Special Report: John Carter, The Flop that Wasn’t a Turkey — How did it happen? (Part 1)

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When a wannabe blockbuster turns out to be a turkey of a film and flops miserably, we don’t need any explanations — it’s clear what just happened.  A bad movie tanked.  It’s simple.   Mars Needs Moms,  Ishtar, Heaven’s Gate all fall into this category.  They were flops and they were turkeys.

But this year has brought us  Disney’s John Carter, a film which flopped so badly that 10 days after its release it was  officially certified by no less an authority than its own studio as the  biggest flop in the history of cinema, causing a $200M write down in the quarter of its release. If its own studio classifies it as an epic flop, then it’s a flop. But is it a turkey?   Directed by Andrew Stanton of Wall-E and Finding Nemo fame, John Carter  has divided the critics 50/50, which is not a bad score at all for a sci-fi epic.  Indeed, Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey fared no better with the critics on their initial release.  It has earned a 75% positive rating from fans, but perhaps more significantly it has spawned a highly motivated and organized fan base,  many of whom will have seen it 10 times by the time its theatrical release is complete.  An economic flop?  If Disney declares it so, it must be so. But a turkey of a film?  No.

So how did this happen?  How did a well produced, lovingly directed movie which will in  all probability end up eventually being regarded as a beloved sci-fi classic end up as the #1 economic flop in cinema history?    No one has all the answers, but after three months of studying every aspect of the film, the production, and the release itself, it’s time to venture the fruits of the analysis, and essay an explanation of: What really happened with John Carter?

Disney Gets the Rights to A Princess of Mars at Andrew Stanton’s Behest
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 classic A Princess of Mars had been in one form of development or another as a film for 95 years when, in early 2007, Andrew Stanton reached out to then Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook.  Stanton, a Pixar stalwart who was in the last year of work on Wall-E, had been introduced to the material through the 1970’s comic books; he had read and become a passionate fan of the underlying Burroughs material.  When he found out that Paramount’s production of A Princess of Mars, with Jon Favreau at the helm, had fallen off the rails and the rights had been allows to lapse, he had a phone conversation with  Dick Cook:   ‘You know that property that went back? Maybe when I finish ‘WALL•E’, if I’m not a one-hit-wonder, would you consider letting me make it? It’s just a crime that it’s not going to get out there.’

Cook looked into it and a month later Disney  acquired  the rights to the first three books in the 11 book series, singing Stanton to direct shortly thereafter.  Because of the way the project came about, it had Cook’s personal imprint on it — it had not come up through the development mill at Disney.  It seems to have had no Disney champions other than Cook himself — a fact which would become significant later. As for Cook’s thought process —  First of all, it was a familiar property — Disney had held the rights throughout the 1990’s but the technology had not been up to the material and the rights had lapsed, eventually going to Paramount.  Secondly — Disney was in need of “boy franchises”.   The studio  had proven itself adept at girl franchises, but in the “boy franchise” category it was a problem, and this could be a solution.  The Burroughs IP had stood the test of time, having inspired much of the major science fiction of the last century, and in the hands of Stanton it was possible that it could blossom anew as “Star Wars for a new generation.”   Today, with the benefit of hindsight, many have questioned the viability of the material, which had been strip-mined for the better part of a century via everything from Superman to Flash Gordon to Star Wars to Avatar.  Would the original inspiration for all these classics — coming out after the clones had already had their run in the public consciousness, result in the paradox of the original seeming to be derivative of the imitator?  If Cook was worried about this, he never went on record as having such concerns.

Aside from the actual merits of the property, there was also the matter of Stanton, Pixar, and the Disney-Pixar relationship.  Pixar had developed into  Disney’s golden goose, and Stanton was a key player there.  If  Stanton wanted to venture into live action film-making, it was clearly in  Disney’s interest to keep him in the Disney fold than have him venture off to another studio.   Disney had substantial equities with Pixar; it made perfect sense to create an ‘in-house’ vehicle for Stanton to explore his live action ambitions was a sensible thing to do.

John Carter was a go.

The Fateful Decision to let the Budget Increase to $250m
According to comments by Producers Lindsey Collins and others, Cook and Disney had in mind a budget of $150m to a max of $175m — which meant that a global box office take in the range of $300-400m would be considered an acceptable outcome.  The film could achieve this without being anything more than an average-to-good blockbuster–not a slam dunk to achieve, by any means — but Stanton would not have to capture lightning in a bottle for the project to succeed, he’d just have to deliver a good, entertaining film.

But $150M budget wasn’t a budget at all —  it was simply the back -of-the-napkin price point analysis that a studio exec like Cook would apply to a project before there was a script to be broken down and budgeted.   When the script was complete, Stanton brought in–presumably with Cook’s blessing– his Pixar team of producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris, who crunched the numbers using Pixar-like assumptions about the amount and nature of CGI that would be needed.  The film as envisioned by Stanton included more animated shots than either Wall-E or Finding Nemo — and that was just the animation.  Working off the actual screenplay, Collins and Morris came up with a substantially higher number than what Disney had in mind–and it wasn’t about star salaries or any other big ticket items that could be easily slashed.  It was the cost of a Pixar scale army of 3D visual effects artists working for three years,  coupled with the wind and grind of a large scale live action shoot, that drove the budget to $250M.

When Stanton got the news from Morris and Collins as to where the budget had landed, he had to make a decision — either voluntarily go back to the drawing board and rewrite with budgetary constraints in mind, or defend the budget and push to get it through.  By all accounts Stanton never hesitated — he wanted to make the movie that was embodied in the screenplay that he and his writing team had labored over for a year.  Indeed, from Stanton’s perspective the higher than expected budget was “no big deal” at all.  Every movie he’d been involved with had had a huge budget, and every one had succeeded, so why should he compromise?   At $250m instead of $150m, it would now need at least $500m global box office to be labeled a success.  But Wall-E had made $592 on a much more challenging (for a film-maker) premise, and Nemo had done more than $800M.  For Stanton, it was an acceptable gamble.

And so it was that the production went back to the studio with its $250m budget in hand and basically said this is what it will take — we can’t make the movie Andrew, Michael Chabon, and Mark Andrews have written with anything less.

There are indications that even at this early point,  John Carter was somewhat isolated at Disney.  The project hadn’t quite been labeled “Cook’s folly”, but with the budget at $250m,  it was trending in that direction.   The decision as to whether or not to accept the Pixar team’s requirement of $250m was fully on his shoulders, and Cook  accepted the responsibility that came with the decision to approve the budget.. He knew that this one was on him — he had brought in Stanton and the IP; he would stand by it.

As with the decision to acquire the property in the first place, it seems likely that the Disney-Pixar relationship entered into Cook’s analysis.  In a sense, Disney owed Pixar one — the animation studio had certainly brought in Disney infinitely more rewards than “budget gap” that was now under consideration, and at this point it was still under consideration that John Carter would actually enter the marketplace as Pixar’s first live action project.  How could Disney not give the film-makers the resources they said they needed to do the job right?  So while in a normal situation, the director could have expected some pushback from the studio on the budget — Stanton got none.  The budget as put forward by Stanton’s team of Pixar producers was approved, and the film went into prep with a price tag of $250M.

In retrospect the decision to green light at $250m, rather than send the production team back to the drawing board with a mandate to bring it in at a lower price point, was the single most fateful decision in the chain, because once made it could not be undone, and it changed the business model for the film in ways that were profound.  There is no reason to believe that Cook was unaware of the implications of his decision; but as events would unfold, he only had control over half the equation.  He provided the production team with the money they needed — but when it came to devising and approving a marketing program appropriate for a $250m film, Cook would find himself not in a position to complete the cycle that began with the production.

The Unraveling Begins 

By the spring of 2009, John Carter was in full-scale pre-production en route to a principal photography start date of January 2010.  On the Disney corporate front, however, there were changes in the wind.  On a conference call in May, Disney CEO Robert Iger described the studio unit’s performance as “disappointing” — a rare public slap at longtime studio chief Dick Cook in which he criticized both the choice of films and their execution.  Not only did this signal that change was coming — it established a critical narrative that Cook’s choices were subject to open questioning, not just within the halls of Disney Studios, but publicly by the highest officer of the Disney parent corporation.  Cook’s days were numbers; it was only a matter of when.

Two months later August 2009, Disney acquired Marvel and with it, a  plethora of “boy franchises” which were far easier to mount than John Carter.  Marvel characters had a large,  active, existing fan base that went to movies, while John Carter’s following was limited for the most part to the boomer contingent that included George Lucas and James Cameron who, like the boomer fans, had become followers of  the Mars novels during the Burroughs reboot in the 1960’s and 70’s when Ballantine Paperbacks were widely available.   John Carter might have looked like a reasonable play at $150M budget and without Marvel in the Disney fold;  at a budget of $250M and with the Avengers et al on the horizon, it was beginning to take on the aura of an albatross dangling from the studio neck.

Had Cook’s position been strong as it had been for most of his tenure at Disney, none of this might have mattered.  But Cook’s position was anything but strong–it was widely rumored in the wake of the May conference call rebuke from Iger that he was on his way out.  Then on September 19, 2009, it was over.  According to some sources the end came without warning, Cook was called into a meeting with Iger and told that his services were no longer needed — that the studio “wanted to go in a different direction”.  Other sources claim that Cook did in fact know the end was coming; that he was given an opportunity to chart a course more in line with Iger’s vision and opted not to – even choosing the date of his departure.  Either way,  after 38 years at Disney, Cook was gone, and John Carter was suddenly and completely an orphan.

