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Our view: It’s now clear, after yesterday’s announcement – Disney viewed John Carter as a hospice case all along

John Carter News, Most Read

We didn’t react immediately when Disney announced yesterday, with John Carter 11 days into its theatrical run, that it will be booking a $200m writedown, making the Andrew Stanton film instantly the holder of the “biggest flop ever” title.  We wanted to sleep on it, and have an opportunity to reflect on the strategy behind the announcement.

Well, we’ve slept on it, and here are our thoughts.

First, the timing and manner of the announcement has brought clarity regarding something we’ve long suspected:   The one-note,  uninspired marketing of John Carter reflects the underlying reality that at Disney — where no key executive involved in green lighting the project remains — John Carter some time ago became first an orphan, then a hospice case,  meaning the Disney top brass first distanced themselves from the project, then accepted the diagnosis of the experts that it would not succeed and decided there was no point in making creative, imaginative, or otherwise “heroic”  efforts to save the film.   Instead, as with a hospice patient, they simply did the minimum necessary to keep it reasonably comfortable until it had run its course and time came to pull the plug.   I realize this may sound like a cynical overstatement — but I don’t think it is.  I’ll explain why.  But first — let’s look at the logic of the announcement.

If your frame of reference is the economics of this movie only — the announcement, coming when it did and being stated the way it was stated, seems shortsighted and foolish.  With the film only 11 days in theaters (3 in China, unreleased in Japan), the announcement (a shot heard round the world, not just in the US) instantly branding the film as the BIGGEST FLOP EVER would clearly be expected have a negative effect on ticket sales for the remainder of the run.  How much effect?  If we use standard industry measures, John Carter as of yesterday had harvested approximately 60% of it’s likely total box office revenue — so another $100m or so remains to be captured, and the announcement will surely have the effect of depressing that remainder by at least 10%.  So let’s start with $10m there; then add in diminished DVD/Blu-Ray value, diminished TV values  …. and clearly you end up with the timing and nature of the announcement costing some tens of millions of revenue dollars to Disney. Why throw that money away unnecessarily?  The argument, being put forward in some quarters,  that public company disclosure requirements demanded that Disney make such a statement right now is ridiculous and is not supported by the actions of other publicly owned studios in similar situations.  There are wars of choice and wars of necessity; in corporate terms there are announcements of choice and announcements of necessity and this was the former, not the latter.

So we wondered yesterday — why make the announcement now when it wasn’t really necessary to do so?  Why not, if an announcement was deemed appropriate, say something to the effect that Disney is grateful that audiences worldwide continue to enjoy the film and support it in theaters, and while results aren’t what Disney had hoped for, Disney remains confident that Andrew Stanton and the film-makers have made a film that will stand the test of time, with longterm revenues and asset value helping to offset near term losses, which will be substantial, but which in any event will not be enough to substantially affect the overall bottom line at Disney where the motion picture division in total only accounts for 7% of revenue.

In other words, why not acknowledge there will be a near term loss, meet your disclosure obligations, set up your next quarterly report so you can “beat expectations” (that’s the game, right?) — and get all this done without negatively impacting the remaining theatrical run — and without throwing the movie, the filmmakers, and the fans under the bus.

But that, as noted, is if you are looking at it from the frame of reference of the economic interests of this movie.

Time to zoom out a bit.

Clearly there was much more in play than just the economics of one movie, or even the economics of the motion picture division at Disney.  This all has to do with the larger corporate scheme of things.

The announcement from Disney was was timed so that it came after the stock markets had closed — giving investors and analysts overnight to put the news in perspective.  Then this morning, when trading started,  Disney stock was hardly affected, trading down 0.7% at $43.12, which is a lot closer to the 52 week high of $44.13 than the low of $28.19 registered last October.

One analyst – Drew Crum of Stifel, Nicolaus was quoted as saying that the motion picture division of Disney is “financially not that important……..While the studio serves as a creative engine for Disney’s intellectual property, it comprised only 7 percent of fiscal year 2011 segment operating income and is only 6 percent of our fiscal year 2012 estimate. While discouraged by another large film loss (last year, it was Mars Needs Moms), we’re not deterred and continue to focus on the positives including media networks and parks – nearly 90 percent of estimated fiscal year 2012 segment operating income.”

Another analyst, Nomura’s Michael Nathanson, put it this way:  “One-off charges at the studio segment are not indicative of the overall health of the company’s core businesses, namely the media networks and [theme] parks.  We view any pullback in the stock around this higher film loss as an enhanced buying opportunity.”

An “enhanced buying opportunity”?

Now — put those numbers in perspective.  The studio comprises  only 7% of operating income for Disney, who is much more in the business of theme parks and cable TV networks.  So, looking at from that perspective, which is of course the perspective that top Disney management would be looking at it, it was clearly better to pull the plug on hospice case John Carter and eat whatever fallout (minimal in the overall scheme of things) this produces, even if doing so meant losing some 10’s of millions in unharvested revenue and forever branding an otherwise worthy film that will make $300m worldwide at the box office as the “biggest flop ever”.  Larger corporate interests were clear — pull the plug, minimize the damage to stock prices, and move on.

So … the announcement does make sense.

Cold, calculating, corporate sense.

I would how Walt Disney would feel about that calculation?

Just as the decision to make the announcement makes more sense now — so too do some other things make better sense.

Such as the fact that with the execs who originally greenlit John Carter gone, and with MT Carney (marketing head and author of the removal of “of Mars” from the title) , no one at Disney really had ownership of this property — no one was, within the studio — a true champion of the project nor did anyone at the studio have a great deal personally at stake. The heads that would have rolled were already gone; those that remained would remain intact no matter what happened to John Carter. In the absence of any champion, what evolved was a stodgy “going through the motions” promotional campaign that was remarkable for its uninspired one-note artlessness, and which included none of the cross-promotions, merchandise tie-ins, or other “very Disney” types of components that were expected, but never materialized.

Meanwhile, the campaign never adapted — never even attempted the kind of course corrections that were clearly indicated after the first round of TV ads in December failed to ignite interest. Prior to the release we kept wondering — do they know something that we don’t’? Does Disney understand the Disney audience in some unique way? It was baffling then. Now it’s clear — no one was really seriously trying to get the promotion to work. Hospice care – that’s all it was.

