Chris Kelley, one of the writers for Real Time with Bill Maher, has written a smart piece on Huffington Post entitled “Mitt Romney of Mars” in which he likens the Disney marketing of John Carter to the marketing of Mitt Romney. It’s pretty clever and the point resonates: he’s saying that Disney approached the marketing like John Carter was the default choice for consumers, and they would go as long as Disney didn’t do anything to screw it up. He says that this is essentially the problem with the Mitt Romney campaign. What I like about his logic is that in both cases, there seems to be a great deal of “over thinking” going on. In the case of Disney they overthought the title (get rid of “Princess”, get rid of “Mars”); they overthought the director (don’t say “from the Director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E because it might give the wrong impression); and don’t mention Edgar Rice Burroughs (it might make it seem old and creaky). Then …. don’t really try to tell anyone the story ……
Anyway, here it is. Pretty good stuff.
Mitt Romney of Mars
Nothing is more fun, in Los Angeles, than watching someone else’s project die. I don’t mean “watching it” watching it. That’s torture. I mean reading about it fail. And when it’s a Disney tent pole, like John Carter, everyone else’s pleasure is so pure and singular the Germans probably should give it its own word. Walt-schmerz?
So there are lots and lots of articles in the business press about what went wrong on John Carter, with lots and lots of quotes from anonymous executives, blaming the director, the source material, the audience, the economy, other people’s movies, and persistence of vision itself, for making cinema possible. But really, the content of what they’re saying doesn’t matter. What’s fun is the spectacle of watching them pass the buck.
Remember that great moment in The Hunt for Red October, when the torpedo turns around and destroys the submarine that fired it? The last words from a crewman to his captain:
“You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us.”
It’s like that.
And reading about the failure of a can’t-miss, sure-fire, home run that wasn’t, like John Carter, made me think about Mitt Romney. Because it seems like what went wrong with John Carter was that the geniuses who marketed it never gave anyone a reason to go. They spent all their time and money and effort removing the reasons not to go. Like seeing their movie was the default desire of the consumer, as long as no one fucked it up. Like voting for Mitt Romney is the default desire of the voter, as long as no one thinks about it too hard.
This is a misapprehension.
John Carter is a movie by a brilliantly successful maker of animated films. His name is Andrew Stanton. He made Finding Nemo and WALL-E. John Carter is based on a character called John Carter of Mars, and that’s what the movie was called, too, before they made it foolproof.
The first thing they did was make sure no one knew it was made by the writer and director of WALL-E. Because what if that made people think it was a kids’ movie? The next thing they did was make sure no one knew what it was about — cowboys and aliens — because a movie called Cowboys & Aliens had recently flopped. The last thing they did was change the title from John Carter of Mars to John Carter, because testing told them some people don’t like Mars.