Special Report: John Carter, the Flop that Wasn’t a Turkey (Part 3)

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This is Part 3 of the Series: John Carter, the Flop that Wasn’t a Turkey.  If you missed them, here are links to Part One and Part Two.

January 2011: The Re-shoots Take Shape

The December 2010   screening of a 170 minute John Carter rough cut to Stanton’s Pixar “Braintrust” headed by John Lasseter and Joe Docter, plus Disney Execs Sean Bailey and Brigham Taylor, did not generate rave reviews — but Stanton and his team had not expected that.  They had worked together before and gone through the long road to a successful movie, and for the Braintrust to react with unqualified raves would have been distinctly out of character; moreover, the entire purpose of the exercise was to get feedback that could help improve the movie — not simply to get affirmation that it was good.

Importantly, the consensus was that there was wholeheartedly endorsement of Stanton’s transformation of John Carter’s character from the Galahad-like “perfect knight” of the Burroughs books, to a conflicted, war-damaged  widower who is lost and who eventually finds purpose on Barsoom — but only after rejecting the opportunity to fight for a cause for 3/4 of the movie.  This was a change that would prove highly controversial among the small but intense group of lifetime Edgar Rice Burroughs fans who would ultimately react to the film with passion, but whose views. while considered worthy of respectful consideration,  were ultimately deemed largely irrelevant by both Stanton and Disney.  Said one production professional with a front row seat to the creative decision-making: “It was a $250m gamble to get modern audiences who have no knowledge of the source material to buy into it; pleasing a few thousand lingering fans  from the sixties who are passionate advocates of the original material in all its specificity just couldn’t be a major consideration.  Be respectful, yes. Let them dictate the treatment of the story, no.”

While the Braintrust group critique found John Carter’s character to be on track, there was concern about Lynn Collin’s portrayal of Martian Princess Dejah Thoris.  Stanton had been adamant from the beginning that he wanted to strengthen Collin’s character, including presentation of her as a warrior capable of holding her own in hand to hand combat, and Collins, who was both a Julliard trained actress and a lifelong martial arts student, had “the right stuff” to fulfill the more aggressive side of her character.  But Dejah Thoris is also intended to be the “incomparable” princess — the most desirable woman on two worlds — and the calibration of feistiness on the one hand, and feminine allure on the other, had skewed too much toward the former.

Another area that came in for criticism included the opening Barsoom scene, which centered on Dejah Thoris displaying her 9th ray machine and included what the Braintrust collectively felt was too much exposition for the audience to absorb — Barsoomian politics and science, mostly.  It was suggested that this be simplified or even cut — with the latter suggestion being that Stanton consider following Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lead and have the view experience Barsoom only through John Carter — traveling there with him, and learning about it as he learns about it.  Stanton was strongly against this:  “That’s lazy thinking, guys,” Stanton replied. “If I do that, then thirty minutes in I’m going to have to stop the film to explain the war, and Dejah, and who everyone is, and we’re going to have even bigger problems.”

But while Stanton resisted changing the opening in such a major way, he proved generally responsive to the other suggestions  as to how to “plus” the film — “plus” being the Pixar term for the process by which a film is relentlessly improved as it moves from stage to stage in the journey from development to a finished film.

After the holidays Stanton went back to work.  Each morning there was a teleconference with the UK based VFX team, with Stanton’s animation background coming into play as he issue extremely detailed instructions and suggestions to ‘plus’ the animation and effects.    Afternoons were spent with the editing team headed by Eric Zumbrunnen, working out the shots and scenes that would be included in the reshoot.

The Marketing Wars Begin

It was at this point, in the early months of 2011, that the marketing for John Carter moved to the front burner and serious interaction between the Disney marketing and the production began to occur.   With less than a year to go until the March 9, 2012 release, and with the basic film in the can — albeit with virtually all of the VFX shots still in “work-in-progress” state, it was time for the marketing team to start moving into high gear.

Unbeknownst to Stanton and his team, a strategic decision had already been made at the highest level of Disney Studios that John Carter between studio chief Rich Ross and marketing head MT Carney that John Carter, despite its $250M budget, would not get the benefit of high-octane, highly creative,  merchandising, licensing, and shared-interest cross promotions that typically accompany films at the highest budget level.   The decision reflected the prominence of the Marvel portfolio, acquired after John Carter had been greenlit by former studio chief Dick Cook, and in particular the expected mega-blockbuster release of The Avengers in May, two months after John Carter.   More than anything else, this decision dealt a death blow to John Carter’s prospects in the market place.  It left John Carter — the potential franchise that was in need of all the marketing help it could get, because it was not “pre-sold” in the way that other franchises, including The Avengers, come with a built-in audience.  And yet the decision was to deny it the full force of Disney’s marketing capability.

So John Carter was in line for a reasonably muscular marketing spend of $100M worldwide; but that spend would address only the basics — trailers, TV spots, billboards, radio, print ads, and publicity, plus a basic package of online elements: nothing fancy, nothing special, nothing innovative.  Just the basic stripped down model of a movie marketing campaign.  The decision to authorize a production investment of the highest level at $250m, then not support it with the kind of all-out marketing effort needed to make such an investment pay off, is one of the central mysteries in the Disney John Carter saga — and is the blow that doomed the film to almost certain failure at the box office.  It reflected that as early as the fall of 2010, without having yet seen any of Stanton’s material, Disney was prepared to allow John Carter to fail unless Stanton could come up with such a gem that it would somehow succeed, in spite of the budget, on the strength not of marketing, but critical acclaim and word of mouth endorsements.

The first major marketing salvo would be the release of the first trailer in July 2011, around the time of Comic-con, the summertime geekfest that experts consider an essential platform for the promotion of a sci-fi tentpole like John Carter.  The initiative for the trailers came from Disney, as, beginning in January 2011, marketers from Burbank began to make the trek to Emeryville with draft versions of the trailer for Stanton and his team to review and comment on.

Stanton, like any director of a film of this scale, had his hands full solving the riddle of the actual movie itself.   With Lasseter and Pixar at his back, however, it was a given that Disney marketing would seek his concurrence on the way the film was dropped into the marketplace.  That concurrence did not come easily, or quickly.

“The first trailers were just typical ‘in world where…..’ kind of approaches, and Andrew was adamant that the first trailer needed to create an impression of uniqueness that the early drafts simply didn’t convey,” says a member of the Emeryville team who witnessed the rejections by Stanton, who  was very clear about his reasons for sending the Burbank team back to the drawing board repeatedly:

 We were not nice citizens—we kept saying it wasn’t good enough. It felt like other trailers; it felt like other movies. Steve Jobs told me a great thing once: “You only make a first impression once.”  

According to a Disney marketing insider, MT Carney, who did not have a great deal of direct contact with Stanton at this early stage, grew frustrated with the rejections came to regard Stanton as an impediment to her team’s efforts, rather than an enabler.    She lamented the lack of completed “money shots” for the first trailer.   A member of the production team observed: “But they had access to everything and could order any shot fast-tracked and we would try to accommodate them.  It never surfaced as a big issue — tho is just normal production coordination.  If the study needs this or that shot for a trailer, they ask, the production gets it to them.”

Aside from the trailer, a curious decision that emerged during the early months of 2011 was that John Carter would not make a presentation at Comic-con, but rather would attend the Disney D-23 convention.  Comic-con brings together 125,000 geeks who blog and comment throughout the internet and can go a long way towards establishing either positive or negative buzz for a project.  John Carter was 16 months into production, and 9 months from release, when Comic-con happened and it was incomprehensible to most in the geek-genre community why Disney would skip such an important touchstone.