Weeks later Rich Ross, head of global operations for the Disney Channel and thus a consummate Disney insider who had Iger’s trust based on the exemplary performance of the TV unit, took over as Chairman of Disney Studios with a mandate to apply the lessons learned from his global TV operation to the Studio — lessons that did not include taking on what the experts inside Disney considered to be a foolhardy high-risk $250M high stakes gamble on a first time live action director and IP that, while much loved and respected, was hardly a sure thing and brought with it only modest numbers of fans.   From Ross’s perspective, John Carter had multiple strikes against it; it was too expensive; it didn’t have a built-in fan base on a scale that tracked with the budget;  and it was a distraction from the far what senior advisors considered a far more promising set of properties — the Marvel collection, and the Pixar portfolio.

It’s possible that Ross may have considered pulling the plug on John Carter or forcing a re-think at a lower budget — but indications are that he concluded it was too late for that.  By the time he came on board in October 2009, the film, although not yet in production, was fully mounted– contracts were signed with all the major players including all the VFX houses that would be the main money drain.  It was too late to re-tool at a lower budget, and in any event Ross wasn’t inclined to do that for any number of reasons, not the least of which was the equities with Pixar that would be affected–not to mention that pulling the plug on his predecessor’s pet project would register as callow, even by Hollywood standards.  Better, he reasoned, to let John Carter run its course at the $250m budget that had been agreed to.  So Ross made no intrusion into John Carter production airspace; he left Stanton and his team alone and allowed them to continue without intervention from the studio.

The merchandising, licensing, and cross-promotions that didn’t happen

While Ross did nothing to interfere with the production of John Carter, he made several key decisions in the marketing arena which greatly shaped the outcome of the project.  First, he brought in an outsider, MT Carney, to take over as head of marketing.  Carny, a Scottish 42 year old exec from a New York marketing firm that specialized in packaged goods, was considered an odd choice, and perhaps a threatening one, by most of Hollywood.    As a former television exec Ross himself was not a “movie guy” — and his choice of Carney underscored the fact that there was a mandate to shake things up at the studio.  Cook’s previous quarters had been uneven; and the costs of advertising by traditional means were becoming problematic as global theatrical revenues were flat, and DVD revenues declined, and the effectiveness of TV spots –the mainstay in motivating audiences–was in question as the internet and other forms of entertainment diminished the reach and effectiveness of TV ads.   New approaches were needed; partners were needed; business as usual wouldn’t suffice and Ross believed Carney was the solution for Disney.

Against this background – the issue of how to approach the marketing of John Carter was high on the agenda at the time Carney came on board at Disney.   As a $250m investment in a potential franchise, John Carter was a prime candidate for  creative, cutting edge marketing techniques.  Going all out for a creative marketing campaign could generate a wide array of merchandising and licensing deals, cross-promotions, and creative marketing tie-ins with partners shouldering much of the expense.

Yet with Ross in command and Carney on board, none of this happened.  Why?

There is no definitive record available yet of the thought processes and discussions that led to the decision to deny John Carter the full range of merchandising and cross-promotions, but in light of all that followed, analysis would suggest that Ross and company made a decision as early as the first months of Carney’s tenure that John Carter was going to be allowed to proceed to its release without the benefit of anything other than the traditional,  stripped down, basic marketing package:  lots of TV spots, plenty of billboards, a standard internet package, a bit of radio and that would be it.  The TV buy would be substantial, and that would be the backbone of the marketing.  No merchandising, no licensing, no cross-promotions, no partners spending millions to help boos the movie.

What was the logic for this decision?

On one level – the answer is obvious:  Ross chose not to throw “good money after bad”.  He was being counseled on all sides by advisors who had no stake in John Carter and who were convinced it was Titanic sailing towards its iceberg.   The only true champion of the project, Dick Cook, was gone — and the whole premise of Ross’s ascension to the helm of Disney Studios was that Cook had lost his mojo in terms of the projects he had approved.  John Carter was, in effect, radioactive.  It had no friends at Disney.

But there were other layers to the decision as well.

It placed the responsibility for the outcome squarely where, from Ross’s perspective, it probably needed to be — on Stanton’s shoulders.  The Pixar director had been seriously indulged by Cook — he’d gotten the project he asked, for the budget he asked for, and now the studio was up to its ears in the John Carter swamp.  True, an inspired, creative marketing campaign might make the difference — but it might also burn up valuable partner assets and relationships just at a time when Disney had truly attractive product coming into the pipeline, and that was a problem.

In the end, the policy that was agreed to came back to Stanton.   Disney had indulged him thus far — getting the rights to John Carter, and giving him the budget he said he needed.  He would also get a full traditional marketing campaign — but no frills, no extras.  The campaign would be enough to launch the film and the rest was up to Stanton. If, as he had with Wall-E and Nemo, he could deliver a film with 90%++ critic and audience ratings, then it would be able to climb past $500M and beyond , regardless of whether or not the opening weekend was hit the $60-70m level normally thought of as necessary to achieve a $500M global revenue point.   And if he didn’t — well, the Ross and Carney regime would be able to point to their $100M campaign and say we did the right things — didn’t spend too much, but gave it enough of a boost to give it a fighting chance in the marketplace.

Seen from the perspective of the director and film crew–not to mention the fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs–it was a heartless plan designed to do just enough to ensure that the film would probably fail.  But seen from Ross and Carney’s perspective — it a plan that threaded the needle in that it could be defended to shareholders or media observers as a prudent allocation of resources–and it put the onus where it belonged, on Stanton’s shoulders.

In the end,  was the decision to limit the marketing push and leave the success or failure more on Stanton and less on the studio a reasonable one? Could John Carter have succeeded without the all-out creative merchandising push that Carney had been hired to produce — but which was now going to be deployed not for Carter, but for other titles in the pipeline?    One longtime Disney observer put it this way: “There was in some fashion a “wild-card”  or “x factor” component to the situation that made it unique.  Stanton wasn’t just any film-maker; he was the guy who turned movies about a fish and a waste processing robot into global success stories.  There was undoubtedly a sense that, given free rein and full resources, Stanton might well come up with a movie that defied conventional expectations based on the property, and soared with both critics and fans.  If that turned out to be the case, the marketing push would be enough and everyone would come out a winner — and the merchandising and cross promotions would kick in with the sequels.

But that didn’t happen.

(Part 2 Will Follow Next Sunday, April 22nd)

UPDATE : Part 2 is delayed until April 29th so I can incorporate new info coming in as a result of Rich Ross leaving Disney on April 20th.  So look for part 2 on April 29th.

62 comments

  • Dotar —

    Holy crap! 🙂 I’m just tryin’ to post semi-coherent comments during lulls at work. Can’t comment on the overwhelming Joseph Campbell tsunami — no time!

    Still, looking forward to the fan edits — assuming one can get hold of them legally.

  • HRH wrote:

    Dotar — no, I don’t think I make Rebecca’s point with the Carter/Bogie comparison. Both films benefit from the (adult) viewer not knowing everything about the protagonist up front. Following Rebecca’s rewrite — “What if the movie opened with a horrific scene of his family’s death? We’d be right there, understanding his every attitude and why he acts the way he does.” — the viewer doesn’t emotionally have any place to go. I feel Rebecca is doing what she decries elsewhere in her comment: spoonfeeding the audience. (Sorry I’m talking about you in the third person there, Rebecca!)

    This is a good discussion — and I enjoy it.

    My first thought: Braveheart — what happens right at the beginning? Family is killed and this is the inciting incident that sets William Wallace on his course — yet there is still plenty of room the for epic-hero character to grow, as he does throughout the movie. In Lawrence of Arabia – which Stanton cites as his favorite film and which many see as resonating with John Carter …. T.E. Lawrence doesn’t have a tragic backstory and doesn’t refuse to “join the fray” …yet has ample opportunity for growth, character development, and an arc. So I don’t think it’s a “given” that the approach Stanton chose was somehow necessary or inevitable and any other choice, particularly one that revealed the personal tragedy earlier, would be wrong or spoon-feeding the audience.

    I think a lot of us feel that John Carter is essentially a “hero’s journey” type of movie along the lines of how Joseph Campbell broke it down, and in that model the Refusal of the call to adventure can incorporate some of the mystery as to why the her refuses …. but his acceptance of the call to adventure comes somewhere in the first act, not the middle of act two.

    In Stanton’s structure — if you’re talking about a 7 hour three movie series, that’s about where it comes. If you’re looking at a 2 hour and 12 minute movie as a unified whole, it comes a bit late and is a bit frustrating.

    The death of his family is, or could be, the inciting incident that sets him on his quest for gold in Arizona, but a larger quest for meaning in his existence. Knowing what set him on the quest is not necessarily spoon-feeding — it’s just an alternate strategy. Bereaved, the hero accepts the call to the only adventure he can imagine — a search for wealth, and that takes him to Arizona but the twist is the quest is deeper and more profound than he realizes. The transport to Mars changes the terms of the quest, creates confusion and allows ample opportunity for growth until he gets his bearings and realizes that the treasure he sought is available to him on Barsoom in ways it never would have been on earth. I think that is a completely reasonable alternate approach that would have allowed for plenty of character beats and development; wouldn’t have required spoon-feeding; and would have created an earlier “buy-in point” for the audience.

