’d bet that the psychedelic light shows are not helping matters.

Also, when I first watched this trailer, I did enjoy the unconventional use of Peter Gabriel’s cover of My Body is a Cage. It is a good song, and the orchestral movements pair well with some of the bigger set pieces. But now, after repeat viewings, the novelty is gone, and I am left with the desire to know why Disney wants me to feel very, very sad about its new action-adventure-sci-fi franchise.

What put this trailer in perspective for me, Frank, was seeing Real Steel immediately afterwards, which I am not embarrassed to admit was pure pleasure to watch. For the film, as ridiculous as it was, reminded me of the simple pleasures of a well-executed premise: Real Steel does not disguise its intentions or mislead you about its contents — it is the story of an estranged father and son who reconnect over their love of robot boxing. As simple as that.

Seriously, it's so great.

And it delivers this content successfully. The robot boxing is truly fun to watch, the father and son reconnect and you’re glad about that, and the tone successfully dodges saccharine territory. Hugh Jackman is genuinely realistic about his limitations as a father. The kid uses profanity and is put in legitimate peril at a few points. Hope Davis makes an appearance. Evangeline Lilly actually does some non-squinty acting. And a story is told.

What the John Carter trailer promises is alien spectacle, and high-quality special effects, and Tim Riggins swinging a sword, and to be fair I have not seen one of those things before. And the movie may have a story. It may, in fact, have an excellent story. But the trailer does not think we care about that. The trailer says, “Enjoy our extremely well-rendered CGI. In six months, you can see it in IMAX 3D!”

Also, I am retreading old material but not calling it John Carter of Mars will always be dumb. Frank, we should be legitimately concerned about Disney’s accounting practices, because they apparently have the money to change the title, but not redesign the logo.


I greatly respect Andrew Stanton’s work at Pixar. And that is why I pity him. For he must be constantly saying to friends and loved ones who ask about his latest project, “No, not John CONNER, John CARTER. It’s not a Terminator movie.”

“Oh. What’s it about?”

“A guy who’s on Mars.”

“Maybe you should put that in the title.”

And Andrew Stanton weeps. And we weep for him, Frank. Because it must be so disappointing, for the trailer for your movie to be so painfully dumb, especially when there are really good trailers for movies out there in the world.

Maybe there will be a new trailer for John Carter soon. Perhaps I will become genuinely interested in seeing this movie at that point. There’s probably nothing they can do about Tim Riggins’s nipples at this point, though. Alas.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on October 11, 2011, in Movies, No Spoilers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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