Missing Comic-con was a decision that emanated from Disney, but Stanton did not fight it.  Stanton has long been concerned about “spoilers” and giving away too much before a film comes out, and he accepted Disney’s judgment to ditch Comic-con without making it an issue.

By February a decision had been made at Disney to shorten the title from John Carter of Mars, to simply John Carter.  The argument for this was reportedly based upon testing results that showed female audiences were repelled by the reference to Mars.  But there was a larger issue.  MT Carney came from the world of marketing packaged goods, and the concept of “brand marketing” with a concentration on name, image, logo, was a key component to the directive begin given to the marketing team.   John Carter of Mars became “John Carter”, and then, not insignificantly, “Disney John Carter” as resources were marshaled to begin  “selling the brand”, even though at that point, Stanton didn’t even know about the name change and Disney knew that without his acquiescence the change would be difficult to implement.

And so the relationship between Stanton and MT Carney– and the production team and marketing department — got off to a  sputtering start in the first quarter of 2011 even as Stanton and company focused on all the ways they could hope to “plus” the movie within the limited confines of a reshoot originally scheduled for 6 days, and expanded to 12 — with that reshoot scheduled for March on the Playa Vista stage near LAX, where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose had been constructed.

The First Round of Reshoots

By the time the reshoots began,   Stanton and the editorial team had worked and reworked many of the scenes, and identified not just scenes to be reshot – but new scenes that needed to be mounted, and numerous spots within individual scenes where individual shots were needed to subtly adjust performances, change dialogue, and in some places provide alternate actions for the characters.

An example of subtly re-working a scene: In the Brain Trust screening, a scene where John Carter discovers that Dejah Thoris is leading him not to the River Iss and passage back to Earth, but rather to Helium, where she hopes to enlist his support for her cause, Carter calls Dejah Thoris out, ejecting her from the thoat she is riding.  Reactions to the scene centered on Carter appearing callous — and Dejah Thoris appearing willfully manipulative, neither of which were helpful reactions.  In attempting to recalibrate the scene, Stanton and the editors came to the conclusion that making it clear that Carter was “conning” her into cooperation, rather than truly dumping her in the desert, would be helpful — and so they inserted the line “just play along”.  Then, to soften Dejah Thoris and provide a moment that would arguably help sell that Carter was beginning to fall for Dejah Thoris, they added a line for Dejah who, after explaining that the could not accept an arranged marriage to Sab Than, and run, and now might regret it: “I was afraid, weak—maybe I should have married, but I so feared it would somehow be the end of Barsoom.”

Similar tweaks were implemented at various junctures throughout the film, plus  the opening was re-imagined as, instead of a fully mounted scene introducing Dejah Thoris, more of a documentary style prologue with Willem Dafoe narrating as Tars Tarkas, the Thark Warlord.   Strategies were implemented to force the pace in the middle section of the movie.

A Eureka Moment for the First Trailer

Throughout the spring, Disney marketers from Burbank continued to present revised cuts of the trailer, first in Emeryville, and then at Playa Vista as the reshoots were under way.  It was in a presentation at Playa Vist when what a breakthrough occurred.  Someone at Disney, after hearing Stanton and company repeatedly say that they felt the film had to have a unique feel and not feel like another “In a world where….” genre pice, came up with the idea of using a mournful Peter Gabriel song, ‘My Body is a Cage”, and the backdrop for the first trailer.  Stanton and his close-in crew all liked it immediately and felt that it gave the film a kind of mysterious, soulful quality that would create intrigue. “It was a clear break-through moment and everyone felt it would work — and Andrew clearly felt justified in having been hard-headed about it,” explained one of those present on the production side.

Much later, after the release of the film, a much cited article  by Claude Brodesser-Akner would come out under the title: “The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed By Its First Trailer“, laying virtually all of the blame for the John Carter marketing woes at the feet of Andrew Stanton based on the statements from an alleged “Disney marketing mole”.  The credibility of “mole”, whose comments are uniformly self-serving in that each comment, without exception, shifts responsibility from Disney marketing to Andrew Stanton for all of the marketing failures.

The reality was much more complicated.

To be continued.

ANNOUNCEMENT

In large part due to the many encouraging comments on this series, and in part because it’s just something that needs to be done, I am now writing a book on this subject matter which will incorporate these special reports, and a great deal more.  I’ve decided to call it:  “Hollywood vs Mars”, with the subtitle:  “How Hollywood Hubris wrecked John Carter …and how an unlikely alliance of fans and filmmakers are fighting back.”  Publication date for the eBook is May 30th.  It will trace the entire 100 year history of John  Carter, from the fall of 1911 when Edgar Rice Burroughs started to surreptitiously write what he would entitle: “Dejah Thoris, A Princess of Mars”,  to the release and aftermath of Disney’s “epic flop”.  It will also document the emergence of the fan movement, and the support from the film-makers.

This means I won’t immediately be finishing this series  — it will first be finished in the book.  Shortly after the book is released, I will publish the final segments of the “Special Report” series here (translation: no one who’s invested time in reading these reports will be forced to by the book to read the conclusion — it will be available here.)

Here is the work in progress book cover, featuring Fan Art by Bryan Bustard.  (There will be lots of other fan art and fan creations included in the eBook.)

 

59 comments

  • No I agree with you Paladin. I would love a sequel.

    Also another FYI-and some self promotion-http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2012/05/john-carter-blu-ray-extras-revealed.html. It breaks down all of the bonus features and length as well as all the deleted scenes.

  • Henreid —

    A personal thank you for your positive post about the things you like in this movie. It speaks really well of you to make that gesture. Thanks, mate.

    MCR —

    I’m very glad that you said in one of these posts somewhere that you, too, want to see a sequel (granted, with qualifications, but in the interest of détente, we’ll wont dwell there). We agree on this point.

  • And everything seemed to be going so nicely this morning.

    Steve just because you turn your insult into a joke, that is funny to you, it was still trying to be insulting just because some people don’t recognize your opinion as the one true opinion.

    We are not here to break your arm to come to this site and brainwash you into thinking this was a good movie. You’re entitled to your opinion.

    But, you just keep saying the same the same things over and over, until what, until you have changed OUR opinions. Not interested, I have formulated my own opinion. We here are doing positive things to help get more people to go see the film and formulate their own opinions for themselves. As I pointed out yesterday, the empirical evidence is that more than 3 out of every 4
    people who do go to see it, like it.

    If you truely are a fan of ERB you should just be very happy that this got made at all and it isn’t a total shit fest like the Asylum version. It has put the character and collaterally ERB back into the public conciousness from which it had completely faded except for a few of us die hards from years past. Maybe if we are succesfull and a sequel were to be made they could course correct and change some of the things that could have been done better. Your approach, ERB dies an ignoble death in the court of modern perception.

  • Paul – that was levity. If you don’t get the joke, that’s not my fault. If you can’t back off personal attachment to this discussion one iota, that’s not my fault either

  • Steve –

    Oh, so that’s what I am? I am “your audience.” See, what’s so grating about you is your condescending pomposity. It’s obvious that you have such a high opinion of yourself that you can’t simply give your opinion without pontificating.

    You proclaim to us in capital letters that this is a bad movie, apparently totally unaware that posting in all caps always comes off as yelling.

    You excoriate us because we “can’t respond rationally” but then say with your next breath that us apostates who actually dare to like a movie that Steve doesn’t like “…that it would be best for them if they kept their dirty little, embarrassing, secret (mostly) to themselves. Those folks should serve as a good role model for people who get all hot and bothered by Taylor’s pecs.”