    The idea that the film has some “problems” in the area of generating that audience buy-in is in some ways a “given” in the sense that inability to connect with the characters and confusion/lack of engagement was the number one criticism by the 50% of the critics who went thumbs down on the movie. That doesn’t mean that the approach Stanton took was invalid; but it also doesn’t mean that an alternate approach was not possible.

    I personally tend to feel that Stanton’s approach was not the ideal choice given the genre and the fact that there was a whole lot of exposition to absorb in terms of Barsoom and the cultures there. Letting the audience buy in to the hero earlier on would have, IMO, minimized the “exposition problem” by giving the audience a rooting interest earlier on.

    Also, one interesting point — Stanton does give the audience the kind of intro to the character that we expect, via the repeated attempts to escape from Powell. It’s just that the recklessly high-spirited John Carter we meet in those early minutes seems to morph a bit when he gets to Barsoom and is pre-occupied with getting back to Earth.

    Anyway, my point is there is not just one solution. Stanton made choices and they can be justified, but it’s enjoyable to do a little “what if” thinking, and also it’s more than that since there was an underlying book that had a certain alchemy to it, and messing with that is subject to quite a bit of fan second-guessing.

    I found the following summary of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey which I’ll share here just for the fun of it.

    Departure
    The Call to Adventure
    The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
    Refusal of the Call
    Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
    Supernatural Aid
    Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
    The Crossing of the First Threshold
    This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
    The Belly of the Whale
    The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person’s lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.

    Inititation
    The Road of Trials
    The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
    The Meeting with the Goddess
    The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the “hieros gamos”, or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
    Woman as the Temptress
    At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
    Atonement with the Father
    In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
    Apotheosis
    To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
    The Ultimate Boon
    The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.

    Return
    Refusal of the Return
    So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
    The Magic Flight
    Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
    Rescue from Without
    Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn’t realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
    The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.
    Master of the Two Worlds
    In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
    Freedom to Live
    Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

  • Rebecca —

    Personally, I always thought “Casablanca” came down a notch or two in quality when Ingrid Bergman entered the picture. Never thought she was a good match for Bogie. Much prefer “To Have and Have Not.” Always a surprise that the film doesn’t spontaneously combust when Lauren Bacall appears.

    Dotar — no, I don’t think I make Rebecca’s point with the Carter/Bogie comparison. Both films benefit from the (adult) viewer not knowing everything about the protagonist up front. Following Rebecca’s rewrite — “What if the movie opened with a horrific scene of his family’s death? We’d be right there, understanding his every attitude and why he acts the way he does.” — the viewer doesn’t emotionally have any place to go. I feel Rebecca is doing what she decries elsewhere in her comment: spoonfeeding the audience. (Sorry I’m talking about you in the third person there, Rebecca!)

    But all this is a wasted effort to those who feel the Carter backstory should never have been added in the first place.

    BTW, the New Yorker article on Stanton from last year mentions that “Finding Nemo” originally had a slow reveal of the mother’s death, but in the “plussing” of the storyline that event was moved to the beginning. We could debate as to whether this is similar to the Carter situation. I think it works in “Nemo” because, with Albert Brooks as the voice talent, Marlin would have been even more insufferably obnoxious!

  • I think the “We Want Lynn Collins on the Cover” idea is a great one. It’s outrageous (and insipid) that they haven’t figured this out.

  • Rebecca – Over in the forums section I started a thread on “how I would make JC better” and offered up my Fan Edit of the movie that I’m going to make when I get my hands on on the actual discs. A fan edit takes what was released by the studio and applies a little judicial editing, and maybe minor rearranging of scenes, to make a better movie. I laid out my structure for a leaner and maybe slightly less confusing version of the film that would play even better with audiences.

    We are all in a slightly depressed and in an overly critical mood apparently.

    The Movie was 90% perfect. The lead could have been a little more charismatic and the story a little bit less convoluted, the second part of which could be helped just by my Fan edit. But almost every one who saw it, flaws and all, enjoyed it. The great failing of the movie was what Dotar has written about, the political and business machinations that lead to a totally wrong and uninspired campaign to plant this movie into the movie going public’s imagination and promote the film.

    There is still one front left to show some Barsoom power, the home video release. I also started another thread in the forums that offered up an idea for a viral campaign based around ” We want Lynn Collins on the cover” that might draw some media attention, and if it gained traction, it might right some of the damage done by Disney. It is not too late for this one. I strongly suggest we stop the autopsies and read this for, as our hero would say, ” As long as there was breath in my lungs and my heart still beats, no harm will come to my Princess of Mars”

  • Rebecca, I eagerly await your rewrite/re-edit of “Casablanca,” a film which would no doubt have been improved immeasurably if we had only known why Richard Blaine was grumpy, pissed off and who sefishly didn’t “stick his neck out for nobody.”

    Okay …. a little sarcasm isn’t going to kill anybody. I’m Rebecca can take it. But in jibing at Rebecca, aren’t you also sort of making her point? I mean — John Carter = Rick from Casablanca? Casablanca is a hugely different proposition as a movie than John Carter, no? I love them both and I’m willing to accept Taylor Kitsch as a somewhat “Rick-ish” lead — but that’s really a big difference from a) the books, b) any epic hero-tale that I can think of, so I can see how people would want to open it up for criticism.

    It’s easy to see how Stanton was faced with a tough series of choices. He and his team would have naturally been worried that Burroughs chivalrous “Captain Carter” might not quite resonate with modern audiences. On the other hand, making him a “broken warrior” type for most of the movie wasn’t the only choice available to the writing team. There were other ways to either “modernize” John Carter, or, conversely, lay the groundwork with the audience that would let the audience accept and appreciate a John Carter much closer to the original.

    For me, as I look at his choices, it keeps coming back to the fact that he was clearly envisioning a series of three films comprising 7 hours and in that context, to spend the first hour with the hero in the state Rebecca describes, seems reasonable as for the next six hours we are going to see John Carter of Mars the way most of us imagine him. But when it’s just one movie, the structure seems a little funky.

    The other thing is …it seems like the Warhoon fight scene is really a sort of iconic “payoff moment” and a lot of the structure was probably reverse engineered from there. In other words, the team knew that this would be the moment when Carter finds himself, and his values……and they sense, correctly as it turned out, that it would be emotionally powerful. And so they worked the beats back from there and what you see is what they came up with as how to deliver John Carter to that moment in the story.

  • @ HRH

    I assume you are being sarcastic:) Anyway, I woudn’t eagerly await my fan-fiction/rewrites of anything. They are all dreadful and were a hobby about 8 years ago. And I shamfully have never seen Casablanca, so when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know how I feel about it.

    As you know this comment section is for people who wish to talk about any and everything about John Carter. It is full of cool people who let others express freely and can respectfully disagree any time they want. So I gracefully accept your criticisms of my own personal observations.

  • Rebecca wrote:

    “Well that’s exactly the thing that happened with John Carter. We spend an hour with him acting grumpy, pissed-off and selfishly wanting to get out of Barsoom to get his cave of gold and them we get the excellent Thark Battle with the cross-cut scenes of his family’s death. Then we FINALLY feel for the guy and sit back and hope he saves Barsoom.”

    Rebecca, I eagerly await your rewrite/re-edit of “Casablanca,” a film which would no doubt have been improved immeasurably if we had only known why Richard Blaine was grumpy, pissed off and who sefishly didn’t “stick his neck out for nobody.”

  • Rebecca wrote:

    The Thark temple scene… it’s just not that exciting. It serves two purposes; 1. to get Sola in trouble facilitating the need for her escape. 2. A vehicle for Dejah to persuade John Carter that she knows how to get him home. I really haven’t pondered an alternate scene or sequence in that location, but there has to be some way to make it more dynamic.

    Well there’s an easy solution: Get rid of the Therns. No Therns, no need for boring Thark Temple Scene since we don’t need an explanation for what the Therns are. At least not at this point

  • @Nick:

    Nick, my friend was the same as you–he had never read any of the Barsoom novels, and yet, he was still blown away by JOHN CARTER. He really enjoyed the film, and when my friend likes a movie, he REALLY likes a movie.

    (For his birthday, I gave him a copy of A PRINCESS OF MARS. He’s loving the book right now)

    As to the complaints about Staton’s choices and the screenplay and how the film should have been done and how closely it should have followed the book….while these are personal views, I’m going to be very blunt–no movie ever based on a book is ever 100% faithful to the source. Also, one has to remember that it is an _adaptation_, from the film director and screenwriter (or writers). They have to put their version of the source material on the screen. They are not mind-readers. To slam a film because it’s “not the way you saw it” is unfair. And also, it smacks of a type of criticism that I absolutely abhor–the “It stinks because I didn’t do it” type.

    This film was a major undertaking, and of course it would not be exactly like the book. There are certain elements in APOM that, to be fair, would not work on the big screen. In my personal view, Stanton and company truly respected the story of John Carter and sought to bring it to the screen in the best possible way.