In sum, it now seems clear that Disney made the judgment some time ago that the patient could not be saved, and at best could just be made reasonably comfortable and allowed to continue until the moment came when Disney could make the announcement which — in the overall corporate scheme of things where the motion picture division accounts for 7% and John Carter is a subcomponent of that –would best serve the larger corporate interests.

That day came yesterday; Disney did what its executives felt it was in the company’s best interests to do; and the results prove one thing for sure: Disney has proven to be much, much more adept at managing its stock price than marketing John Carter.

And so it goes.

Edgar Rice Burroughs deserved better.

Andrew Stanton deserved better.

Fans of both ERB and Andrew Stanton deserved better.

And all the 1000 or more people who worked on the movie, busting a gut for four years and putting their heart and soul into it — they deserved better.

But in the end, the Walt Disney Corporation is not in the business of making movies – they are in the business of making profits, of generating value for shareholders. John Carter is a momentary blip on that radar, and if the film, filmmakers, fans, and good old ERB himself all had to be sacrificed on the altar of earnings per share, so be it. It makes sense.

**************

This is not the end for John Carter.  Andrew Stanton has made a wonderful film whose stature will grow as time passes. This is no Heaven’s Gate; no Ishtar; no Water World.  Cinema history may have labeled it “flop” for the moment — the longer term evaluation will be quite different. It will eventually take root and the film’s passionate fan base will gradually elevate it out of the muck and mire into which it has been so unceremoniously deposited.

In the meantime — it’s a pretty damn dark day on Barsoom.

UPDATE 11:00AM  103 Facebook shares in the first hour this post has been up.  I think perhaps it just speaks to the frustration that people are feeling, and the search — or need — for answers.  I’m going to embed our two fan trailers here –not sure exactly why, except that my own spirits are lifted when I watch them.  It’s definitely a “what might have been” kind of feeling — but it just  reminds that there is an actual excellent movie out there.

 

Fan Trailer 1

Fan Trailer 2 “Heritage”

74 comments

  • Dotar Sojat;

    This is my major gripe with how SF/F films are written.

    Every other literary genre has been translated to film in pretty much the same manner that they are written in prose, letting the audience gradually “discover” the story and the setting. But when it comes to SF/F there is this stubborn cloud of stupidity that settles almost immediately, and someone in the chain of creation starts worrying that the audience won’t “get it.” Of course, as SF/F readers, we know that it’s just like *any* other genre and that SF/F movies doesn’t have to keep explaining themselves to the audience. But filmmakers do not understand that.

    At this point, I don’t think any producer will ever put $$$ into a large scale SF/F project without forcing the writer & director to keep “catching the audience up” to the concepts. It’s just a given now – moreso after so many recent expensive SF/F movies that didn’t reach a huge audience.

    Explaining (over and over) to these people that the *reason* their movies failed is that they packed them with unnecessary exposition, sometimes wasting an entire movie with “establishing” one simple character, instead of giving the audience a well-rounded story that doesn’t worry about losing the popcorn munchers in the first act. is a waste of energy and time, it seems.

    JC could lose the opening narration. Not even the sequence, just the narration. Everything is explained soon enough.

    Having said that, JC is remarkably less obtrusively verbal & explanatory than other SF/F movies, good, bad, and indifferent. I would have written JC differently, but given the enormity of the task, it is still a surreal experience to see that we actually have a JC movie that is set in period and faithful to Burroughs.

  • Raja wrote:

    As far as I’m concerned, John Carter is one of the great SF films ever produced. Every time you watch it, you unravel more of the underlying logic. I like to say it is as deceptively simple as Avatar is deceptively complex. I think he’s done something truly remarkable: create a film that is science-fiction in content while also being a visual fantasy. It’ll take time, but JC will eventually be appreciated for the groundbreaking achievement it is.

    I think it’s definitely up there in the top level and time will allow us to figure out where it really stands vis-a-vis the great ones. I mostly wanted to second your point that “every time you watch it, you unravel more of the underlying logic”. That is absolutely true and it’s a good thing. I’ve seen it three time but I wanted to share something peculiar. When I had my first repeat viewing — a lot of things I missed in the first viewing fell into place an the logic and flow seemed great. Then — I read A Princess of Mars — and thought about that a lot, and then I saw it a third time. On the third viewing, with APOM clearly in my mind and having really looked hard at things like JC’s character and the way in which Burroughs handled all the exposition, I continued to get more clarity on Stanton’s choices but I had that feeling of “oh, man, you should have paid more attention to Burroughs”. This is not simple ERB loyalty …. I’m really open to changes if they improve or handle a situation where something that worked in literature doesn’t work so well in film. But just for example — hitting the audience with the Helium-Zodanga war an floating thorns and 9th ray all at once in the prologue was, I think, a mistake and frankly I have a hard time believing that was a Stanton-instigated move. It feels much more like a studio-instigated move (we don’t want people to think it’s a western; we need a big action vfx sequence up front) than a film-maker desired move, particularly from a storyteller as adept as Stanton. But no one has said that was forced on him and the studio line is they didn’t force anything. But Burroughs was just much more clever and subtle (ERB subtle? Yes) with how he gradually dished out the Barsoom detail. He lands JC in a desert….then he deals with Tars and the incubator; then the Tharks; and it’s only about page 60 when the “fair captive from the sky” arrives that we even learn there are red men, etc. There really was a clever genius in the way ERB did it, and at least half the bad reviews would have turned into good reviews if this one issue had been dealt with.

  • A Quick goggle search would show many different examples, but here’s my example of some of the type of audience that would be reached in a far more widespread way that a more fantasy print campaign emphasis would have offered rather than for the most part, not being in the loop currently for the JC film.

    http://kvbriar.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/john-carter-is-awesome-abna-news.html

    In different ways, something similar happens alot to this type (or subset) of fantasy film though, i think this because these type of films are my fav. genre & in one way or another i have noticed, i always end up watching this same type of thing happen to them!

  • Henreid:

    Well, you are in the minority here.

    I disagree wholeheartedly about the look of the film.