    Well, well….. what a paragon of rationality. A model of temperance.

    But what do I know? An ignorant unwashed like me can only dream how wonderful it must feel to be not only right but righteous.

  • Too many posts for me to be able to go back and attribute commentary to individuals but:
    Dotar is playing a fine balancing act – good for you. (One day I’d like to hear how you really feel about this stuff, sans self-control in favor of establishing the website, the book & etc: I’m sure your positives are genuine; I’m also pretty sure that you’re holding back some thoughts on the negative side, as is understandable.)

    Someone mentioned that there seems to be a fair amount of partisanship regarding Stanton/the film where there isn’t so much in favor of Burroughs and the book(s). I agree. Elsewhere, some have reacted to any and all criticism of the film and the director as if their baby had been threatened with disembowelment. Those people are not the movie/Stanton. I am not Burroughs/the books. I can talk about the flaws in the books just as readily as I can talk about the good things.

    In my long-standing opinion, Directors – all of them (and I’ve been one for a video game) – are huge egomaniacs who believe that all wonderfullness and creativity flows outward from within their souls.

    They have to be this way in order to enforce their “vision” of the ultimate goal upon whatever project they are working on. Some directors manage to do this while at the same time avoiding major mistakes and capturing a vision that resonates with a majority of the intended audience.

    A film director will be the first person to call a film “MY film” (many other key positions usually say “the film I worked on” or some such.) Because they want ownership, claim ownership and rely on it, it is perfectly legitimate to criticize their product and the decisions they made in presenting “their vision” (of, in this case, someone else’s work).

    The really good directors (critically acclaimed ones with long track records and a lasting impact on filmmaking) last long enougn and are successful enough to be able to drop some of the egotism and their body of work is proof that allowing other creative types (like writers) to influence your decisions, to drop a bit of the the “only I” egotism out of their process is the route to true movie making success.

    Stanton has not yet matured to that level (nor has Lucas for that matter – and we’ve all seen what “remaining true to YOUR OWN vision” has done to that franchise ). I don’t think he’s previously directed anything that wasn’t based on an original script (let alone live vs animated), and as others have pointed out, there are questions about whether or not any of the script writers actually read the books cover to cover (once, if not more than once). The claims of verisimilitude and faithfulness to the book almost fall on deaf ears in the face of what they put up on the screen.

    I think that anyone with any decent background in the history and analyses of film – all film – would have to agree with some of the general critical points directed at this particular film: some of it was cliche (there is a lot of cliche in film); the question is – was the cliche handled well? I don’t think so. There were flaws in the development of the story. There are such in many other successful films. The question is – did those flaws cause serious hurt to the film overall? My answer is – ‘yes they did’.

    Heinreid mentioned what he liked. I can’t do the same, though I can say what I thought was handled well. And it wasn’t the air boats. It wasn’t the indiscriminate radium rifle shooting. The background scenery was decent but you know what? I’ve seen it all already. In Chesley Bonestell illustrations of the exploration of Mars.
    The Warhoon fight scene, as a piece of cinema, I have mentioned before as a good scene. I thought the pacing and the flow – the manner in which the grave digging and the fighting was intercut was pretty darned good. As metaphor it worked wonderfully.
    But that scene should never have been in the film to begin with and if you notice, it serves as a very good bit of slight-of-hand trickery; there’s hardly any real fighting presented in that sequence. Lots of flashing swords and tusks and twirling bodies, leaping and bounding green bodies, but actual sword locking? Lunge and riposte? Hardly any at all. (And what does it say about the Warhoons that a single fighter could do such a thing to the fiercest, most barbaric of all green martian tribes? But I digress.)

    The NYC 1800s scenes were pretty accurate – but there wasn’t enough horse shit in the streets.

    I agree – going with ‘unknown’ actors was the right decision – just not these unknowns.

    The airboats – I disagree. regardless of whether or not they needed solar panels or whatever for their motive force, those designs are simply too fragile for military action (and the “speeder bike” single flyer was just way too Star Wars for my comfort level).

    Triremes were oar-based military craft. They stood alongside merchant vessels using the same motive force – but looked nothing like the merchants – because they were built to enhance their war-fighting capabilities. The Martians are smart enough to come up with different rays, they’re smart enough to recognize the problems inherent in their “engines” and to engineer around those problems. As it is – one raking shot and a ship is done. The shadow maneuvering – how about this: four single-person flyers carrying a humongous bedsheet into the sky. (Preferably one with some kind of superhero print on it). The aerial battles were ludicrous in my opinion. I’d have much preferred more ship-like vessels, “air boats” as are described in the novels.

    Oh, and not to disappoint my audience who expects a bit of snarkiness – I particularly liked the ending credits, lol.

    This was admittedly a noble effort at bringing one of the greatest pulp serials to the screen. Many of the basic decisions about how to go about it were the correct ones (many, certainly not all) – but they failed because the method of execution was flawed. Like Tron, even if this film had been given the blockbuster marketing treatment, it would have underperformed and been out of the theaters inside of 20 weeks, it would still have posted about the same loss for the studio that it did (about 80 million all told) and would not have done well enough to support a franchise.

    It’s failure on the street is not due to a failure of marketing. It IS largely due to the nature of the product that was delivered, which in turn can largely be traced to the director’s lack of experience with live action film. Had this film been made as an entirely animated one, it probably would have been a far greater success.

  • Henried,
    Not a monster at all. I think of you as Incredible Hulk…..mild-mannered most of the time, then every once in awhile something sets you off. I’m trying to think of a Barsoomian character for you…….any ideas?

  • Of course I agree with my own opinion, and believe it to be correct. Don’t we all?
    I do, however, fully accept there are other valid opinions, and I almost always make room in my posts to acknowledge that I respect and even sometimes envy those of you who are in love with the film. Scorn, though, I must cop to without apology. The missed opportunity this was makes me livid sometimes. I try to keep the tone from getting too heavy, but as this entire board knows, opinions about Barsoom can be passionate.

    I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I don’t think any of the other ‘dissenters’ are either. If this website were called ‘The Disney John Carter Files’, specifically noting the actual title of the film, I would certainly feel less welcome to express an opinion that does not promote the motion picture. But this site, as I understand it, is more about the character John Carter and work of ERB, with the Stanton/Disney film just being the biggest ERB event about which to congregate. There are a number of controversial aspects to the business surrounding the production and release of the film, as well as the adaptation choices of the film itself – and they are ripe for debate.

    There may be a derisive tone to the points I try to make, but that is no more obnoxious than when someone claims the movie is ‘the bestest epic ever’ or calls those who disagree ‘haters’, as occasionally happens on other threads. When the debate is about ‘what went wrong’ or ‘why did DJC fail at the box office’, surely the (de)merits of the film itself are fair game.

    I am fascinated by the fan culture we have here surrounding this, and I thoroughly enjoy knowing there are others who care as much about this as I do – even if we disagree.

    In light of the reaction to my other posts,
    let me describe the things I DID like about Disney John Carter.

    –They didn’t modernize. Carter is a civil war officer, even still a Confederate officer (I never thought Disney would go for that, and was impressed they didn’t change him to Union). I’ve seen some of those other scripts, and it truly could have been a lot worse.

    –Stanton took it seriously. I don’t like many of the choices he made, but at least he didn’t treat it like a joke, so there is no winking at the camera or anachronistic pop culture references. He knew this was supposed to be a great film, and I think he did really try to make one. Even in failure that is preferable to directors who don’t care as much.