    And the point that Michael made about the audience reaction vs. the critics is important. The critics were split down the middle (and most critics simply slagged off the film in such a way that showed that they were absolutely clueless about the film’s source material). The audience was more receptive to JOHN CARTER, and one of the most positive reviews came from none other than the venerable SF/Fantasy writer Michael Moorecock, whose “Kane of Old Mars” novels were a wonderful homage/pastiche of Burroughs’ Barsoom novels.

    @Julian Perez:

    Interesting points you made. I also agree with you about trying to get a DOC SAVAGE movie made today–it would be difficult, especially with the cultural amnesia displayed by most modern film critics. I shudder to think what they would think of a Northwest Smith movie….

  • Ok Mcr… we meet again:)

    I will answer your question in reagrd to the changes Stanton made, if I were to go with the story he presented, without knowledge of the book.

    Eliminate opening sequence.. “You do not know Barsoom”. Not necessary as we learn nearly everything that’s there throughout the film. Open the film when “Ned” is emerging from the carraige. Skip the whole telegram scene… that telgram can easily be shown in the study right before Edgar opens the journal (or anywhere in that scene).

    Prior to the escape scene,(Arizona territory) although it’s a little like spoon-feeding, show us some action-packed Civil-War battle that shows innocents being killed. Stop the scene where John Carter sees his house burned down, we don’t need to see the family’s bodies until the Warhoon battle.

    Let’s keep the escape scene as I know a lot of people who liked it and it teaches us a little about John Carter’s character. Cut the language potion. Just have his learn the language litttle by little. Things get weird in translation “Barsoom, earth” it;’s like saying earth, earth…’dotar sojat, my right arms… like saying right arms my right arms.) Cut the whole thing where Dejah is giving the astronomy lesson. Let him figure that out.

    The Thark temple scene… it’s just not that exciting. It serves two purposes; 1. to get Sola in trouble facilitating the need for her escape. 2. A vehicle for Dejah to persuade John Carter that she knows how to get him home. I really haven’t pondered an alternate scene or sequence in that location, but there has to be some way to make it more dynamic.

    The Thern structure. It’s ok as is, but I know it could be improved… this is where a lot of poor people fell asleep.

    Speaking of Therns, modify their powers a bit- limit them in some way. Many people complain about why the Therns even bother using everyone as puppets when they can just destroy the whole place anyway. Their only weakness in the film is that they can be shot. Plus it’s confusing who can and cannot see the Therns. At first I thought only Sab Than could see them, then Matai Shang is chatting with the Warhoons.. There were just too many discrepancies with their powers that create too much confusion.

    There’s probably more things I would fix, but these are just a few. As to a completely new story based on the book, that’s too tempting… I would be holed up in my room writing a screenplay for weeks, months, whatever. My family would disown me.

  • Tom Christensen wrote

    What I do believe are the reasons why the movie failed lie in the awful script/narrative choices, poor directing and bad leading man choice. Stanton, Chabon and Andrews’ flawed storyline is just subpar. Staton’s direction is unengaging and Kitsch’s performance ranges from catatonic to annoyingly goofy.

    The objective fact is — this is your bonafide and heartfelt opinion — but it is not the dominant audience reaction to the film once they see it, nor is it the dominant critical reaction. The critics were split 50/50 and of the 50% who were negative, I don’t think there were more than 10 or 15% who were as sweepingly negative as you are. That doesn’t refute your view — it just places it in context. Audiences were 75% positive or B+; it has a 7.0 rating on IMDB — it’s not universally viewed as the turkey you view it to be.

    There are intelligent, articulate viewers who see it very differently than you do. Consider, for example, what “Nick” wrote here in his comment. I find this very interesting because he’s a viewer with modern sensibilities who came to the movie without the “baggage” of having read the book. Listen to his articulate defense of Stanton’s choices:

    I did not read the John Carter books, so came into the movie with a different mindset than John Carter fanatics. I liked Carter’s initial aloofness. He was still a likeable character, just a little mysterious. What made him tick? I didn’t know for sure, but wanted to find out. It was clear to me he was burned out on war, life or both. I didn’t exactly know why as I sat through the opening hour of the movie, but that kept me intrigued by his character. Stanton was able to slowly build up a love for the Carter character throughout the film. The looks of awe from Tars and Dejah let us know how special Carter was. We see Carter helping the Princess. We watch his relatioship with Tars unfold. For me, the scene of him in battle with Woolah with the flashback scenes is the pinnacle of the film and so powerful (I don’t see it mentioned anywhere, but the brief scene of Carter telling Woolah to leave, but Woolah digging in to fight for his friend is a great touch). By the end of the film, I was very excited that Carter would be able to get back to his family and friends on Mars, but equally bummed out ’cause I’d have to wait for a sequel (fingers crossed) to see Carter in action again. Stanton got me “all-in” on the movie’s title character, and I think a lot of that is a credit to HOW Stanton introduced me to Carter.

    I would be curious to see your comments on what Nick wrote.

  • Pascalahad, for you, the biggest issue might be that you read the books and had a vision of John Carter in your mind. I did not. I think we’d all agree that Stanton had an impossible task….to make a movie (or in his mind, a trilogy) about Burrough’s books and characters that satisified hard-core Burroughs fans AND also appealed to those who have not read the books, especially teens, and the 20/30-somethings (I think satisfying this part of the audience was even more important to Stanton as he knew getting families to the film would greatly help the finacial success of the film). I’ve read that Stanton wanted to make a John Carter that captured how he FELT when reading those books at a young age. He wasn’t trying to make a film that adhered to every detail of the books. In fact, Stanton has said that re-reading the books as a grown-up made him realize how disjointed the stories are. I give tons of credit to Stanton for attempting to piece together a triology that captures the essence of Burrough’s writings while also able to attract an audience of all ages. Most Burroughs fans who are critical of the film think it’s not true enough to the original source and/or Stanton’s portrayal of Carter is too wimpy. Personally, I’d love to see a John Carter film with a fighting-machine, bad-ass Carter and a really creep-a-fied, twisted planet of characters that Burroughs wrote about. And maybe a good movie could be made without giving Carter a family on Earth. But I like that Stanton made Carter more sympathetic. I like that he made the planet less weird and the character fairly pleasing to look at. I related to Carter’s feeling of being a bit lost and/or unsure of himself and what he was supposed to do. I think we’ve all been there in life, even if for a little bit. Movies become extra powerful and emotional when the viewer can grab hold of something that makes it personal for them. I thought John Carter kept fighting after Dejah was safe ’cause fighting for good is how he’s wired…he got caught up in a fight and his instincts took over. He may have been “reluctant”, but to me, he was just in a funk, and fighting for Dejah starting helping him get his natural mojo and his lust for living back.

    Rebecca, it took awhile, but I got a definite vibe that Dejah and Carter were building towards a relationship. I saw the film with a group of people, including a couple teenagers…and there wasn’t any major confusion about the film at all. There WERE a couple minor questions that we all had (Dejah and the 9th ray didn’t seem too fleshed out is one example) but were minor things that I made sense of in a 2nd viewing. I find that to be true of many really good movies.

    MCR, couldn’t disagree more. I LOVED the scene where Carter keeps escaping. In a very entertaining way, it told me a lot about the character. I wouldn’t take out the wife and kid ’cause for me it explained to me why Carter was so unenthused at the start of the film. And the flashbacks mixed in with him in his full-out kicking-ass glory was a highpoint.

    The Therns added a cool sci-fi element to the film and introduced the tool needed for Carter to get back and forth from Mars. And it allowed for a great ending, setting up a thousand possibilities in the sequel, God willing.

  • Look, “swords & sandals”-movies always raise the eyebrows of most film critics. “Swords & Sci-Fi” plus a hefty budget sounds even more toxic and a very likely disaster waiting to happen in the eyes of most critics.

    From a budgetary perspective, I honestly do not believe that throwing more money after it, would have changed the outcome a bit.

    What I do believe are the reasons why the movie failed lie in the awful script/narrative choices, poor directing and bad leading man choice. Stanton, Chabon and Andrews’ flawed storyline is just subpar. Staton’s direction is unengaging and Kitsch’s performance ranges from catatonic to annoyingly goofy.

    There is nothing hard or lacking with ERB material, but creative and artistic changes were, of course, bound to happen. It is just that the choices that Staton, Chabon and Andrews made are so substantially unconvincing and amateurish, that “john Carter” ultimately failed in woeing a large part of the audience, fans and newcomers alike.

  • John Carter isn’t supposed to be mysterious, he should be the audience’s surrogate in discovering this strange new world. That’s his part from Earth to the aftermath of the aerial battle, when suddenly he turns back to “reluctant hero” for no real reason (why did he keep on fighting the Zodangans AFTER Dejah was safe?). From this point on, the real surrogate becomes Dejah, whose motivations are clearer, no wonder most viewers find her more appealing as a character than Carter.

    The Thark role reversal was a disappointment for me. In the novel, Sola chose to protect her father in spite of her own feelings, out of fear that he defied Tal Hajus prematurely. In the movie, Tars witnesses his daughter being tortured and does nothing to prevent it. But I agree that as Burroughs wrote it, the Tharks story took perhaps too much space and just stops the story for a whole chapter. Hard to give it justice in a movie.

  • Rebecca wrote

    I just wish I had some scissors and some scotch-tape to cut the thing up and rearrange some of the details.