    I was reminded of watching 2001 : A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner for the first time when I saw it opening weekend. Repeated viewings have not dulled that impression. JC is one of the great achievements in sf/f filmmaking. An extraordinary achievement.

    I also respectfully disagree about LOTRS. Jackson took a hacksaw to Tolkien and replaced all but a few piddling morsels with his own complete and utter Hollywodd-style trash. Like Greystoke : The Legend of Tarzan, John Carter actually elevates the Burroughs material quite a bit. And John Carter is much better acted & directed than Abram’s Saturday-morning crude ST movie.

    I say this as a devout Burroughsian. I’m 39. I write literary fiction. My pleasurable reading is mostly the classics. I hold an incredibly high standard. But I’ve never “outgrown” Burroughs. Having said that, what Burroughs did was take his “messages” and graft them invisibly into pure narrative. He was no Franz Kafka or Borges, though. The text is often sloppy.

    What Stanton did was to take Burroughs *method* and translate it into cinema. The movie never stops, ala Avatar, to deliver big messages. But the meaningful themes are there. I respect Stanton’s respect for my intelligence.

    Now, the content of POM is infinitely less complex and dense than LotR’s. So, even a poor adaptation of Tolkien (like the the tragically undercut Bakshi film) is more dense and demanding than the most complex Burroughs adaptation can be. I think we got a very good amplification and streamlining from Stanton’s film. Compared to other recent adaptations, which often retain nothing but the title and core concept (Planet of the Apes) John Carter is an incredibly faithful representation of the original source material.

    So, a difference in opinion.

    As far as I’m concerned, John Carter is one of the great SF films ever produced. Every time you watch it, you unravel more of the underlying logic. I like to say it is as deceptively simple as Avatar is deceptively complex. I think he’s done something truly remarkable: create a film that is science-fiction in content while also being a visual fantasy. It’ll take time, but JC will eventually be appreciated for the groundbreaking achievement it is.

  • Box office success or not, “John Carter” is having a positive impact on the reading (or non-reading) public — and not just on kids. Check out this comment from the IMDB board:

    “I havn’t read a book since I was 13 and I’m nearly 40. But I have such a strong desire now to read up on the John Carter universe, I’ll be ordering the books tomorrow.”

  • I’m glad some of you guys will concede the story problems, I was beginning to worry everyone was in denial.

    Sorry to derail the conversation about the business case, but my point was originally that Stanton brought this on himself through his attitude and alleged behavior. He ruffled a lot of feathers, which I often admire, but then he didn’t make a film good enough for him to get away with it.

    You’re all right that Disney clearly didn’t think much of this project after the regime change and there seems to be a lot of political skullduggery at play. This would be sad, because it does seem like unfair treatment of a palatable motion picture. Stanton riled them up, though, proclaiming he would change the production model of live action, that his way was the best way, and 100 years of filmmakers have been doing it wrong [all New Yorker], that Disney had to keep him happy, etc. Almost every interview drips with the smarm of a guy believing his own good press and ‘genius storyteller’ label. That’s dangerous even for a guy with twin oscars. Add to that the long-term Pixar/Disney team friction, and it shouldn’t be a surprise there were some who wanted to see him fail.

    If the film was as good as some of you seem to feel, he still could have come out on top.

    The sad thing is that this was the one megabudget chance to get Barsoom onscreen, and a classic novel got caught in the crossfire.

    To be fair, all of the other Mars adaptations that were planned had larger deviations from the framing story, so yes — it could have been much worse. For the record, I have huge problems with LOTR and the new Star Trek. LOTR falls apart structurally (much like DJC), but preserves the themes and intent better. I agree that Trek is a more complete betrayal of core ideals than either. The thing about those films, though, is they are well-acted by well-cast actors and cohesively directed with a sense of rhythym and awe. Jackson used as much of Tolkien’s vernacular as he could, too, so the dialogue very often resembles the text. Disney John Carter is not these things, and I am left with a diverging adaptation with less to redeem it.

    There are long stretches of the film that are just plain bad. The acting is passable at best, but often cringe-inducing. As someone else said, they were probably trying their best with the exposition-laden, Burroughs-less dialogue Stanton/Andrews/Chabon shovelled at them, so I don’t want to pick on the actors too much.

    Also guys, there STILL isn’t any ‘wow’ footage. Overall it’s got a good look, with some magnificent matte paintings. Parts of a few jumping shots start to work, and the airships are definitely cool – but there aren’t any truly iconic images. No ‘money shots’ that even stand to compete with Avatar. Or Tron Legacy. Or Trek. Or LOTR. Nothing I’ve never seen before, or better. $250M should have bought superior spectacle, at least.

    Even with the weak promotional treatment, a couple of stand-out, mindblowing images would have probably doubled the opening weekend. That, too, falls at Stanton’s feet.

    I’ve been collecting my thoughts into a more elaborate review, but I don’t know how well that will be received here. I love the outpouring of ERB passion on these boards even if I fundamentally disagree about the film in question.
    Anyway, I certainly look forward to further analysis of the film from this site.

  • I think it’s very fair for fans of ERB’s JC stories to nit-pick at different decisions Andrew Stanton made. I can understand the dislike of the floating therns, or not liking Stanton’s emphasis on Carter longing to get back to the cave. But ERB fans shouldn’t underestimate or dismiss the challenge of converting ERB’s stories into a single film….especially when it was the intent of the filmmaker and studiio to make it a 3-film franchise. Stanton clearly wanted to introduce a film audience to the man John Carter and Princess Dejah in the first film. He wanted audiences to like Carter and Dejah, and to root for them and care for them. I personally liked Carter’s “weakness” of wanting to go home. And the splicing in of his family memories on earth are powerful and enhance the film in my opinion.

    Stanton’s depiction of the therns, while different than the books, really works for me. They’re truly evil, creepy, mysterious and it’s believable that Carter can’t really do anything to stop them. Carter eventually figures out how to over-come their control, and it’s clever how Stanton decided to do it.

