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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: John Carter's titular trouble

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Taylor Kitsch stars in a scene from the movie John Carter. Photo / Supplied
Taylor Kitsch stars in a scene from the movie John Carter. Photo / Supplied

Unless you have a particular interest in fantasy literature or have been exposed in a significant way to the marketing, you could be forgiven for thinking this week's Disney blockbuster John Carter is a legal drama.

It has possibly the most innocuous title in the history of blockbuster cinema, and it reeks of studio overthink.

The film is based on the first in a series of stories by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, known collectively as the John Carter of Mars series.

The first book in the series is called A Princess of Mars, so fair enough if you don't want to use that title for your movie.

John Carter of Mars or John Carter: Warlord of Mars (as a comic book series based on the character was titled) would have been perfect titles, evoking the pulpy thrills of the series and promising some otherworldly goodness.

But no. In an apparent attempt to prevent alienation of the female section of the audience, the studio removed any mention of Mars from the title. Because of course, no female could possibly want anything to do with a movie that involved Mars in some way. Right?

There are many ways in which the big movie studios condescend to their audiences, but messing with the titles in this way is particularly galling. I like to imagine the studio's conception of this hypothetical audience member:

Woman: "What film shall we see tonight darling?"
Man: "How about John Carter of Mars?"
Woman: "Mars?!?! Are you crazy? I'm not interested in MARS! Are there any puppy movies playing?"

vs.

Woman: "What film shall we see tonight darling?"
Man: "How about John Carter?"
Woman: "Mmmm, that sounds appealing in the most boring way possible. Let's do it."

Going further, surely anyone who fits this ridiculous conception would feel duped if they were dragged along to John Carter on the presumption it was entirely Mars-less? From what I can tell, there is a whole heap of Mars in this film (although it's referred to by the natives as 'Barsoom'), and attempting to hide this fact via a rejiggered title undermines the entire enterprise.

I'm really looking forward to John Carter, especially as it has been in development for several decades.

The film has unfortunately garnered a reputation as a troubled production, which has little bearing on a film's ultimate quality. I'm onboard in every way, except for the title.

And I'm not alone in the sentiment. Writer/director/movie superfan Edgar Wright tweeted from LA yesterday: "The 'John Carter' billboard on Sunset has the perfect amount of space underneath the title for you to scrawl 'OF MARS!'. Ditto 'The Lorax'."

Movie titles are so often compromised these days, it's gotten to the point where I'm grateful if they don't include three colons, four hyphens or the subtitle "Full Throttle" or "Extermination".

That said, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl tells you more about the movie than if it was called simply "Jack Sparrow".

Just two months before its release, the UK distributors of April's superhero extravangaza The Avengers have blinked and renamed it Marvel Avengers Assemble based on the thinking that modern audience members might confuse it with the cult '60s TV show of the same name, which saw a movie adapatation with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in 1998.

Releasing the Captain America movie with the franchise-promoting title Captain America: The First Avenger was bad enough, but Marvel Avengers Assemble just sounds like a toy set. And it probably is.

The title change doesn't appear to have affected the New Zealand release, which usually gets the UK variation whenever there are multiple release titles for a film.

Would having Mars in the title of a film put you off seeing it? Does this kind of second-guessing bother you too? Am I showing myself to be anal by worrying about such frivolity? Comment below!

Watch the trailer for John Carter:


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