    That should be an article in itself-what would you remove? Personally I would get rid of Moving Zodanga, the Therns period (now that the sequel is pretty much not happening they’re just dead weight even more than they were), restructure the whole 9th ray subplot and eliminate the opening setup. Cut out the battle on Barsoom, remove Carter’s lame escape attempts-it was poor humor at it’s worst-and just get to him finding the cave and getting to Barsoom.

    Oh and cut the wife and kid. Seriously if Stanton couldn’t even bother to give the kid a name they could easily be removed.

  • @ Nick…

    Thanks for your reply. I agree that I got enough to feel for John Carter. I understood the significance of the wedding rings (there were 2 after all, so I knew the wife and kid were gone), I saw the flashback scenes, etc. but feedback that I have been getting from friends and family was that they were simply confused. They were nearly under the impression that John and Dejah could care less about each other until the kiss scene in the Thern structure at the river Iss. Then they were like ‘uh, okay’ when suddenly he cares enough about her to send her off and fight the Warhoons with Woola (also my favorite scene in the film, btw).

    But sadly, I know people who FELL ASLEEP (to my dismay) during the scene in the forbidden temple (why it’s forbidden, I don’t know, perhaps you have to be Thark to enter) and the scene in the Thern structure with the transcription on the blue light.

    There were other little things that bugged me, but professional writers should be able to get the moving going in the first 10-15 minutes or so to engage the audience, not after an hour.

    If the marketing was better, the title was better and if Disney had any love for JOhn Carter, it would have been a greater success without any changes to the story. But when you’ve got an underdog on your hands with everything against it, you’d better have the most excellent story possible. Why should I want any less? Am I to excuse it’s short-comings because it’s classified as an adventure movie?

    I love John Carter and I have championed it from the beginning and I still do. I just wish I had some scissors and some scotch-tape to cut the thing up and rearrange some of the details.

    I know a sequel will be made at some point, in 5 years, or 25, Burroughs stands the test of time and I look forward to Gods of Mars.

    Ps. Read the book! It is so excellent and can be downloaded for free on gutenberg.org

  • Nick wrote

    I did not read the John Carter books, so came into the movie with a different mindset than John Carter fanatics. I liked Carter’s initial aloofness. He was still a likeable character, just a little mysterious. What made him tick? I didn’t know for sure, but wanted to find out. It was clear to me he was burned out on war, life or both. I didn’t exactly know why as I sat through the opening hour of the movie, but that kept me intrigued by his character. Stanton was able to slowly build up a love for the Carter character throughout the film. The looks of awe from Tars and Dejah let us know how special Carter was. We see Carter helping the Princess. We watch his relatioship with Tars unfold. For me, the scene of him in battle with Woolah with the flashback scenes is the pinnacle of the film and so powerful (I don’t see it mentioned anywhere, but the brief scene of Carter telling Woolah to leave, but Woolah digging in to fight for his friend is a great touch). By the end of the film, I was very excited that Carter would be able to get back to his family and friends on Mars, but equally bummed out ’cause I’d have to wait for a sequel (fingers crossed) to see Carter in action again. Stanton got me “all-in” on the movie’s title character, and I think a lot of that is a credit to HOW Stanton introduced me to Carter.

    Nick, that’s the best explanation of Stanton’s approach that I’ve seen and I really, truly appreciate you sharing it with us. I admit that my reaction tends more in the direction of what Rebecca wrote — meaning I felt like information was withheld which diminished my engagement with the character for a good portion of the movie– but reading your explanation of how it played for you goes a long way toward helping me understand what Stanton probably had in mind.

    The other thing that is lurking in your explanation is the fact that Stanton was thinking in terms of at least a three film cycle and when looked at that way, having his hero become John Carter OF MARS an hour plus into an eventual 7 hour story makes good sense.

  • Rebecca, you bring up interesting points about when to let the audience know about Carter’s family and Sola’s relationship with Tars. But I personally think Stanton’s decisions were the better way.

    It must have been tricky for Stanton to figure out how he wanted to introduce the audience to the characters and their predicaments. Stanton’s decison to give Carter a tragic back-story with his family was quite bold, and different from the source material. Had he introduced this at the very start, it would have instantly signaled that this John Carter is different and risked offending or confusing Carter fans. More importantly, it would take away some of the mystery of Carter.

    I did not read the John Carter books, so came into the movie with a different mindset than John Carter fanatics. I liked Carter’s initial aloofness. He was still a likeable character, just a little mysterious. What made him tick? I didn’t know for sure, but wanted to find out. It was clear to me he was burned out on war, life or both. I didn’t exactly know why as I sat through the opening hour of the movie, but that kept me intrigued by his character. Stanton was able to slowly build up a love for the Carter character throughout the film. The looks of awe from Tars and Dejah let us know how special Carter was. We see Carter helping the Princess. We watch his relatioship with Tars unfold. For me, the scene of him in battle with Woolah with the flashback scenes is the pinnacle of the film and so powerful (I don’t see it mentioned anywhere, but the brief scene of Carter telling Woolah to leave, but Woolah digging in to fight for his friend is a great touch). By the end of the film, I was very excited that Carter would be able to get back to his family and friends on Mars, but equally bummed out ’cause I’d have to wait for a sequel (fingers crossed) to see Carter in action again. Stanton got me “all-in” on the movie’s title character, and I think a lot of that is a credit to HOW Stanton introduced me to Carter.

    I feel similarily about Sola’s relationship with Tars…I liked the bit of mystery between the two. I could tell something was unique about their relationship. I could tell Tars felt different about her. I liked how it unfolded. There were multiple powerful and/or touching scenes involving Sola. In fact, of all the likeable characters Stanton introduced me to, I think I like Sola’s character the best.

    I’d argue Finding Nemo might have been better film if the flashback scene was handled like “John Carter”, but with Nemo having an audience of little kids, a flashback scene would have been way too dark and kids might question where Nemo’s Mom is for the opening half of the movie. With the Mom’s death put at the beginning, and done in a tasteful way that was vague and non-graphic, it lets kids know that Nemo and his Dad are by themselves right away, and that’s sad, but now we get to watch these 2 characters move on with the rest of their lives.

  • One thing that hadn’t been touched regarding budget is what was the additional cost of shooting on film rather than on digital technology, especially for CGI-heavy movies like John Carter?

    Was the 3D conversion a part of the original budget? It seemed like an afterthought. If I remember correctly, Stanton was opposed to it initially.

  • HI Michael, great article as usual. My reply is a little OT, but it’s been swirling all around since I’ve been doing all that research on pulp fiction and I got to get it out somewhere.

    Things most fans can agree on…
    1. Title was bad
    2. Promotion/Marketing was bad
    3. Budget was huge

    I always like reading your articles Michael as you are able to synthesize all of the known information from the inside out and break it down for the rest of us who don’t have the time and/or the stamina to dig as deeply as you do.

    I agree that John Carter was left unattended in what Disney believed to be the completely capable hands of Stanton, but I am wondering more about the story construction itself.

    We can agree that we both enjoyed the movie, but as I have watched it over and over again and read so many articles and books, I cant help but notice the story problems. Here comes the teacher…

    When Stanton decided to include “the dead wife and kid” he failed to do what he did straight away in Nemo… show their demise at the very beginning of the film. This is a cliche plot device, but we can agree that it is very effective in creating instant sympathy for the main character. Once Nemo’s mom dies, we understand all of Marlin’s irrational behavior and why he is so overprotective with his son and we are with him on his journey in the first 5 minutes.

    What if the film started later on, say when Nemo is at school getting picked on and we learned one hour in how his mom died (maybe in the ‘belly of the whale’ scene)? We would have spent half the movie only mildly on-board with Marlin, and then finally understood his behavior and then accompanied him on his journey.

    Well that’s exactly the thing that happened with John Carter. We spend an hour with him acting grumpy, pissed-off and selfishly wanting to get out of Barsoom to get his cave of gold and them we get the excellent Thark Battle with the cross-cut scenes of his family’s death. Then we FINALLY feel for the guy and sit back and hope he saves Barsoom.

    What if the movie opened with a horrific scene of his family’s death? We’d be right there, understanding his every attitude and why he acts the way he does. Instead we get 3 prologues before the movie really even starts.

    Secondary characters. Dory vs. Tars/Sola
    Immediate sympathy for Dori, can’t remember sh!t and is an unlikely companion. No back-story necessary… instant character side-kick

    Tars/Sola have a complicated back-story which encompasses an entire chapter (or more) of the original text. In the film, we feel kinda bad for Sola because she is picked on by Sarkoja and gets branded for disobedience, but we’re not sure what she’s there for. We get exactly 30 seconds to love Sola when we find out she’s Tars Daughter and suddenly Tars is OK with JC, Dejah and Sola escaping together because JC knows about their relationship. We get one minute to care. Teach us about Tars and Sola in the beginning or just don’t mention it.

    Sola has every reason to run away with JC and Dejah because she faces certain doom, do we really need to know about their relationship if the writers are only going to give us one second to care about it?

    I believe they wanted to modernize the hero for today’s audience, but in so doing they forgot to bring us with him, to understand why he was acting the way he was. They made him the reluctant hero, almost ashamed of what he had become and ashamed to call himself a warrior. But they took an hour to tell us why.