    As for the “box office fiasco”, it sucks selfishly for me because I’m really doubting Stanton will get to make his sequels. That bums me out. But honestly, I could give a hoot that Disney might lose money on a film. Box office bomb or not, we get to see a John Carter film made in the vision of a very talented film-maker. That’s rare. It should be celebrated that the stars aligned for this to happen.

    I’ve seen John Carter twice, and will see it again in the next couple weeks. I’ll likely go see Hunger Games, Wrath of the Titans, Prometheus, Avengers, Batman and Spiderman this Spring/Summer, and I can almost guarantee I won’t have the desire to see any of those films again until DVD release. I expect them to be like most “good” blockbuster films….entertaining and thrilling in the moment like a fireworks show, but something I won’t think about too much the day after. For me, that wasn’t the case with John Carter.

  • For people complaining about changes to the story: did you see Lord of the Rings or Star Trek? As far as fidelity to source material goes, we got LUCKY!! One of the reasons those films were so damned popular was that they basically ignored the intentions and qualities of the originals and just re-invented the stories wholesale. What Stanton attempted was far more complex & difficult to pull off.

    I would jettison the prologue, as many others have noted, and make a few other tweaks, but c’mon. Burroughs had a grand imagination but he wrote pure pulp. In the hands of a director with less respect for the material, Barsoom wouldn’t even have been Mars!! John Carter would be some kind of astronaut or military guy. Who knows what else would have gotten pushed through the “Hollywood Generic Story Converter”?

    As for the “broken man” thing — there’s no evidence of brokenness in the film. It’s just a bit of back-story that gives the film its most moving & original sequence, the flaskback/Warhoon battle. JC of the movie is exactly the JC of POM: a Confederate veteran who has turned his back on the world to pursue his fortune. In the film he doesn’t want to be recruited but he doesn’t shy away from a single confrontation or battle in the whole movie. What the tiny bit of back-story does is provide the audience with an “in”. Now, I think it could have been differently, but I also don’t think the character was undercut in any way. It’s hardly like messing with Hamlet. Carter can’t even remember his own childhood in the books! This is abt all we get for backstory:

    “My name is John Carter; I am better known as Captain Jack Carter of Virginia. At the close of the Civil War I found myself possessed of several hundred thousand dollars (Confederate) and a captain’s commission in the cavalry arm of an army which no longer existed; the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South. Masterless, penniless, and with my only means of livelihood, fighting, gone, I determined to work my way to the southwest and attempt to retrieve my fallen fortunes in a search for gold.”

    C’mon, its been 100 years, the character needed *some* updating. And they did a solid job.

    Stanton, Andrews & Chabon did a fantastic job of adapting the material. And while a blockbuster would’ve been nice, it’s not necessary or even possible for everything to be a gigantic success. Time will tell on this movie. It is incredibly well made, captures the spirit of Burroughs, and rewards repeated viewing.

    Personally, I’m grateful for the film we have. It’s a classic SF movie, and like all the others, it has its faults. Infidelity to the source isn’t really one of them, to my view.

  • AC — is there link to The Beat article? I haven’t seen it ….that is a very good summation.

  • See… Disney didn’t just have the budget at $250m. It started out at $125. Despite Stanton talking about how he knows production better than anyone else, he still didn’t get everything he needed during the original shoot and asked for reshoots after the test screenings showed the film to be confusing.

    Stanton claims that he came in on time and on budget originally and that’s why he got the reshoots, but if that was the case… How come the budget doubled in the end?

    The best intel on this comes from Lindsey Collins, producer, who is quoted as saying that Disney’s original budget was 175, not 125, and that after she and Stanton and Morris had done their budgeting, they met with Disney and convinced Disney that it had to be higher than 175 (she doesn’t specify how much higher). That budget including an allocation for a limited amount of reshooting which was always part of the “pixar process”. Then, according to Collins, then the main shoot came in on time and budget without consuming the contingency, Disney approved an additional week of reshooting beyond what was int he original plan. Now — this is just Collins’ account, but it’s the only detailed one we’ve heard and it’s plausible. If you aren’t familiar with the “Pixar process” — check it out online because it really is based on reshoots to get things right.

    My experience is that things are never black and white — and there are plenty of shades of grey in this situation. Stanton is clear strong willed and a handful for the studio. But this is Disney, the control freak studio.

    Stanton bears his share of the blame — but not all the blame. There’s plenty to go around, and after all – he is guilty of doing what director’s do, which is to try and get their way. While Disney is guilty of not doing what studios do, which is protect their interests by not letting a director get everything he wants when it’s not, int he studio’s judgment, the right way to go.

  • Bill, it seems you don’t understand how Hollywood works. Let me explain it to you.

    The budget of “John Carter” is $250m + $100m in marketing.

    That’s $350m. Whatever the film grosses is split about 50/50 with the the theaters and sometimes less depending on which country we’re talking about (i.e. China is less than 40%).

    That means that the film needs to make more than $700m to break even.

    Saying they lost $200m on this movie is about right. Let’s say the film grosses $300m like this article would have you believe it will. That means the studio will make about $150m. That means they’ll still be down by…

    $200 million dollars.

  • Well…keep in mind the math — 250m plus 100m marketing makes the nut $350m. And the 180m Box Office Gross includes 50+ from the US (call it net 30 to Diney) and 130 foreign (call it net 60 to Disney – they get a lesser share in foreign). So It’s $350m cost, $90 revenue so far . But there’s another $50 net in theatrical coming in, plus at least that from DVD — then cable, TV revenues, etc, plus residual library value……Disney isn’t set to make a profit but the 200m is probably an intentional overestimation so they can later say it “wasn’t as bad as feared”, further buoying stock prices.

  • Henreid … at some point I’m going to get around to my thoughts about the miss-steps with the story and you are not wrong about the opening and especially the floating therns…..But at the moment we seem to be caught up in the swirl of the biz dynamics……

    For me (just briefly, I’ll try a longer take later), the biggest mistake was trying to modernize John Carter by making him have this “broken” quality ….not because that was intrinsically bad — but it meant that when he went to Mars, his only motivation for 3/4 of the movie is to get back to his cave of gold. This is just deeply, fundamentally different from ERB’s John Carter who had no reason to go back to Earth, was looking to make his way on Barsoom, and was able to look around and appreciate his surroundings. That, plus ERB’s genius at parceling out the exposition in manageable bites (first indication that there are even Red martians in existence is around page 50 when Dejah appears as the “Fair captive from the sky”…..audience gets taken long step by step as Burroughs builds the world. In the movie — it’s all slung at the audience in a “too much too fast” mishmash…….