    –‘Historical Reality’. Treating the civilizations as if they truly existed is absolutely the way to go. The ruins, the aged materials, the rifles, the overall sense of historical realism Stanton went for is commendable, and (with the exception of the ‘predator city’) largely believable. While I think some craters would have been nice, all the aerial matte-paintings during that travel montage are breathtaking. The verisimilitude of the Thark encampment is killer, especially when Carter is being hauled in for the first time.

    –The Production Method:: Shooting (partially) outside, using minimal CGI to enhance real locations. Brilliant, and right on. I wish they had globe-trotted a bit to get more diversity of terrain, but the core idea is great. Putting the Thark actors on location in mo-cap suits on stilts was damn clever, and the before-and-after VFX images are exceptionally cool because of this. The thoat saddles on little vehicles to be replaced with the CG creatures – this is absolutely the right way to handle a film shoot like that in my opinion. Build as much as you can in-camera, use VFX to do only the things you can’t. A greenscreen movie with all-digital backdrops would have felt wrong.

    –Fighting to use relative unknown actors for the leads. Bravo. That he totally chose the wrong people (imho) should not eclipse that he had the right idea — established movie stars wouldn’t have been right, and the audience should meet John and Dejah without pre-concieved knowledge of the actors playing them.

    –The Airships. I wasn’t sold at first, but I soon came to love the solar ‘sailing on light’ concept as a design/engineering touchstone. There was logic in the way the deck crews behaved, the tactical maneuvering (creating shadows) was thought out with almost as much intelligence as the technology in Avatar was [DJC loses points for having the Tharks nonsensically learn to pilot a fleet of these complex vehicles as a plot convenience]. In a film purposefully toning down the design work to make for a more grounded ‘reality’, the airships stand out as the only part of the production design that felt genuinely new or exotic. They are gorgeous and truly awesome. A brilliant example of how you can stick close to Burroughs while injecting a modern take on technology from what we’ve learned in the intervening century. This is the philosophy I would have preferred to also govern the treatment of Mars as a planet.

    –The Score. After a good couple dozen listens I still don’t love it, but it’s definitely solid. A couple of cues really do soar, and there is cool instrumentation throughout.

    –Woola. Here is a character who actually resembles his literary source, and it’s wonderful to see his personality embodied in movement. The design is still way too cutesy (and it certainly was out of character for him *not* to rip Disney Matai Shang to crimson ribbons), but it’s growing on me. The roadrunner-esque little dust trails are such a fun absurdity that shouldn’t work in a live-action film, yet somehow do. I enjoy the life he brings to the proceedings, and the moments he is onscreen tend to be better than the ones where he isn’t. His flying Warhoon tackle is one of the strangest things I’ve seen in awhile, and somehow the most affecting image in the film. Love that.

    See, I’m not such a monster.

  • Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “But when you with complete highhanded certainty dismiss them all as being incapable of seeing the obvious “pointless” and “cliche ridden” nature of the dead wife bit, you insult them, you hurl insults, and you heap scorn. I’m just sayin……

    Anyway, we’ve all gotten used to that and you’re the official cranky uncle here at the party, which is fine — but PUHLEASE don’t get touchy about other people “hurling insults”……….”

    OK I guess we have a different meaning of “hurling insults.” To me hurling insults is calling someone an idiot or insulting their intelligence. Or acting like their opinions don’t matter. People that you actually are talking to, responding to and can respond back. To me you treat those people with some respect.

    Calling the dead wife “pointless” isn’t an insult. It’s an opinion. You don’t have to agree with it. Nobody here does, I’m not forcing them to. If someoen doesn’t like it then great. I welcome people having differing viewpoints. The world would be boring if everyone thought the same.

    What seems to be the problem is once again I dared to criticize Andrew Stanton and his handling of this movie. Why is that a problem? I almost believe I could come on here and knock Edgar Rice Burroughs or the books and no one would have a problem with that. But it seems anytime anyone criticizes Stanton and this movie it’s open war fare. It’s being seen as being insulting. But to who? I think most people-at least I would hope-know that disagreeing with them should not be seen as attacking them personally. That there is no animosity there. But why is that you and some of the others “get hot under the collar” when I or someone else do that? I mean are you afraid Andrew Stanton might actually be looking? At this point I doubt he really cares what you or I or anyone here thinks about him at this moment, if he ever did.

  • I personally know 24 people who liked or loved the film. I only know one person who doesn’t and he’s a movie critic. Figure it out.

  • Yes, I did write that in anger at the way that Steven and Henreid were coming off. And if I went too far in being counter insulting, I’m sorry.

    Actually, the main thrust of what I wanted to say was that ALL opinions are subjective. You say, “this didn”t work or this was flawed or this was cliched” while I say “it worked beautifully or wow I really felt that” we are both entitled to our opinions. But they are just our own opinions.

    Now, taking a consenses of opinions, and I’m not talking about box office dollars or even critical ratings scores by critics that are very often wrong, I’m talking about the emotional reactions and impressions of real people who paid to see the movie and almost 3 to 1 they said they liked the movie. That shows that the movie itself wasn’t all that bad or a terrible adaptation. Is there room for improvement, probably, I too would have actually liked to see a John Carter character that was closer to the book, but they tried that with The Rocketeer and more recently Captain America and both those movies were faulted for having a Dudley Do Right type leading character.

    Basically the movie worked for me and everyone I know who actually went to see it and the Cinema Score exit poll numbers show that to be more the case than not.

  • MCR wrote:

    OK why am I getting thrown into this? Bob just mentioned Henried and Steven? Oh well when you’re the king of the naysayers…

    You answered your own question twice — once with “well when you’re king of the naysayers”, and twice by jumping right in as I knew you would. No worries, I was afraid you might have been offended if I didn’t include you….

    PS I don’t mind people defending this movie, as long as they don’t get into shouting matches or hurling insults. That’s all I want to say there.

    Agreed.
    But don’t you see that you are constantly “hurling insults” and your tone, if not shouting, sure has a “hot under the collar” quality. Why is the dead wife always the “pointless dead wife”. Who says it’s pointless? You do, but that doesn’t make it “pointless”. Look, like it or not, the entire assembled “Brain Trust” of Lasseter, Joe Docter, etc, etc who saw the film in rough form all bought the changes in John Carter’s character, including the dead wife. When you dismiss it as “pointless”, “cliche”, etc, etc, you are basically saying that you are the authority and none of those guys have a clue. You make yourself the arbiter of all these things, and you frame your argument so that anyone who disagrees with you must be an idiot. That’s “hurling insults”, my friend. That’s “scorn”. Look, I don’t really like the dead wife, okay? I’m not a fan. But I’m not a control freak either, I don’t have to have everything just the way I want it. I see what Stanton was trying to do with the dead wife and its effect on Carter’s character, and there are a lot people out there (most of whom never read the book) who think it’s a good thing; who like the damaged goods character; and who thought the warhoon scene was brilliant, emotional, and touching. You aren’t one of those people, obviously. But when you with complete highhanded certainty dismiss them all as being incapable of seeing the obvious “pointless” and “cliche ridden” nature of the dead wife bit, you insult them, you hurl insults, and you heap scorn. I’m just sayin……

    Anyway, we’ve all gotten used to that and you’re the official cranky uncle here at the party, which is fine — but PUHLEASE don’t get touchy about other people “hurling insults”……….

    Anyway, this would be a dull place without MCR to spar with. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll miss you.

    Oh and PS, you wrote:

    But your-and it seems everyone else’s-defense is don’t judge it based on the book. But does that mean we should over look the flaws in the film anyway?