    Burroughs’ John Carter was a fighting man that lost everything he owned and his best friend. We learn that in the first 2 chapters. We’re on board with him in the beginning. This John Carter was a fighting man and knew he was on Mars the second he arrived. Cocky, rash and self-assured… the opposite of reluctant. We are ready to kick some serious ass with him ASAP.

    I don’t mind necessarily that Stanton et.al. changed Carter’s character, but if you’re going to do that you need to make us understand him so we can journey with him.

    Even with a bad title, terrible marketing and a big budget, the writers could have got a whole lot more people to care about the main character and perhaps the general public would have found the movie less “confusing”.

    This poor film had everything against it from the start, but better story construction could have helped. I do think that what they came up with was very good, but it could have been brilliant.

  • Paladin Wrote

    As effective is your analysis of events leading up to this movie’s production, you’re still just dissecting circumstantial factors. I think it would be really enlightening (and probably essential if you did a book) for you to interview Dick Cook. You can dig deep into the budget and marketing, but what makes this whole ‘world’s biggest flop’ deal unique and fateful is that switch of riders mid-stream between Cook and Ross. You could kind of guess what Ross might tell you, but I would love to know what Cook’s take on all this is. What were his plans on promotion, etc?

    Theoretically, a well-written series of articles that demonstrate an ability to analyze fairly and judiciously might open some doors for interviews that might not otherwise be open. It’s a process, I guess — and this is step in that process. Maybe by the time I’m finished some of the principals who aren’t generally available to talk about it will be willing to talk.

    “…Stanton might well come up with a movie that defied conventional expectations based on the property… But that didn’t happen.”

    I think the verdict is still out on this. And actually, your statement may well indeed prove to be literally accurate in the long run, because I think the conventional wisdom expected this thing to flop. The critics were almost rooting for a massive failure. With JC’s fan base, I could easily see how Stanton and this film might be vindicated in the end. You can say, at the very least, that the end of this story hasn’t been written yet.

    That’s what the fans are fighting for and I think there’s a very good chance it will be vindicated to a certain extent. For example, it’ll move into the category of films like Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey that gradually become seen as classics. But from a purely financial perspective it’s tougher to believe it will ever rise to the level of “success” — although it can clearly end up a lot closer to break-even than $200m upside down. Perhaps there will be some new wrinkle in technology that it can take advantage of with a growing, passionate fan base……We’ll see. I’m sure hoping so.

  • Dotar-

    Two observations:

    As effective is your analysis of events leading up to this movie’s production, you’re still just dissecting circumstantial factors. I think it would be really enlightening (and probably essential if you did a book) for you to interview Dick Cook. You can dig deep into the budget and marketing, but what makes this whole ‘world’s biggest flop’ deal unique and fateful is that switch of riders mid-stream between Cook and Ross. You could kind of guess what Ross might tell you, but I would love to know what Cook’s take on all this is. What were his plans on promotion, etc?

    “…Stanton might well come up with a movie that defied conventional expectations based on the property… But that didn’t happen.”

    I think the verdict is still out on this. And actually, your statement may well indeed prove to be literally accurate in the long run, because I think the conventional wisdom expected this thing to flop. The critics were almost rooting for a massive failure. With JC’s fan base, I could easily see how Stanton and this film might be vindicated in the end. You can say, at the very least, that the end of this story hasn’t been written yet.

  • Kevin….
    I think that’s the point. This was Stanton/Pixar doing what was perceived on some level as the first Pixar live action film even though eventually decided not to brand it as Pixar……..But I’m pretty sure Stanton would have just dug in his heels, and why not? Disney basically owed Pixar a shot a this, if not Stanton personally, and whose to tell Andrew Stanton who got $592M global gross from an unlike pic about a trash compactor robot with no stars, that he can’t take the Rosetta Stone of modern science fiction and get at least that much out of it in terms of global box office?……I agree that Production Exec would be in a no-win situation.

    As for the cheap options — that sounds like my indie film world……not John Carter…..;-) From my level I’m interested in those solutions…..but Stanton and company would obvious (as you obviously realize) even think about such shortcuts……

  • You definitely need the marketing for a big budget flick, especially to overcome any negative reviews. Does Transformers get many good reviews? The marketing is already there in your face so it doesn’t matter if it gets good reviews or not.

    I think a production executive assigned the task you describe, Dotar, would’ve been in a no win situation. If it had been a less powerful director at Disney/Pixar, then maybe. But not with someone as respected as Andrew Stanton who has helped bring in the big bucks he has already.

    Of course, you could be a crazy production exec and insist on doing everything in Unreal and realtime rendering it on computer graphics cards you can pick up at Micro Center or order from Newegg. Or show them a short done by one guy

    using DAZ Studio and Blender (free software) with very affordable DAZ characters, buy some motion capture packs and Life, a program that causes the DAZ characters to move as if they are alive and breathing with eye blinks, etc. You can even buy a 4 arm Martian add-on character there… http://www.daz3d.com/i/shop/itemdetails/?item=14261

  • Again some interesting food for thought. If I can make a suggestion a film that might make a more interesting comparison that Wrath of the Titans-which is a sequel, even if very few people liked the 2010 version-to John Carter would be Thor. Because that film had a budget of 150 million, yet had some pretty extensive CGI effects and even bigger known names-I don’t know how much they made but you got to figure Portman and Hopkins probably made more than most of the supporting cast of John Carter. It also grossed nearly 450 million-despite not having a big name star as the lead, a director not advertised heavily in the marketing or was that familiar with the moviegoing public. It’s just a suggestion but an interesting comparison still.

  • Kevin Sanderson wrote

    Dotar, I haven’t seen Wrath but judging from the trailers, it seems they used more green screen, more explosions and clouds of dark stuff (easier to do and composite in pre-made stock) and there is much, much less animation to the degree of the Tharks and other non-human Martians in JC. Watching just the work on the facial animation, tweaking mo-cap and whatever else they did, in the behind the scenes videos on YouTube for JC, you get the complexity. The varied facial expressions and movements in scenes of the Tharks in JC makes it look like they didn’t do any computer algorithm flocking routines like other movies have done for crowd scenes.

    It’s interesting …..so knowing that …. what would have been the discussion about bringing the budget down, if there had been one. Accept some flocking routines for the crowd scenes? Minimize crowd scenes? Cut back on Thark screen time? How much savings would that achieve? I’m just wondering what kind of discussion a savvy production executive with a mandate to put the genie back in the bottle and get the budget down would have had with Stanton and company? Because they were Pixar, and used to getting their way, and rightly so given the PIxar track record, I would not have wanted to be that production executive because I’m sure he would have been met with “this is what it takes; we can’t do it for less it will be another movie, not this one.” But I’m wondering if you have any ideas about this.

    As for Wrath …. that makes sense but it’s interesting, just from a business model point of view, I’m pretty sure the average filmgoer sees the Wrath Trailer and the JC Trailer and if anything, the production value in Wrath looks like it might be a little bigger. I’m not talking about savvy VFX knowledgable people — just Joe Moviegoer.

    From my indie universe perspective, that makes Wrath look pretty smart — make it look big without spending big.

    But I guess it all comes back to …. if you decide to go for the big budget, then you need marketing to match.

  • Dotar, I haven’t seen Wrath but judging from the trailers, it seems they used more green screen, more explosions and clouds of dark stuff (easier to do and composite in pre-made stock) and there is much, much less animation to the degree of the Tharks and other non-human Martians in JC. Watching just the work on the facial animation, tweaking mo-cap and whatever else they did, in the behind the scenes videos on YouTube for JC, you get the complexity. The varied facial expressions and movements in scenes of the Tharks in JC makes it look like they didn’t do any computer algorithm flocking routines like other movies have done for crowd scenes.

  • Brett Davidson wrote

    I’m not sure that in real terms it will be a flop, considering its apparent popularity in DVD and Blu-Ray pre-orders, not to mention ticket sales outside of the USA (and it’s only just opened in Japan). I’m thinking a little of Mel Brooks’ The Producers as being useful in understanding Disney’s strangely early claim that they have to take a write-down.

    I have been doing some research on Blu-ray and DVD sales and it’s an amazing range — a typical film that does $70m domestic gross can be expected to do somewhere between $15m – $30m in DVD/Bluray, whereas the biggest films can do over $200m. I know we’re thinking JC will do relatively better on DVD/BD than it did theatrically … but if it just does $35m instead of $25m, that won’t be enough to change the flop perception — or reality for that matter. If it could somehow bust out in DVD/BD to something actually big — like 100m — that would be a game changer. But I don’t think that’s going to happen — I don’t think Disney is doing anything special for the DVD (starting with the artwork which is particularly lame)……maybe I’m wrong and maybe we’ll see something different as the DVD/Bluray release approaches. I sure hope so.

    As for the Producers …. the announcement makes no sense if you look at the economics of the film by itself — since it arguably costs millions of dollars by expanding the “flop” narrative……Disney stock barely dropped, however, and they got the bad news out of the way. I’m pretty sure that they were making calculations along those lines when they chose to do it — sacrifice some film income (and DVD) by making the announcement when they did — but I say that without fully “getting” how it was beneficial to them to do it. I mean — if the was “manage your stock price 101” type behavior, then we would see it with over flop films — but we don’t. The announcement was unprecedented. Curious indeed.