    But it’s still a worthy film – plenty of heart, and meticulous in its visual representation of Barsoom and Barsoomians, and that’s nice. But the story definitely deviates in some ways that were not improvements.

  • Looking at Box Office Mojo, in 11 days, the movie has made better than $180M on a $250M production budget. Seems to me that their big loser could still pull a flat out profit if they don’t take more advanced steps to sink it. That makes it seem more as if they’re trying to make the project sink, which is a heck of a lot more complex than a corporation trying to announce a loss in the least painful way.

  • See… Disney didn’t just have the budget at $250m. It started out at $125. Despite Stanton talking about how he knows production better than anyone else, he still didn’t get everything he needed during the original shoot and asked for reshoots after the test screenings showed the film to be confusing.

    Stanton claims that he came in on time and on budget originally and that’s why he got the reshoots, but if that was the case… How come the budget doubled in the end?

    I’m not trying to exonerate Disney for not having production executives holding his hand on his first live action feature. Lionsgate did just that when Darren Lynn Bousman did the “Saw” sequel and that was a $4m investment.

    I’m saying that Stanton should’ve never been given this project in the first place.

    While you can say all that you want that Disney was wrong for not overseeing this project properly, Harvey Weinstein, who’s notorious for being on set and a control freak, even with Martin Scorsese on “Gangs of New York,” did no such thing with Robert Rodriguez on “Sin City.”

    The original plan was for him to direct “John Carter” using the same technology as “Sin City.” Under that circumstance, can you imagine the film ballooning to a $250m budget?

    With Rodriguez, a proven veteran at the helm, they could’ve easily made the film for less than a $100m and its current box office numbers would deem it a success rather than the biggest flop.

    You don’t give a kid the keys to the Ferrari if he doesn’t know how to drive just because he’s good at video games. Disney did, and he totaled the Ferrari.

  • Of course — I’ve read that article previously, everyone has. It’s very interesting and entertaining — but all the inside dope comes from one “Disney marketing mole” and there is not real journalism done — other points of view are not pursued. Go back and read it again with sourcing in mind.

    So … here’s what your’e citing about the visit during the reshoots:

    And indeed, according to Stanton, the Disney production execs were nowhere to be seen on the set of John Carter (at least until the reshoots began). However, late last spring, the studio’s marketing team did head out to the set to meet with the director. Then led by Marie “MT” Carney, a blunt Scotswoman who had come to the job in July 2010 from Madison Avenue, outside the Hollywood system (and who would resign last January, eighteen months into a more than four-year contract), the marketing department was attempting to put together the summer teaser but, frustratingly, found no footage to cut from. Determined not to lose the film’s summer moment, Carney flew to see Stanton to pry away some of the needed, Wow! Didja see that?!?–style special-effects shots that would make the movie an instant must-see.

    Now let’s examine that. First of all, Vulture says it was reshoots. RESHOOTS. But there was no “wow” footage. Those two facts (reshoots already, but no wow footage) don’t make sense. Secondly, even if it wasn’t reshoots, if this is true – -where was the studio when the production plan was laid out? If it was a requirement that a trailer with wow footage be available on a certain date (and everyone knows the key dates years in advance) how did it just happen that marketing people showed up on the set only to discover THERE AND THEN that the requisite scenes had not been shot. What was the studio production executive doing with his time? What was Ross doing. Here we are, investing 250m, and nobody even bothers to get the tools to sell the movie? It’s crazy and I’m absolutely certain that’s not how it happened. The “marketing mole” has a very limited perspective and they built the whole story around this low-level “insider’s” observations — all of which were self-serving in that they exonerating Disney marketing (duh) and placed all the blame on Stanton.

    Sorry -it’ll take more than that Vulture article to make the case. It fails the logic test and it is based on one marketing person’s self-serving account of how Disney marketing was sabotaged by the director, and is therefore blameless.

    I want to be clear — I’m not saying Stanton is blameless by any means. I think he did insist on the budget and his casting choices and those two things are incompatible. If he wanted to bump the budget up to 250m, Disney should have held firm and insisted on a bankable lead. That was the tradeoff that should have been struck and it wasn’t.

    Anyway — enjoying the lively discussion and I’m fine with there being multiple divergent opinions. But you haven’t convinced me of your position — and I presume I haven’t convinced you either.

    So it goes.

  • “All these articles making Stanton out to be a martyr are ridiculous. The guy was an egomaniac who was given $250m worth of rope to hang himself and he did.”

    Completely true. He stripped out the core of Burroughs book, filled it with his own lesser ideas and then fumbled the whole thing while mouthing off and reveling in his own perceived genius.

    A film that opens with an AT-AT monster city and dudes with Jedi powers floating in on a goofy blue Avengers electr0-cloud is not a faithful adaptation of ‘A Princess of Mars’.

    Very astute analysis as usual from the site. In matters of Box Office, business and Tracking, you continually impress.

  • Great article. I feel that Disney doomed this fantastic movie from the beginning. They expected it to generate Avatar level revenue but did nothing on their own part to help with that expectation. In fact, the marketing of this film only ensured it would not meet such expectations. Had I not grown up with ERB books in the home, just from the trailers for this I would not have had a clue what this movie was about. Fans of the books will never get to see the sequels this film deserves to have because of Disney’s poor handling of this film. I can’t not believe Disney wrote off the film while it was still in theaters! They should be joining with the fans in their efforts to save the movie. Instead this new press release feels like they are spitting in our faces. We who have seen the movie multiple times, pestered our friends and family to see it, spams our Facebook and twitter pages about the movie. After all the fans have done and continue to make an effort to do, this is how you respond Disney?

  • Did you read the first article that I posted when Stanton allowed press onto the set during their reshoots?