    I believe I said (and I’m not going to do the block quote thing, just look back at what I wrote) words to the effect that there is a place for discussion of the book/movie adaptation issues, and I also anticipated (correctly) that you would say that your beefs are beefs whether they are case as adaptation failures, or whether they are looked at as simply bad movie-making. Right? Isn’t that what I said you’d say? And isn’t that what you said?

    And I did not say “don’t judge it based on the book” …. I just said try watching it without having that ERBmeter ticking in your head every second, and see what happens. I honestly don’t think you can disconnect that plug in your head that would allow you to watch it without ERB’s original constantly affecting your reactions …. but having seen what it did for my ability to enjoy and appreciate Stanton’s film, I just kinda wish you’d try, one time, just for long-suffering Dotar.

  • OK why am I getting thrown into this? Bob just mentioned Henried and Steven? Oh well when you’re the king of the naysayers…

    Dotar Sojat:
    “My question, though — is that really how it works? Would you really find these ideas so bad if you were able to wipe your brain of what you know to be in the book, and just consider it on its own merit?”

    Let me think for a second…uh yeah (sorry for the sarcasm). But here’s the real non sarcastic answer-yes they are bad. Your defense or response is always view it separately from the novel. Take Stanton’s John Carter on its own terms. But does that mean excuse cliched storytelling, bad ideas or confusing plotting? Look at what has been debated so far-that even you have admitted was poor or not great: The confusing opening sequence. The whole Indiana Jones plot concerning the medallion. The pointless dead wife and kid-and the fact that as mentioned before it’s been done in countless movies. The villians-in this case the Therns-who serve no purpose other than to setup a sequel. It has nothing to do how badly Stanton botched adapting the novel. Those were just bad ideas period.

    But your-and it seems everyone else’s-defense is don’t judge it based on the book. But does that mean we should over look the flaws in the film anyway?

    PS I don’t mind people defending this movie, as long as they don’t get into shouting matches or hurling insults. That’s all I want to say there.

  • Bob Page wrote:

    Steven and Henried, you need to get over the fact that this is an filmed adaptation of the classic book and not the damn book. You want the story that is in the books, go read the books again. They have been available in all their original un-tampered glory all these years.

    I would pull that back just little and say that there is a place for considering the adaptation issues, and there is a place for considering the film without constantly referring to the adaptation issues.

    Anticipating a response to that, I think what we’re likely to hear from Steven and Henried and MCR is that the ideas they are criticizing are bad on their own merits, regardless of what’ in the book — it’s just that the fact that there is what they view as a better solution is there in the books that makes it all the more maddening for them. My question, though — is that really how it works? Would you really find these ideas so bad if you were able to wipe your brain of what you know to be in the book, and just consider it on its own merit? I know that in my own experience, my reaction to what’s on screen from Stanton has varied greatly depending on whether I focus on the original ERB story and contemplate the differences, or whether I just let Stanton take me on his journey. It’s hard to do the latter when you’re carrying around all the ERB detail your head — but it’s rewarding, and worth doing.

    You gentlemen belong on the “I Hate John Carter” or “There is No Fucking Way I Want to Go Back to Barsoom” web sites. Oh, wait, there are none like that. You don’t really need to come here, why do you even want to ?

    Well, the reason I originally called this the John Carter Files was that I envisioned it becoming a repository for information and opinions about the book the movie, and everything in between — so I did open the door quite a bit for discussions of book/movie issues. So …. all are welcome. But what I think Bob is reacting to, and which I also react to (but usually bite my tongue about) is the attitude of scorn toward the movie that permeates some of the posts. I really don’t appreciate scorn being heaped on this movie, or Stanton. Discussion, debate, rational argument are fine. Scorn gets tiresome and I’m trying to promote a higher level of discourse than that.

    So I would modify what Bob has said to say the following: “If you can’t post anything without going into a diatribe and heaping scorn on the movie and the film-maker, then you should go find an ‘I Hate John Carter” site. Much of the time you guys aren’t in that mode, and I appreciate that.

    I really appreciate the spirited defense of the movie from Bob and Paladin and others. I’m not opposed to dissenting views — jut go easy on the scorn for the movie and those who made it, and those who appreciate it.

  • Steven and Henried, you need to get over the fact that this is an filmed adaptation of the classic book and not the damn book. You want the story that is in the books, go read the books again. They have been available in all their original un-tampered glory all these years.

    Whether someone likes a movie or not is a subjective thing. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else in reality, but this is a site for people that liked the movie. Forget Rotten Tomatoes and the movie critics scores do you know how many good to great new movies didn’t get great critical, or even audience, reactions right away, but later were recognized as being good to great. 2001, Bladerunner, Kingdom of Heaven to name a few. The Cinema score rating, which gets it’s data from actual regular movie goers who had just seen the picture, is B+, which means that most people who did go to see it, enjoyed it and thought well of it. My wife, who generally doesn’t care for these types of films, she fell asleep half way through The Avengers stayed awake until 2:15 in the morning when we went to see this film at the midnight screening and she liked it quite a bit.

    The mistake you are making is the very same one you are accusing us of, you are assuming your opinion is the one and only correct opinion, but unfortunately the evidence of people, who actually went into a theater and saw it, does not agree with you.

    So why are you coming here to just tell us that the movie stinks. IYHO This is a site of people who liked the movie and have all been doing positive things to help correct the damage done by the marketing department. Michael is writing a fascinating book on the inner machinations of Disney and how they undercut their own investment. Some people have started campaigns to show public support, others have created trailers and art work. I already have my blu-ray slip case ready with a fan made cover that is vastly superior to the one Disney is sending the film out with. I have made a fan edit of the whole film and removed most of the dead weight exposition and put it into a more chronlogical order that even the HULK Smash critic guy would approve of it. BTW for all his verbose pomposity and supposed insight he was a one trick pony. This palce is a positive site for people that liked the movie and are trying to do things to keep it alive to further ERB’s reputation and get more people to give it a try.

    You gentlemen belong on the “I Hate John Carter” or “There is No Fucking Way I Want to Go Back to Barsoom” web sites. Oh, wait, there are none like that.

    You don’t really need to come here, why do you even want to ?

  • Yikes! I leave and everyone goes Hulk on here.

    I’ll just post one thing and be done with it:

    Henried (who thanks for agreeing with me) wrote:
    “Statements like that make me wonder if Chabon actually finished reading the book he claims to have been a lifelong fan of. ”

    I get the feeling neither, he, nor Stanton or Mark Andrews read the books all that closely. Or in a long time. Because honestly when was the last time any of them had read the books? Based on his comments Stanton seems to only have read them twice in his life-when he was 10 or 11 and again prior to writing the script when he threw it out. So I doubt any of them were real “fans” of ERB. Stanton has convinced himself he is, Andrews I can’t say and Chabon-based on how he didn’t even care how badly the movie version of his first novel turned out-seems to only be a fan if the check clears the bank.

  • Henreid – good points all. Nice to hear from someone who isn’t blindly extolling the (missing) virtues of what you have titled DJC (I like the distinction).

    I’ve got a lot of nice things to say about Michael Chabon: he is a wildly successful author who appeals to the mainstream/literary crowd and yet acknowledges – publicly – his genre creds and interests. (Unlike, say, Margaret Atwood who denies she writes science fiction and then goes and publishes a book that is supposed to explain to us what science fiction is); I have to say that I ignored those disconnects with Chabon out of a sense of not wanting to attack a ‘reasonable’ voice – but you are correct. Just as I found it almost impossible to reconcile Stanton’s stated reverence for the material and promises to not screw with it, I also find it impossible to reconcile Chabon’s talent with the script eventually produced – though of course it is impossible to tell who wrote what. You are right of course: either Chabon ignored the end of the first book or simply didn’t read it.

