Mars Needs Moms, Invasions Revisited, and Sci-fi March – It’s Mailbag TIme!


My mailbag is unusually heavy this week with science-fiction-film-related questions. Thank you, readers, for making this gig easy! First question:

Mars Needs Moms looks like it’s flopped. What went wrong there? I thought science fiction animation was doing decently these days.

For those who need context, the Disney animated film Mars Needs Moms clocked in with just $6.8 million in box office for its opening weekend; it’s especially bad when you consider that Box Office Mojo estimates the production for the film cost $150 million. It’s a flop.

So what went wrong? Well, I can point to a lot of things, but I’m going to highlight one big thing, which is that this film is an adventure story designed to appeal to young boys called Mars Needs Moms. Because what 8-to-12-year-old boys really want in an animated adventure movie is to be reminded of how much they need their mommies. I’m rather some distance away from being an 8-to-12-year-old boy myself, but, when I reach back into the recesses of my memories of the time, pretty much the only way I would’ve gone to see a movie with that title was if I were dragged to it by, like, my grandmother. Because that’s what grandmothers do. And if I saw that any of my friends were at the movie theater when I was there, I would have lied and told them I was there to see Battle: Los Angeles or at least Rango.
Disney is generally smarter than this, marketing-wise — heck,
it’s got a film named Gnomeo & Juliet cruising toward a $100
million box office — so I’m kind of at a loss as to why they didn’t figure
this one out. This isn’t only a title problem, but the title really is a big problem. We could spend a whole lot of time digging into the
deeper issues of why 8-to-12-year-old boys don’t want to confront their
dependence on their mothers, but that’s probably best left for another
column or at least the comments.

Next question:

Last
week you ranked alien invasions in your column. I’m just wondering; if
you were going to do an alien invasion, how would you do it?

Are
you asking how I would do it if I were making a movie about an alien
invasion or how I would do it if I were an actual alien? Because these
are separate things. If I were making a movie, I would do it along the
lines of War of the Worlds or Independence Day or (yes) Battle:
Los Angeles
, with the aliens on the ground and in the air, shooting
up things and generally making a mess. That’s popcorn-shoveling fun,
and I don’t turn my nose up at popcorn-shoveling fun. It can be done
poorly, sure. When it’s done right, I’m happy.

If I were an actual
alien wanting to invade the Earth, however, that sort of large-scale
invasion seems ill-advised, if for no other reason than that there are 7 billion humans on the Earth and most of them would be cranky about
giving up the planet. So in that case, I would probably try for some Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like stealth. If the humans didn’t
know they were losing the planet, you wouldn’t even have to fight them.
That’s very Sun Tzu, if you know what I mean.

Final question of
the day:

Why are there so many science fiction films
coming out now? Why not in the summer?

It’s true
that every weekend in March has at least one science-fiction film
released in it: first The Adjustment Bureau, then Battle: Los
Angeles
and Mars Needs Moms, and then Paul and Limitless this weekend, followed by Sucker Punch on the 23rd and Source Code on April 1.

Why now and not in the summer? The short
answer to this is that the studios have jammed the summer with what they
hope are their sure bets: the sequels and comic-book movies, all of
which they assume or hope already have built-in audiences. There are some
science-fiction movies among them — Green Lantern, Cowboys & Aliens, and the new Transformers flick stand out as
examples — but their science fictionality is not really their primary
selling point.

And this is fine. I don’t think it’s a
particularly bad thing that we’re getting a batch of science fiction in
the spring; there’s a bit less competition for theater space and more
of a chance for a quirky film to get seen. A science-fiction comedy like
Paul would get hammered (pun intended) if it went up
against Thor or the new X-Men movie; likewise, a grown-up
science-fiction flick like The Adjustment Bureau wouldn’t have a
chance to catch second- or third-weekend viewers if it were up against Green Lantern one weekend, Cars 2 the next, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon the weekend after that.

Happily, The Adjustment Bureau and Battle: Los Angeles seem to be doing just fine in their slots; hopefully,
the other science-fiction movies will, too.

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