    Stanton threw a hissy fit, saying he would take his ball and go home if they didn’t give him everything he wanted. Disney didn’t want to piss off the guy who made two back to back $500m+ blockbusters, so they agreed to it. You’re saying it’s their fault for giving this much control to someone. You’re right. Doesn’t make Stanton any less wrong for demanding it.

    The reason you don’t see him giving interviews is because he knows the onus is on him.

  • Here’s a quote from The Beat that I think sums up the situation with John Carter quite well: “Here’s my distillation of what went wrong […] this was Cook’s movie, and when he got booted, it got orphaned. It had to keep going, but no one at the studio wanted to take responsibility for it. Disney’s lack of enthusiasm for the project was more and more obvious. All the backstory and backstabbing didn’t allow people to see that this was actually a pretty good movie. Believe me, plenty of worse pieces of [s###t] have made $500 million worldwide.” This movie was allowed to fail by Disney’s management in order to take the studio in a new direction, they don’t want a long term billion dollar commitment to a centerpiece they had no part in bringing about. John Carter’s financial meltdown is the funeral pyre of Dick Cook’s tenure as head of the studio, a cinematic wonder left out in the cold by studio politics.

  • Donlee — thanks for your comment.

    Here’s a different perspective.

    First of all — Stanton has not given any interviews giving his side of the story since the knives came out — he’s been silent. What you have are unnamed sources within Disney or ‘close to the studio” putting out a story that Stanton was the one – Stanton controlled everyone — the studio just empowered him and he screwed the pooch.

    Okay, let’s say that’s true, just for the sake of argument (and I don’t believe it — but let’s follow the breadcrumbs and see where they lead).

    Since when is a Studio doing their job when they hand over complete control of EVERYTHING — casting, story, shooting sequence, even the marketing — to a director? WTF? Then why are they paying all those astronomical salaries to the Studio head and all the top executives? If their only function is to give the director everything he wants, what’s their purpose — a cashier can do that?

    If the decision to bump the budget all the way up to $250 without putting in a name actor insurance was an accommodation to Stanton, then the studio failed. He does not know the market realities — he’s a creative player. He might in all earnestness want control, but the Studio can’t cede it to him. The studio is the studio for a reason.

    So no — even if the studio just let Stanton have his way, they’re not off the hook. Ask any real studio executive who’s ever been in a tug of war with a director. They’ll tell you that what I’m swing is true, it’s their job to make sure the studio’s interests are protected an dust capitulating to a director is a dereliction of duty.

    But here’s the thing …. I don’t think that’s what really happened. I think you’re just repeating a convenient narrative that has been put “out there” by friends of the studio and it’s sticking because there is no counter narrative coming from Stanton. But even if it sticks, it fails, because it exposes mistakes by the studio.

    Time will tell.

    One thing for sure, it’s an interesting story that is now part of “Hollywood lore”.

  • Boo hoo. This would be great except for the fact that the failure of “John Carter” is largely Andrew Stanton’s doing. He demanded complete control of marketing and Disney gave it to him:

    http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/john-carter-doomed-by-first-trailer.html

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/17/111017fa_fact_friend

    Stop drinking the kool-aid.

    Had Robert Rodriguez made this film as was the original intention, it wouldn’t have cost more than $50m, had much bigger names, and been much more successful than this current incarnation. All these articles making Stanton out to be a martyr are ridiculous. The guy was an egomaniac who was given $250m worth of rope to hang himself and he did.

    Hubris shouldn’t be rewarded and celebrated, someone who says something like this is BOUND to fail:

    Stanton: Three months in, I said to my producers, ‘Is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?’ The crew were shocked that they couldn’t overwhelm me.

  • I saw the film today and I loved it. Every one of my friends on Facebook who has seen it has positive comments. It’s beyond sad that this wonderful movie has become a corporate pawn.

  • “2 kids rushed me at lunch. One said he had been looking for me for a week because he can’t get a copy of aPoM and needs one. Luckily I keep my bag well stocked with them and gave it to him quickly. He and his friend are joining the reading project and are planning on writing a song inspired by the book. The other girl told me she is almost done with my book and not to worry she’ll give it back because she knows a bunch more kids are waiting to read it.”

    Becky, stories like this make all our efforts worth it. If the movie were yanked from the theaters this very day, it still would have served to introduce countless new readers to “A Princess of Mars.”

    To me, there’s no better measure of success.

  • I think Disney shot themselves in the foot with the handling of the film and hope it gets a financial shot in the arm before is goes away. I will certainly be adding this to my film collection and the complete lack of toys and models or ANYTHING ELSE I’d buy merchandise-wise saddens me. Smart move Disney. You could have tied this in with your theme parks rather easily and gotten me to go there too, but instead…

    Anyway, I honestly don’t understand what the ‘problems’ are with this film for those who don’t like it.

    First off, I have not read the books; I don’t read a lot of fiction in any case, but I likely will read these books now. The film looked interesting to me in the trailers though the official ones pale in comparison to the fan trailer. A good deal of my initial interest was in the visuals, that is to say the production design. The ships, the costumes, everything looked different to me, not just the over-used anime-influenced all-looks-the-same hardware designs that litter SF films now.

    As far as the actual film, I sat, for the first time since Sky Captain, and felt like a I was a kid again. Sure, a fat kid with silver hair and a mortgage, but a kid. I haven’t felt that kind of excitement during a movie in so long I’d forgotten what it was like. And unlike with Sky Captain I didn’t leave the theatre saying “I liked it, but it should have been better than it was”. Again, I’m comparing John Carter to nothing and just seeing it as a film, not an adaptation. My wife and I have left more films than I can remember where the first thing we say is “needed another re-write”. Not so here.

    I have a few minor gripes with perhaps too modern dialogue phrasing or words here-and-there (and a big groan for the Jobs dedication at the end), but nothing that detracted from the experience overall.

    Perhaps the real problem with the film is not the film but with the audience. So many SF moviegoers think that films like Avatar are instant classics shot on magical spun gold when what they are are simplistic eye-candy, long on visuals (and running time) and short on substance. I have, for a decade or more now, described most movies as like fireworks displays; lots of bangs and flashes and when the smoke clears you take nothing away from the experience. I did not find John Carter to be “too complicated” or “confusing” as I’ve read some describe it; but then I wasn’t texting or checking my phone during the film so maybe my undivided attention gave me an unfair advantage over some.