  • Tron Legacy comparisons are interesting.

    Both films have flaws, and I’m sure die-hard TRON fans have much to complain about in Legacy (not enough Tron character, blockbuster writing vs. clever ‘program’ dialogue, etc).
    Both feature reluctant heroes in new worlds who have to fight CGI things, though handled very differently. Both feature a dark tone and good music that does most of the emotional heavy-lifting for the filmmaker.

    But if you want to talk popularity with an audience, sure T:L had a killer, massive ad campaign. But those great trailers had a lot to work with, a lot of the flashy ‘money’ shots I say are lacking in Disney John Carter. Severely lacking when you consider the $250M budget. Quite frankly, there is no standout action setpiece in DJC that compares to the disc-arena or Light-Jet pursuit in TL, and certainly nothing to touch the light-cycle sequence. I say this from a general audience perspective, not as a Burroughs fan. The DJC action scenes are very brief, and often quite awkward (please, someone try to defend that end-battle), and the best of them — the Warhoon massacre — is made less fun by saddling it with a guy burying his family.

    Which brings me to the different treatments of the reluctant hero. In DJC, the sad backstory is treated as a late reveal — we don’t find out the source of his reluctance – why he’s been acting like such a debbie-downer – until 3/4th through the movie. In TL, the film opens with Sam as a child – we see his father promise him another world, then disappears to leave him alone. Cut twenty years later and we understand why the guy is disillusioned before he is ‘called to action’. By the time he hits the Grid 1/4th through the film, though, the reluctance drops away and he’s ready to rock.

    While both performances are widely considered bland or flat, one of these guys might be a lot more fun to spend 2.5 hours with. We go on Sam Flynn’s personal journey with him, learning as he learns, understanding why he feels the way he does… where Disney John Carter’s personal journey is kept secret from us until it can be used to ruin (or heighten, for some of you) his most compelling action scene.

    There’s a rather amazing breakdown of this here:: http://badassdigest.com/2012/04/08/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs-the-john-carter-script/

    Both were expensive box office disappointments to their host studio, but I’ll leave that discussion to the numbers as I see no point in arguing about math. I don’t think it’s fair to say that a ton of tie-ins would have necessarily put them on even BO footing, though.

  • MCR –
    Agreed on all points except the teaser music. I actually feel that was one of the only good calls made on either the marketing or the filmmaking.

    “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love,
    though my mind holds the key.”

    I can hardly imagine a lyric that sounds more like Captain Carter on the banks of the Hudson, staring up at the red point of light yearning to get back. The song works better than anything in the film at capturing that haunting sense of loss, and the line could be construed to mean the true ending of the story – in which his mind held the key to the atmosphere factory and the lives of all on Barsoom.

    Obviously this is not what the Arcade Fire had in mind, but damned if it doesn’t fit.
    So well that it reminds me of the hubris it took to remove the telepathy.

    “I mean, it’s clear that he was making it up as he went along. So there are a lot of things, especially in that first book, ideas that just get tossed in there, and are never followed up on. Like having everyone on Barsoom be telepathic. It turned out he didn’t need that. He could tell his story perfectly well without that. ” __Michael Chabon – ERBzine 3047

    By that logic, you could say giving the green men six limbs was unnecessary —- “He could have told his story perfectly well without that.”
    Never followed up on? You mean like being the key to the climax and finale of the story? Statements like that make me wonder if Chabon actually finished reading the book he claims to have been a lifelong fan of. Sure, Burroughs was flying seat-of-the-pants, but the telepathy was ingrained throughout the story, even if he held the larger implications at bay by having Carter’s mind be ‘unreadable’.

    His point in context seems to be basically that making everyone telepathic would make writing the film really hard. Which sounds like they were being pretty lazy to me.

  • Steve, Tron Legacy was on screens longer because there was nothing out to kick it off the screens. John Carter was also released at a crazy time with a limited screen life due to the Hunger Games. I was told by a manager of an AMC Theatre that John Carter was actually doing OK at some local theatres but it would go away because they needed all the screens they could make available for Hunger Games. John Carter would’ve kept a few screens if it had been promoted and marketed as well as the Hunger Games was because more people would’ve been tempted to go see it justifying it being on those screens.

    You are also ignoring the big jump JC experienced this past weekend as it was added to second run screens.

    As for your personal judgement that JC sucked… most people I personally know who saw it enjoyed it (a couple dozen) and had no problems with it and these folks like quality movies. I only know one person who did not like it and he doesn’t like science fiction in general unless it’s a real dark quirky film. I know a ton more people who haven’t been interested in seeing it because they heard bad news from the box office and write down coverage or only because it’s science fiction which they don’t like (women).

  • Hostile? Any hostility that you may be reading into things I’ve written about this film are direct responses to the manner in which I’ve been treated by the we-want-a-aequel fanatics who:

    can’t tell the difference between themselves and this movie (perceiving any negative commentary on the film as being directed at them personally)

    can’t respond rationally to a simple question but instead level charges of spamming and trolling without ever discussing the topic at hand

    have hacked one of my websites

    and, on a personal level, in my opinion, are doing themselves and the genre-film loving audience a number of disservices – not the least of which is helping to perpetuate a completely unacceptable presentation of ERBs works.

    So if you are capable of having a rational discussion regarding film without confusing the film with yourself – the hostility you think you see is not directed at you.

  • I’m not having a love affair with Rotten Tomatoes – it is only one source that I reference. But I disagree with your sentiment. I think in the aggregate, it shows a very interesting dynamic – the difference between critics opinion and general public opinion of a particular movie.

    TRON got some extra love from the studio because it was already a mutli-product line property for Disney; old video games, old novelizations, resurrect the original and reissue the DVD, not to mention an old (and fairly vocal) fanbase from the original film.

    But I do find your comparison intriguing, since the point it brings out is that both films did relatively the same numbers – but John Carter did those numbers in 9 weeks – while it took Tron Legacy 19 weeks to acquire nearly the same amount – DESPITE – all of the wonderfully fantastic light cycle marketing crap we had to endure.

    I also find the comparison interesting in that – so far as appeal, both movies are pretty close in that neither had much. Appeal that is. They’re both lame attempts at establishing franchises, both amply demonstrate their neediness and desperation.

    Tron Legacy – no one argues with the fact that most critics found it wanting – and yet it lasted in the theaters twice as long as Carter.

    Clearly the theater owners saw diminishing returns in carrying JC after it fell out of the top ten slots and dumped it after only nine weeks.

    Some of you all are trying to justify your liking this film by trying to convince everyone it is the best piece of underrated cinema since Cleopatra. It is not. It is a piece of poor cinema. But there is nothing wrong with liking a crappy movie, it happens all the time. There are plenty of crappy movies I like too (though JC is not one of them) But it is not a chicken-or-egg situation: the movie did not get huge marketing support because IT WAS NOT DESERVING of spending the extra money. This movie could not stand on its own two feet.

    Comparing it to Tron Legacy is perfect: if the studio had spent another 150 million on additional marketing, Carter might have stayed in the theaters another 9 weeks – propped up like Tron L was (your example begs the question not of what would have happened if the extra money had been spent on JC, but what would the numbers for Tron L look like if it HADN’T gotten the extra support?) And instead of having to write down 200 million in the quarter, Disney would have had to write down 300 million. About the only thing that would have been different is that right now I’d be able to purchase remaindered green martian action figures at Wal*Mart – which is about the only regrettable thing that hasn’t happened related to this film.

