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Buzz in the Air

Sometimes the Industry gossip is right. And sometimes not.

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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What this means is that John Carter has become the latest in an endless series of tsk-tsk subjects of Hollywood-run-amok articles and books, as pop-culture spending excesses seem always to generate a kind of thrilled and sickened fascination on the order of reading about the Madoff family. The granddaddy of them all was Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, which took three years to make and cost $48 million in 1963 dollars—the equivalent of $340 million today, meaning that of all the motion pictures ever produced only Avatar cost more in relative terms. Then came Heaven’s Gate (1980), the Michael Cimino movie that destroyed its studio, United Artists, and whose only lasting value is that one of the studio chiefs, Steven Bach, wrote Final Cut about the experience—then and now the best book ever written about Hollywood. That was followed by Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982), which was followed by Howard the Duck (1986), which was followed by Ishtar (1987), which was followed by Waterworld (1995), which was followed by who can even remember what forgettable picture that was never quite as bad as the advance negative publicity made it seem but which wasn’t all that good, either.

There have been times, however, when advance articles on potential flops have gotten it almost comically wrong. There were some in the months leading up to the release of Avatar. And most notoriously there was the November 7, 1977, article in New York by William Flanagan, who reported on an advance screening in Dallas of an expensive new film he declared would be “a colossal flop. It lacks the dazzle, charm, wit, imagination, and broad audience appeal of Star Wars.” On the Monday morning when the article came out, there was a flood of “sell” orders on the stock of Columbia Pictures, which had produced the movie in question and was awash in debt.

The subject of Flanagan’s article was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which had cost $22 million and went on to earn $303 million worldwide. That example demonstrates that everything that has been said and will be said about John Carter before its premiere will prove to be true—unless it’s really, really, really good. In which case it will be a smash, and everything said about it will have been false.

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.

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