    Maybe the lack of nudity, bed-hopping and profanity damned John Carter to the long list of “cheesy” movies that aren’t smart or cool enough for the “sophisticated” youth of today. But then Star Wars had none of those things and I hear it’s still fairly popular.

    John Carter may not be a perfect film, but for me, it is a damn fine film that should have been given a fair chance by the studio and the audience.

  • I’ve said it once and ill say it again: Fans did not cause this. But by Issus Fans will end it! Let’s all return to Barsoom once more people! And prove Disney wrong! We still live!!!

  • Since I watched John Carter, I’ve been walking around in a wonderful state of mind full of awe, and amazement, something so fresh and smart, what a great movie. I’ve been on a cloud for the last 10 days, for the first time in a long time I’ve felt that childlike sense of wonder. Thank you to all who were involved in the movie, it truly is a masterpiece.

    I feel gutted now that disney has thrown in the towel so soon. Why didn’t they fight the negative buzz with commercials of fans exiting the theaters talking about how good the film was, or with interviews from Lucas and Cameron on how they were inspired by Princess of Mars. Why did they just give in and let the negative buzz win? Why no toys, dam I want a Woola!

    It’s just so sad, what a loss, so much potential.

  • I read these books when I was a kid, and then waited over 50 years for this film to be made. I have gone to see it in 2D twice so far, and will go tomorrow for a 3D showing.

    I love this movie! Stanton — and everyone involved in making it — did an outstanding job. Thank you — be proud.

    After having waited a frikking lifetime for this movie, it absolutely breaks my heart to see Disney throw it under the bus. Are any hopes of a sequel just ridiculous now?

    And thank you for a great explaination of why Disney would make such a crazy announcement. It helps sooth the wounds a little, anyway, to at least understand.

  • I read this article earlier today and had to take few moments to let it really sink in. I walked out of the classroom and 2 kids rushed me at lunch. One said he had been looking for me for a week because he can’t get a copy of aPoM and needs one. Luckily I keep my bag well stocked with them and gave it to him quickly. He and his friend are joining the reading project and are planning on writing a song inspired by the book.

    The other girl told me she is almost done with my book and not to worry she’ll give it back because she knows a bunch more kids are waiting to read it.

    ERB is magical. You can see it in people after they finish one of his books. We know that magic only works if you believe in it, and Disney just didn’t really beleive in John Carter. Why even make the film if you are going to doom it to fail?

    I’m thinking of Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote that was never completed. At first I was very disappointed. Now I’m thinking that maybe that was for the best. I’m not saying John Carter should never have been made, but if it hadn’t, the thousands of people who worked on the film and those who promoted it (including our grassroots efforts) would have been spared the agony and embarrassment of a lost cause.

    I’m not embarrased of my efforts, just jilted. I feel like the wool was pulled over my eyes. I don’t know what else to write. I guess I’m just sad for everyone and even sadder that money always seems to win over creativity.

    Creative people are by nature, risk-takers. I just pray that those fabulous minds will not be discouraged or deterred and they will keep churning out ideas and not fear failure. Art is always risky. Let’s keep taking risks.

  • A great article, Michael.

    Looking at what happened in regards to JOHN CARTER, I cannot help but think of Frank Herbert’s words in regards to the film adaptation of DUNE (which he liked): that it was a “created” disaster.

    Not on the part of the people who brought the film to life, such as Andrew Stanton and the cast and crew. They made a superb film. It’s more in line with the studios and of course, the media. The latter declared the film DOA even before it was released, basing their judgements on an article that spoke to a rival studio and of course, their own refusal to actually research the story behind the movie. The former…well, you said it better than I could.

    JOHN CARTER is a great film that did not deserve the mauling it has received. And yet I still spot online comments from those who blasted the film claiming “victory” because now Hollywood is going to go and do better films.

    They couldn’t be more wrong.

    JOHN CARTER the film WAS a gamble. It’s not a sequel, prequel or remake. It’s not based on a popular tween novel. It’s not based on anything from over the past five years. And yet, even though it’s barely been in theaters for two weeks, the towel is thrown in. Pathetic.

    The irony is that some of the online haters of the film were, only a few months ago, crying foul because a major Hollywood studio refused to green-light Guillermo del Toro’s ambitious, R-rated, 3D film adaptation of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS because of the cost–it would be over 200 million to make. As Daniel pointed out, this will make things harder for studios to green-light ambitious projects that are not “safe” or are adapting books or stories that were published decades ago.

    I still do not know why the hell so many wanted this film to fail, I really don’t.

    However, as pissed-off as I am about the way this film was laid into, I am grateful for a few things:

    1) That the film was even made–and that it was a damned fine film. Barsoom made the leap from print to screen in a big way that captured the spirit of the original books.

    2) Many of the people who had never heard of the books before seeing the film are now interested in reading the books after seeing the film. Also, a good chunk of SF, Fantasy, and Horror writers who read the books when they were young have given JOHN CARTER high praise–among them Peter David, Kim Newman, and the venerable Michael Moorcock (who wrote his “Kane of Old Mars” novels as an homage to Burroughs’ Mars tales).

    3) The release of the film made me read up more on ERB’s life and work, and I’m currently reading Richard Lupoff’s EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS: MASTER OF ADVENTURE.

    4) The majority of people who have seen the film really, really like it. Those who hate it are fewer in number, but they scream and/or post the most online.

    Ultimately, what determines a movie’s worth isn’t BO receipts or reviews by critics. It’s time, or rather, the _passage_ of time. Perhaps time will be kinder to this film (I refuse to believe the idiot who brayed on a forum that the film will not be remembered a year from now) as it was to CITIZEN KANE, BLADE RUNNER, 2001, and THE IRON GIANT, among others.

  • Although JOHN CARTER is not the adaptation of ERB’s A PRINCESS OF MARS that I would like to have seen, it deserved a much better fate than it has received. When Disney took out an option on the property over twenty years ago, I made peace with the idea that it would ever be a faithful adaptation of the original story. Re-reading the Barsoom series as an adult made me very aware how much society has changed since they were originally published. Changes in the story were inevitable. The ones that they made were not necessarily the ones that I would have found acceptable. However, I always wanted the project to succeed. Now it looks like there were people involved who were prepared for the picture to fail. We all deserved a great deal better!