    Stanton did not make a successful transition to live action; his version did NOT honor the source material. Word of mouth did not and could not rescue this film. High pre-orders on the DVD mean nothing except for the fact that the “we want a sequel” crowd managed to get a decent number of their folks to order one. Kudos to them: expect that the organizers will receive interesting queries from viral marketing companies and perhaps even a job offer or two. After the initial ordering blip has passed, you’ll find this film in the bargain bin, and I’ll be happy to add it to my DVD collection for $5.00 (that is if I can’t download it from Youtube for free in a month or so).

  • Let’s compare what is comparable: for example Tron Legacy and John Carter. Both movie are Disney, both have a 50% critics rating and 67-68% audience rating at your beloved Rotten Tomatoes (which is just to my opinion the most stupid rating system because most critics are nuanced and not black/white, but let’s just consider that it is relevant here).

    Let’s forget their respective budgets for one second. I know it’s a huge part of John Carter’s problem but let’s talk net grosses only.

    Tron Legacy made 172M domestic+228M foreign = 400M worldwide (43%/57%)
    John Carter made 71M domestic+200M foreign = 271M worldwide (26%/74%!)

    Do you not see a discrepancy here, for movies with basically the same appreciation rating-wise?

    When Tron 2 was released, I couldn’t walk anywhere in my store without seeing Tron goodies everywhere, from toys to video games, a heavily publicized soundtrack, a viral internet campain, an efficient trailer. John Carter got nothing of these attentions, on the opposite, the marketing campain was dull and unimaginative, the cross-promotion non existent, the few goodies mostly limited edition (starting with its soundtrack generally well appreciated) and the bad press condemning the movie based on its budget way before any review was authorized, without Disney reacting in any way to it.

    In the rest of the world, most of it impervious to american press pre-bashing, the movie did well. In case you haven’t noticed, John Carter is really high on Amazon’s pre-order list. That’s not the sign that indicates a bad movie, except if you consider all buyers are Disney shareholders. And it has a fan following.

    That’s not to say John Carter is a perfect movie, it’s not, but neither was Tron Legacy, yet their performances should match in some way, if ratings are any indication.

    May I add, Steve, that your tone seem unnecessarily hostile?

  • oy yoy yoy and omg. You guys ARE right after all. History is absolutely filled with movies that were turned into blockbusters because the marketing plan was so freakin awesome! Why didn’t I realize until now that blockbusters aren’t blockbusters until AFTER the marketing dept does its magic? You’re right – I would never have gone to see the premiere of Star Wars if the marketing hadn’t convinced me it wasn’t doomed to fail. I’d never have gone to the opening for Raiders of the Lost Ark cause everyone knows Spielberg just turns out crap. I am SO regretting not having gone to see Plan 9 From Outer Space when it opened; I totally agree – Logan’s Run would have been SO so SO much better with another ten million spent on posters and street promotion. For just ten more cents on marketing, Ishtar would be at the top of the Hollywood Heap.
    1. There are plenty of films that HAVE transcended lackluster/non-existent marketing campaigns.
    2. NO movie should be elevated or trashed based on the marketing campaign. Never. Period. End of Story.
    3. JC would not have done any better with a different, more expensive marketing campaign. It would have done worse as everyone who was talked into seeing it who would otherwise have ignored it would now be hating on it, moaning about how the marketing convinced them to waste twenty bucks on a really crappy, godawful, muddled, confusing, 1940s Epic fail wannabe film.
    There are, believe it or not, some people who actually believe that David Lynch’s production of Dune was a good film. At least they have the sense to recognize that their feelings for that movie are far outside the mainstream and that it would be best for them if they kept their dirty little, embarrassing, secret (mostly) to themselves. Those folks should serve as a good role model for people who get all hot and bothered by Taylor’s pecs. Plan 8 From Outer Space is another good example. When we enjoy watching it, it’s because we’re enjoying the awfulness. If JC waits a few years, maybe we’ll be able to do the same. Until then remember: no matter what kind of deal a director gets, the studio still controls that property. Disney rightly determined – probably pretty early on in the process – probably right after the first screening of any decent amount of semi-completed material – that they’d made a mistake in hiring Stanton, that they made a mistake in giving him such free reign, that they made a mistake in approving such a huge budget and that they weren’t going to follow those mistakes with the even bigger one of trying to convince an uninterested, poor and depressed audience base that this crappy movie was worth wasting a meal’s worth of dollars on.
    Furthermore, according to direct quotes from the person charged with putting the campaign together – none of the materials they needed were ready. Yet another case of Stanton’s inexperience with the ‘Talkie’ side of the studio.
    If it weren’t so pitiful listening to all of these arguments for this movie, it would be laughable. I can just hear some studio execs discussing it after get a little inside info.
    “See, there’s this guy – a soldier from the civil war – who ends up getting transported to Mars where he becomes this kind of super hero.”
    “Super hero on Mars? What’s he do?”
    “He jumps. I mean – really, really, really long, high jumps”
    “Kinda like the Hulk?”
    “Yeah, kinda like that.”
    “What else does he do?”
    “Well, he’s really strong, kind of like Superman, but he doesn’t want to use any of his super powers cause he’s all depressed, like in a Batman/dark knight kinda way and…”
    “John Carter….that name rings a bell. Hey, wasn’t he one of the Marvel Super Heros? Is this going to be one of those teaser flicks for The Avengers?”
    “I don’t know, could be…”

  • Paladin,
    Bravo for you!
    I don’t think you’ll find anyone fighting harder for the movie than I am, or will be..
    My point to Steve is that the studio has a role, and the film-maker has a role, and it’s not the film-maker’s role to deliver a transcendent once-in-a-decade-critics-love-it-fans-love-it move just to be considered a break-even proposition. The studio so obviously didn’t hold up its end of the bargain…….Stanton did.

  • P.S.

    To hell with peace.

    I’m ready to defend this movie and fight for it to get a small crumb of the justice it deserves. It’s been getting screwed in every way possible from the very beginning and continues to get a bad rap through to the present. It’s not fair then; it’s not fair now.

  • Dotar/Steve–

    Guess what — this movie doesnt need apologized for. The roadside is littered with great cinema that was not an initial boxoffice hit.

    Has anyone ever considered yet what a perfect storm it took to cause this film to fail? Quit putting more nails in the F***ing coffin! Why is everyone still buying into this ‘biggest flop’ story when the final chapter has not been written yet? Should us fans quit fighting just because someone else has already decided the final outcome for us?

    I say the only time things are ever really hopeless is when you give up hope.

    And guess what else: THIS IS A GOOD MOVIE!

  • Steve

    There’s one moment that says it all: when Disney made the decision to let Stanton’s picture rise or fall on its own merits. Why can’t you all see that it fell? If the film HAD been a blockbuster, it WOULD have transcended all the negatives.

    But the point of studio marketing is to make a movie achieve success even if is not a once -in-a-decade-transcendant-blockbuster. If those were the only films that break-even, the movie industry would have died a long time ago.

    The role of the studio is to promote a film well enough that even if, like most films, it is not a transcendent blockbuster, it still achieves reasonable financial success. There is a long, long list of action/sci-fi movies (starting with Transformers) that had worse critic reviews and worse audience ratings than JC — but made enough money to generate sequels.

    So I don’t buy that. Not too much argument with the rest of what you wrote, except, of course, THIS IS NOT A GOOD MOVIE. My reply is THIS IS NOT A BAD MOVIE. It falls somewhere in between, closer to good than bad — but not the grand slam gem that circumstances conspired to require of Stanton, just for it to survive.