  • @Abraham wrote:

    Overall, I see the budget as a non-issue, aside from the fact that it set the bar high at the box office. Budgets of $200-$250 million have been typical for high-profile projects for the last several years. The two-parter “Hobbit” film currently being shot in New Zealand is working with a $500 million overall budget.

    Well I think I know what you mean … but it’s a huge issue in terms of the business model, break-even point, and all that. The real problem is not the budget — it’s that when Cook committed to that budget, Disney should simultaneously have committed to the kind of all-out marketing that such a budget makes necessary.

    In the end — they gave the film-makers $250m then marketed it like it was a $125M film….that’s where the budget “problem” comes home to roost. I see that as a studio problem, not a film-maker problem. All Stanton and his crew did was figure out how much it would cost to make the film they had written, and then they made it for that. They were flush with all kinds of success so the budget didn’t scare them, and one assumes that they assumed Disney would go all-out in the promotion. That turned out to be a bad assumption — but they didn’t know any of that when they were budgeting the film in 2008-2009. That all revealed itself much later.

    From the studio perspective — you can’t just make one decision (budget 250m is okay) — you have to make all the decisions that flow from that. If Disney wasn’t prepared to do an all-out promotion, they shouldn’t have approved the budget.

    But of course the Disney that approved the budget (Cook) was not the Disney that made the decision about the marketing (Ross)…that’s the disconnect. But Ross still has to justify his decision to not go with the all-out marketing. I would be curious to hear him defend that. As I said in the article, I think that it has to do with them believing that if Stanton delivered another “Wall-E” or “Nemo” in terms of critics response, the “market it like a $125m movie” approach would have seemed pretty smart — low risk, cagy, etc.

    But what Ross didn’t know was a) the film wasn’t going to please critics and fans like Stanton’s other films have, and thus would not have raging hot word of mouth, and b) the “standard” promotion would be ridiculously artless and ineffective. The promotion they did, had it been done well, would have generated a $45-50M opening and we be having a different discussion. So again, when you all the way back to the moment when the decision was made, it makes more sense than it seems to make now.

  • Kevin and MCR…..I’m kind of split on this. On the one hand — when you consider that every animated movie costs 150m or more, and this had more animation in it that Wall-E (i’m not quite sure how that is, but Stanton has repeated that a number of times)……then the $250m makes sense.

    On the other hand — when I see Wrath of the Titans at 125m or 150m…..with bigger names across the board and production value that to most fans would look equal to JC….then I wonder — whassup?

    I think the Wrath of the Titans example is probably more valid in 2012 than the LOTR example. I’m going to look into this a bit–try to drill down a bit into why JC would be almost double the cost of Wrath of the Titans. I mean … I’m a professional film-maker so I presumably know a thing or two about this, but I don’t really see (based on the trailer only of Wrath) how it could be so much cheaper to make. It’s kind of a mystery to me at this point.

    Probably it has to do with the fact that Wrath has a lot more screen time that is just people on the screen and doesn’t have the long extended pieces with 3D VFX creatures …..unlike JC which has all the thank sequences…….I think it’s the Tharks that must be the problem because the other CGI — air battles, Helium and Zodanga, all that …. is not that hugely expensive. But animating the tharks may be the difference between the two.

  • Contrary to some commentary that has been seen across the web, John Carter’s budget didn’t go out of control. By all accounts, the first serious estimate put forth by the production was accepted by the studio, and sources have noted that the additional shooting was budgeted from the start.

    Overall, I see the budget as a non-issue, aside from the fact that it set the bar high at the box office. Budgets of $200-$250 million have been typical for high-profile projects for the last several years. The two-parter “Hobbit” film currently being shot in New Zealand is working with a $500 million overall budget.

    As noted in this article’s analysis, the seemingly astronomical expense of John Carter and similar films has a lot to do with the amount of CGI. One reason that LOTR was able to get away with $95 million per film was because those were late 90’s dollars, the trilogy’s CGI percentage was MUCH lower than John Carter, and costs were saved by shooting the trilogy all at once. People who know the ERB books are not surprised that John Carter required significant CGI.

  • It’s clearer to me now where you are coming from, MCR. But while Peter Jackson shooting 3 Lord of the Rings movies at the same time is very commendable he saved tons of money shooting in New Zealand, his very picturesque backyard, and as his special effects house for the films was WETA, the company he started, they were just proving themselves, developing some of the technology others now use today. Of course the costs were lower then. You couldn’t get WETA to work on those pictures so cheaply today. John Carter’s production team wanted the best realistic CG artists and animators and somewhere someone said the best have pretty much all migrated to London and the 3 companies used for John Carter. (Being a devoted fan of these things, I would have to say John Carter took it to the next level.)The big UK tax break (I wish I knew how much it was, but it saved the film so it had to be big) factored in heavily for them using the London companies and the studios there for most of the shoot not done in Utah.

  • You can argue apples and oranges all day long. The bottom line is you can’t expect to have a profitable movie no matter what it’s budget, if the picture is not promoted properly…if you don’t know about a movie, why go see it? Then add in limited showings at most theaters, plus critical reviews trashing this film from the studio on down…John Carter was set up to fail from the beginning…such a shame for such a brilliant movie…With that said…BARSOOM…..

  • OK I’ll back off on “dogging” the film. But Dotar is right-in my eyes Stanton did bungle adapting A Princess of Mars, even though not with the casting-except for Spy Kid Sabara as ERB and the dull cliched casting of Mark Strong (what was Alan Rickman unavailable?) As for Dotatrbring too busy if he didn’t want to respond to my posts that’s fine. He did and I agree-we were coming to common ground. And isn’t that the point-to open it up and present differing viewpoints and possibly come up with something that maybe nobody thought of before?

  • Paladin/MCR/Everyone

    I’m all for lively respectful exchanges……..I think what Paladin is referring to is the “Andrew Stanton screwed up everything from A to Z” comment that seems to get repeated in one form or another every time I mention Stanton. I do think that readers of the blog “get” that MCR — who is a longtime ERB fan and passionate about the source material — feels that Stanton bungled the job of adapting A Princess of Mars in just about every way — by insisting on too high a budget; by changing the story in ways that MCR feels are mistaken; by not casting it wisely; etc. So I do think this point has been adequately made and some restraint in this department would be appositive thing.

    I would also note that in MCR’s most recent comment he and I seem to be edging toward some common ground on the matter of the impact of what MCR was calling “lack of live action filming experience” and what I was calling “the experimental nature of trying to apply the PIxar Process to live action film-making.” I thought that was a productive and healthy exchange between the two of us.

    What I generally ask everybody to do is help me look more deeply into these things and try to figure out the reality of what happened — not just find someone who is convenient to vilify, whether that would be Stanton, Ross, Iger, or somebody else. It’s psychologically satisfying to fix on someone as a villain of a scenario, but in this case — isn’t it more complex than that? I enjoy the complexity of it and think there is a very intriguing story, and maybe book, buried away in the story of John Carter’s journey from ERB’s pen in 1912 to the screen in 2012 — and this site is becoming sort of a vehicle for drilling down into that. So help me with that … I will be appreciative. Let’s look more deeply into this than just bashing Stanton or Ross or any of the principals.

  • MCR-

    I wish you didn’t feel compelled to come on a John Carter fan site and dog the movie that most of us love. Sure, your opinion counts, but why keep beating the same old dead horse? Give it a rest – it’s dead.

    I don’t think being kneejerk defensive or persecuted is a really productive stance.

    John Carter did make a reasonable chunk of change all things considered globally, and the reason it was a loss was because of high expectations due to how much the movie cost. That said, it is really productive and interesting, at least when examining in hindsight how John Carter failed, to ask questions on how the budget got so huge. The inexperience of Stanton may be a factor although, as the review pointed out, not necessarily the only one.

    I’m reminded of another geek property movie that had a script scrapped because it was too ambitious, one written by a household name: Oliver Stone’s original screenplay for the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie. To bring Oliver Stone’s Conan to life would have required making it the most expensive movie ever made.

  • MCR-

    I wish you didn’t feel compelled to come on a John Carter fan site and dog the movie that most of us love. Sure, your opinion counts, but why keep beating the same old dead horse? Give it a rest – it’s dead.

    I would rather let Dotar use his precious time writing the next part of this article and managing this website with all the great news and info he gives us, instead of having to respond to your repetitive gripes.

  • “Anyone who thinks this film could have been made at the quality level it was for less than $250M is dreaming. ”

    285 million. That’s how much it cost to make all three Lord of the Rings movies, which divides out to about 95 million per movie. And those three also had top notch visual effects and no major movie stars. So in short we could have gotten three John Carter movies for a little over the same amount that Stanton spent on one movie.

    Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “So I would say the problem you are referring to is not “lack of experience at live action film-making” — I would say it was the “experimental nature of trying to apply the Pixar process to live action film-making”.

    Well maybe it is. If Stanton had made a live action film at a lower cost prior to this he might have discovered that applying the Pixar formula to live action filmmaking, especially to a project as complex as John Carter wouldn’t have worked and possibly would have changed his methods. After all Tim Burton’s first live action film wasn’t Batman. And unlike Brad Bird, who had JJ Abrams, Tom Cruise and Dan Bradley helping him, Stanton surrounded himself with Pixar brass-some of who like him had no live action experience.