  • It just shows how poorly Disney handled this fantastic film. I’m actually considering seeing it at least one more time with a friend. Hopefully Disney will regret this obviously cold and calculating business decision and realize the final product is everything it was meant to be. Again Andrew if you are reading this: Thank you. And if Taylor Kitsch is reading this I will personally shake your hand if we ever meet. Well done man, well done. Until that day when we finally return to Barsoom……

  • IS THERE A CASE FOR FANDOM MAKING SOME NEGATIVE NOISE ABOUT DISNEY? SHOULD THERE BE A BLANKET CAMPAIGN AGAINST THIS TYPE OF NONSENSE, ESPECIALLY IF THE MOVIE WAS THAT GOOD?

  • A great piece about the poor treatment of a great, fun film.

    Disney really dropped the ball on this one and the amount of hate against the film is mind boggling when it is an enjoyable pulp adventure.

    I for one will be getting the Blu-ray and telling all the LFF readers to do the same.

    Sadly it looks as if we will not be going to Barsoom again any time soon and that is a crying shame.

    Hopefully it will do a Blade Runner – bad press to begin with, but a true classic

  • Well, cinema has never been friendly to SF. It likes to steal from it freely but it never gives anything back (James Cameron, I’m glaring in your direction). Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas are three of the few modern filmmakers who have gone out of their way to credit genuine SF. I wasn’t surprised by JC’s “fall” although it could easily have been avoided. But if Hunger Games level selling is necessary to get an audience interest level to justify things like serious budgets and realistic shooting schedules, then epic SF is doomed at the box office. I’d personally like to see fewer adaptations but I’d settle for really strong adaptations of classics like Childhood’s End, Foundation, Martian Chronicles etc. Can you imagine “selling” a really cerebral SF movie to modern audiences? They think “Battlestar Galactica – The Reboot” is SF. Maybe it’ll inspire more small, innovative SF films like “Moon” in the future. Still, it’s ridiculous.

  • “We may be beaten down as JC was under all those Warhoon, but WE STILL LIVE!” This is the coolest comment/analogy I’ve seen yet, after many days of interacting with the “Take Me Back To The Barsoom: I Want A John Carter Sequel” website. Andrew Stanton will just have to shove all those dead Warhoon off his body and make his next super-jump toward those sequel stories!

  • The difference between The Hunger Games and John Carter is that The Hunger Games has a bigger fan base “right now”. They could build up that kind of pre-movie buzz and anticipation by targeting the already moderately large fanbase. The “Of Mars” fanbase, while surely devoted, wasn’t large enough to launch this type of campaign.

    And this is what gets me worried about the future of Movie Marketing. If there MUST be a large established market in order to properly sell a big budget movie, then the chance of older series and new concepts being made into movies decreases exponentially. John Carter is unfortunately proof of this.

    But it didn’t have to be this way. I feel like had disney championed this project internally, they could have found creative ways to fire up some buzz for this movie. But they directly hurt the fanbase with the name change, and then never really focused on pushing any social media outreach or explain to people with no experience with the series WHY they needed to pay attention to this project.

    It’s disheartening, not only because this hurt John Carter, but because it hurts the entire industry. Companies will be less likely to highlight projects like this in the future, when I feel projects like this are why people become filmmakers in the first place. You could completely see it in JC, the movie was definitely a love letter from the team to not only ERB, but also the sci-fi adventure genre. They really wanted to make a movie like that, and now to see their passion get completely rejected is heartbreaking.

    We can’t lay the ENTIRE blame on Disney for this. It was always going to be a tough sell, no matter what. But with a project like this, I always had a slight sliver of hope that here is where studios would take a stand and fight to promote something classic and bold as this. And I’m sure that there were people in disney’s corporate division that really DID want that. But in the end they succumbed to the greater market forces and let this film slide in to probable obscurity.

    I love film, but I went into marketing because I knew this would be a problem for the industry in the future. It hurts me when I see projects I love get mishandled by marketing teams that can’t grasp how to beat the overpowering direction of the current market. I don’t have near the experience they do, nor do I have any of the answers I wish I could impart to these teams. But I hope that through passion and necessity we can learn to really transform the current business model into something that can celebrate originality and promote creative ideas to the public.

  • Provided it generates another $100 mil box office, the “biggest flop ever” would weigh in at about the 250th biggest box office ever. This is all a very strange phenomenon. Me, I’m just thankful for a real good movie. Thanks to Stanton for pursuing a dream, thanks to Disney for giving it a shot.
    And your coverage on this site is stellar!!

  • Great article and very well said. I am still stunned by all this. John Carter is one of the best action adventure movies I have ever seen. This movie is no flop. When people actually begin to see it, they will be surprised that the term flop and John Carter were breathed in the same sentence. The only reason John Carter is a flop, is because Disney wanted it to be one for whatever their nefarious corporate reasons.

  • Hey, Michael, here’s a link to a NYT article (link here is to reprint in Seattle Times) regarding the marketing of Hunger Games that is apropos:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/movies/2017792547_hungergamesmarket19.html

    The opening line defines the JC marketing: “Selling a movie used to be a snap. You printed a poster, ran trailers in theaters and carpet-bombed NBC’s Thursday night lineup with ads. Today, that kind of campaign would get a movie marketer fired.”

    If only it does!

  • Michael, this is one of your best articles ever! You have spelled it out so perfectly! Yes, this is what makes sense and is so very clear now. That announcement yesterday has made Disney transparent and it’s apparent ineptness with John Carter fully explained. I agree that the film is not going to die. That it’s far too great to stay buried under the mud it’s been shoved under. It will take time, though, because when it comes to us little folks trying to wake the world up about this film, it’s a slow and often agonizing process. I tell ya I’ve been feeling a lot of agony over the past months, weeks, and these past hours since that announcement. But I won’t stop! Thank you for this and your constant encouragement! We may be beaten down as JC was under all those Warhoon, but WE STILL LIVE!

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