Much hullabaloo has been made about the relation of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus to the Alien franchise that he began back in 1979. None of that, it turns out, was justified: this is a straightforward prequel to Scott’s original film, bearing scenes and sequences that seem directly copied from its predecessor while gluing on a ponderous philosophical exoskeleton that is largely mumbo-jumbo and that seems to run parallel, not integral, to what is happening on screen.
It’s now been almost two months since Disney held its nose and released John Carter, investing everything it could in trying to draw audiences even as they knew that it was probably going to end up being the biggest write-down of all time. And, though it hasn’t come close to wreaking the kind of havoc that Heaven’s Gate did when it bankrupted United Artists back in 1980, it’s still proved a colossal disappointment, pulling in just $69 million domestically (barely breaking even on its $250 million budget on the back of stronger overseas performance) and leading to a $200 million operating loss for Disney. Strangely, though, it hasn’t been all that poorly received – its 51% score on RottenTomatoes, though objectively low, isn’t that far off the 57% scored by the first Transformers movie, and my unscientific survey of people I knew who’d seen it produced none of the out-and-out disdain that I would expect out of such a colossal misfire.
Now that we’re a bit further removed from the histrionics and hand-wringing of the release, I’d like to circle back around to John Carter as the starting point for examining the importance of a movie’s ‘texture,’ which is sort of my fancy way of describing the overall effect that production design, for good or ill, has on film and television viewership.