  • Kevin Sanderson wrote:

    Directing actors for animation is not that different than getting them together on a set. The same discipline is required. It’s just that Hollywood is oblivious to the Pixar way of making films. If something isn’t working, you do it again in the Pixar method until you get it perfect. Re-shoots were already part of the budget and they only required a few extra to fix some problems and the new regime approved those.

    I think the “lack of experience at live action film-making” issue has less to do with “directing actors” and more to do with just dealing with the objective realities of location big crew film-making which has a daily “burn rate” that’s probably 100 or even 1000 times more than a production day at pixar. If you were to truly shoot a live action film like a PIxar animated film, you wouldn’t have what JC had (100 filming days for principal photography and 12 days of reshoots)….you would have something like 80 days principal 1, 40 days principal 2, 20 days principal 3, and 10 days of final reshoots. Then you would have something that at least approximates the pixar way of doing things.

    I think one of the real problems is that even with the reshoots, Stanton didn’t get to implement a process that even came close to the Pixar Process ……and that is where the problem lies with on the one hand saying you’re going to try to apply the pixar process to live action, but in reality you just can’t do it in anything other than half-measures.

    I think that if Stanton had truly, in some perfect world, been able to keep refining the film the way they do at Pixar, he would have eventually gotten to a film that would have gotten at least an 80% positive rating from critics. But how do you do that in live action film-making? It just wasn’t possible.

  • Your article is quite good and well thought out. But it failed to raise the real problem with this movie-Andrew Stanton’s lack of experience making a live action movie.

    There was a problem in that area, but I’m not seeing itin quite the way you are stating it. Stanton attempted to pioneer the idea of applying the Pixar approach to live action film-making and Cook seemed to buy into that — as evidenced by the choice of producers. As noted the film had more animation shots than either wall-e or nemo so Stanton’s lack of live-action experience was one way of looking at it — the other way was his extraordinary level of experience at animation was a plus, and the “Pixar Process” must have seemed like a possible magic elixir to Cook.

    Seen from the perspective of today, knowing what we now know about how it turned out, it’s easy to say — look, the film didn’t get where it needed to in terms of critical response and audience response and therefore the “lack of experience” thing is key, but when Cook approved the $250m budget he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. He was looking at a Pixar project by Pixar people telling him that in order to combine this much live action and animation, a budget of $250m was required. It’s not so much lack of experience in live action film-making — it was the unknown of combining so much live action and 3D animation, and the unknown, experimental nature of applying the Pixar process to live action film-making. There was no one anywhere in the film universe who knew whether or not that would work, and no “experienced hand” who could guide Stanton once the decision was made to support the “Pixar Process” approach to the film.

    In truth, even if Cook had tried to impose a more standard live action process — I doubt it would have worked because Stanton was quick to say “this s the only way I know how to make a movie” — and by implication, unstated: “and it’s worked pretty damn well so far”.

    So I would say the problem you are referring to is not “lack of experience at live action film-making” — I would say it was the “experimental nature of trying to apply the Pixar process to live action film-making”. And it did turn out to be problematic — and I will be getting into it in the next installment of this.

  • Anyone who thinks this film could have been made at the quality level it was for less than $250M is dreaming. As was stated, the CG took up much of the budget. 3 VFX companies in London did the lions share of the work and there was a nice tax break from the UK for doing it there according to the producers in an interview at the UK premier – it’s on YouTube. They said if it wasn’t for that tax break the film would never have been done.

    Throw in big name actors and there would go the budget with the movie looking like a joke instead of the jewel we have with nothing left for the animation and VFX. I like the fact that we had lesser known actors as we didn’t have to deal with the baggage we would’ve had with big name stars.

    Andrew Stanton was a dream to work with according to the actors and so I wouldn’t fault him for directing his first live action feature. The man is pretty smart. Directing actors for animation is not that different than getting them together on a set. The same discipline is required. It’s just that Hollywood is oblivious to the Pixar way of making films. If something isn’t working, you do it again in the Pixar method until you get it perfect. Re-shoots were already part of the budget and they only required a few extra to fix some problems and the new regime approved those. I say best to do it now than re-do it twenty years later like George Lucas. I can not spot flaws in the film and those who say they do are more likely than not stuck in some paradigm of the way they think something should be done. A bunch of frustrated hack wannabe screenwriters or directors who are now so-called movie critics. No wonder people ignore them time and time again. I still think it did poorly from bad marketing alone with the financials being released doing it in.

    As for Stanton sticking to his guns, he knew what was needed to make the film the right way and he had been working with huge budgets at Pixar. CG is not cheap. If the trigger had been pulled to keep it cheap, we still wouldn’t have a John Carter film which we now have to enjoy forever.

  • Ironically, A Princess of Mars had been already a casualty of another “boy’s franchise” when Paramount decided to let it go in favor of another Star Trek.

    Great beginning, eagerly awaiting part two next sunday!

  • It is such a shame that these events transpired the way they did. John Carter, plus the rest of the trilogy could have brought these wonderful novels to life for so many who otherwise don’t even know these stories exist. Fortunately, there are many of us out there who do get it, who love these novels, and the vision that Stanton brought to John Carter. I truly believe that this movie will stand the test of time and will become the classic that it is. BARSOOM…..

  • Things could have been so very different as well had there not been such hate and cruel critics and others wishing with all of their dark little hearts that the film would fail. These terrible individuals love to see someone with huge success, such as Stanton, eventually fall into complete failure. So the fact that Disney only gave us the bare-bones promotion for the film and on top of that didn’t do anything to defend its property, is what ultimately killed it! People listened to the bullies and didn’t go see the film, which hurt its box office. I just hope these same people will try it on DVD and realize the bullies were wrong!

  • Your article is quite good and well thought out. But it failed to raise the real problem with this movie-Andrew Stanton’s lack of experience making a live action movie. I understand Disney didn’t want to strain its relationship with Pixar but didn’t anyone at some point consider or voice concerns about this? Also the fact that Stanton seemed to say “I can’t do this movie for a 150 million, I need more” says he didn’t care about the budget. Many directors have made these tent pole type movies for half that budget and still managed to bring them in on time and budget, yet Stanton couldn’t or wouldn’t. What does that say about him? Finally there was the standard issues-the lack of any big name actors, unfamiliarty with the source material. In the case of the former well it sounds like Disney again bowed to Stanton and we got Kitsch and Collins and a supporting cast that with the exception of Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church no one was that familiar with (except the Rome fans). And I agree that the lack of familiarty with John Carter did hurt-but so did the fact that Disney failed to play up Burroughs’ influence and Stanton’s constant bad mouthing of the books to interviewers (along with his inability to say what he ever did like about them or getting things wrong about the books which implied he hadn’t really read them). Beyond that a pretty good job.

  • Yes I think it”s ridiculous that any movie would be allowed a $250 million budget. If they didn’t do that, we’d get “Gods Of Mars.”

  • The one part about this article I find the most interesting, and the part of it I hadn’t considered, was the idea that, with the purchase of Marvel and its well-liked, “sure thing” movies with a built-in audience, the risky attempts during the Cook years to develop a boys’ brand to match the success of Princesses and the Disney Channel’s girl programming suddenly were orphaned in the face of more attractive and guaranteed products.

    The greatest success story during those years were the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but Tron Legacy also makes more sense.

    The other example I can think of is the proposed 20,000 Leagues under the Sea movie directed by David Fincher. A shame the plug was pulled on that one.

    The irony is, the “sure thing” status of the Marvel movies, and the decision by Marvel to create its own studio to market its characters, was nowhere near certain or guaranteed to be a success story. Iron Man was as big of a risk as John Carter was, in its own way: Marvel created its own fledgling studio with its own capital. If it failed…!

    which will in all probability end up eventually being regarded as a beloved sci-fi classic

    I hope so, but we don’t know that, yet. The movie only came out a month ago.

    Tron, yet another risky Disney live action science fiction movie that later became a hit after an initial flop, didn’t find an audience until decades later, when the real world finally caught up to the “ahead of its time” Tron, when computers became household items. In other words, to become a big deal years and years later, Tron required one of the most gigantic technological and social shifts in Western Civilization.

    Though I notice the article doesn’t mention the role Andrew Stanton himself played in the marketing according to many sources (though maybe it will next week). Stanton believed in the movie enough to stick his neck out for it, certainly and he deserves praise for being its primary creative source. I can understand the urge to absolve him of responsibility on the trainwreck-generic advertising based on selling the character by name, as if he was Superman or something and the name alone is enough.

    As for what happened with John Carter, the complexities of studio politics aside, the character just isn’t that famous or recognizable and unlike the beloved Marvel heroes, doesn’t have much of a built-in fanbase outside the boomer demographic, and not even the entire boomer demographic, a niche of a niche.

    I can just imagine what would happen if somebody did a Doc Savage movie. I’d be thrilled and it would be a long time coming, but most people either wouldn’t know who he is, or would see a character who is derivative of the heroes he inspired like Superman and Batman. The moment in pop culture for a Doc Savage movie has passed.

    I can’t believe they’re doing a $250 million dollar Lone Ranger movie. Nobody cares about the damn Lone Ranger.

  • I’m not sure that in real terms it will be a flop, considering its apparent popularity in DVD and Blu-Ray pre-orders, not to mention ticket sales outside of the USA (and it’s only just opened in Japan). I’m thinking a little of Mel Brooks’ The Producers as being useful in understanding Disney’s strangely early claim that they have to take a write-down.

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