    Peace.

  • Sorry to all the haters, but I loved this movie and know others who do, too! So you give it up!! Box office doesn’t have that much to do with the quality of a movie and neither does RottenTomatoes site scores. Look at the crap that rakes in huge amounts of money and the quality movies that don’t make much money at all. Look at the crap movies that do well at Rotten Tomatoes. JC would’ve done much, much better in the US if it had been marketed properly as Michael has outlined it wasn’t. There are movies which have done much better that were only a fraction of the quality of JC but they were marketed much, much better. It needed that marketing to help get the word out about what the movie truly was. If Disney had done what they should have, it would not have bombed and possibly even gotten better reviews as many critics play follow the leader. RottenTomatoes audience scores would’ve been higher as well since there would’ve been more people who saw the movie because of the marketing and promotion. No movie these days can pull in the money needed to make it a hit at the budget level Hollywood types consider needed to match the production and marketing costs without excellent marketing and promotion. The Avengers is the only recent movie in Disney history to be marketed well and that’s only because the big investor in Marvel is a thorn in Iger’s side about this stuff. Notice they really ramped up The Avengers promotion after they dropped the ball on JC? And The Avengers didn’t need the marketing because it had a built in audience and people primed since at least last summer.

    Analysts familiar with tracking Disney movies said at worse a $50 Million loss or possibly even a $50 Million profit for JC by the time all monies are accounted for which won’t be until next year at the earliest. You have a DVD doing very well pre-sale at Amazon – not the sign of a bomb as well. It will probably do well on-demand as folks not willing to go to the theaters may be willing to give it a watch.

  • I’m so looking forward to the book. These articles are marvelous and so informative. I’d probably have more to say if I didn’t feel so yucky. Flu sucks!

  • Stanton’s film wasn’t ERB’s John Carter but I felt it was certainly a great tribute to Burroghs and a well-made version of a story I’ve wanted to see on the big screen for 40 years. If the film was a “flop,” it wasn’t because it was a bad film. If I recall, the opening box office numbers were quite respectable and the film would have been considered a hit if the production costs had been in the $150m range. Disney could have and should have marketed it as the story that inspired “Star Wars” and “Avatar” and attributed it to the creator of “Tarzan” as well. I think it would have made a world of difference.

  • What Tom said, and then some.

    Dotar, good luck with the book – no one can deny that you are doing an excellent job trying to hold hold up the “dirty” end of this particular argument’s stick.

    There’s one moment that says it all: when Disney made the decision to let Stanton’s picture rise or fall on its own merits. Why can’t you all see that it fell? If the film HAD been a blockbuster, it WOULD have transcended all the negatives.

    It did not for the very simple fact that it WAS NOT A GOOD FILM.

    Right now – 52% rotten and only 68% of the audience recommends it – that’s down well over ten percent from opening week. And now we have THE AVENGERS (which I felt was just an ok film with lots of wasted characters and many pointless minutes) that breaks records in the opposite direction – by exceeding expectations.

    Unfortunately, the ‘suits’ in Hollywood (Disney) appear to have been correct three years ago: stick with the Marvel franchise stuff.

    I’ll note also that in one of the pieces I read (perhaps yours) Stanton admits to having discovered Carter through the 1970s comics – NOT the original novels. I suspect that this may have ill-informed him to a large degree into believing that he alone possessed the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and reverence for the property to bring it to the big screen.

    Obviously not. Yes, I am a part of that “small audience” that read these books in the 60s and felt that Stanton utterly destroyed the Carter mythos. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about it being perpetuated with sequels.

    You do realize that The Avengers enormous success has placed the last few nails in the Carter resurrection coffin, yes? Disney has achieved the near impossible – buried Hollywood’s biggest failure less than a week after its closing with Hollywood’s biggest success. There is no way the studio is going to allow anything JCM to survive. None.

  • Yes, a book on this topic would be worthwhile. Not a hatchet job, please! What’s required is a considered analysis of what happened and why, and how such mistakes might be avoided in the future by any studio, not just Disney.
    This is not the first time Disney has failed its own creative efforts; Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians spring to mind. For some reason, the studio has never left the Silly Symphonies approach to film making, either in animation or live action, which is why everyone still sings in their animated films! In other words the company sticks to a formula, much as does the rest of Hollywood.
    I often think some concepts are best handled outside the major studio systems – by independents or offshore, where the approaches are different, more aesthetic, more literary or even, simply, more off the wall! Maybe ERB Inc should approach Tsui Hark to do a Mars or Venus story – parts of China and Mongolia are very Mars-like!

  • Tom, I’m truly sorry that your anger over changes blinds you to not seeing that this version was a fun, beautifully rendered introduction to our beloved characters and the world of Barsoom. Not entirely perfect, you are right that the addition of the Therns slowed the movie down, but it is certainly not a childish take on the tale. You want childish, go see the Avengers. This movie was actually adult and intelligent to a fault and the 76% of the millions of people that did see it, rated it B+. We were not having massive group hallucinations and projecting feelings into scenes in this movie, it was there, well written and well acted, maybe Taylor Kitsch not so much. It wasn’t chapter and verse ERB but it wasn’t Journey 2: Mysterious Island. I don’t absolve Mr. Stanton totally, but he made a sincere and respectful version of the story in it’s original time setting trying to introduce it to a new generation. I read all these books multiple times and yes this version was a little restrained, I prefer my blood red and my women with less clothing, but he did not make a “kids” picture. He made a picture that could be enjoyed and discovered by the widest possible audience.

  • History, Director, Story! Thats all they had to sell and they couldnt even do that .They needed a clear motivation for people (including families,kids and teens) to go see the movie. As you say it was not like The Avengers it didnt have prequels, it didnt have recent comic books. All that it had was a 100 years of history , a famous Director and a wonderful story. How much of this was in the official trailers……none.
    I saw the trailers and they told me nothing about Princess of Mars even though i had read the book as a kid and loved it. It was not until I read some of the reviews that I understood what it was. This is disgraceful marketing

  • The John Carter trailer did not impede my desire to see a the movie.

    While I respect that quite a few people have been satistfied with John Carter, Stanton’s achievement left me not only unimpressed, but restless and quite annoyed.

    Replacing a cliché with a “more up to date” cliché, the damaged protagonist could have worked, but the whole “married with children” just threw a monkey wrench in the works. The simple and meaningless convoludedness by such feats as the 9th ray, the therns, “adding depth” to a female character just by labeling her as warrior/scientist. The sheer fact that the hero protagonist seemed too dumb and unable to grasp that he been transported to another planet made him hard to “invest in”. It didn’t help that he had lost his family, and frankly, at that point, I didn’t care…To me, Staton’s childish take on the characters, storyline and the vacuous dialogue made them appear unbaringly thin and unsympathetic. The lack of a more “adult” take characters and dialogue and the failure to connect universal themes is why the movie failed.

  • I will be buying the book… It’s the least I can do to help your tremendous efforts to help promote this series and movie. It’s hard to believe that we are sitting here 2 months after the opening and there is no sequel in sight. Count me in…

  • This is destined to be a seminal work for every seminar and class in Motion Picture Marketing, Arts Marketing and Brand Marketing. Sign me up!

  • I was at Disneyworld just after “John Carter” came out — I was surprised at the lack of major advertising for such a big-budget film from Disney’s own studio. Then I saw the monorail train fully painted with an an ad for “The Avengers”. My first thought was — “Why would Disney go all out for an outside brand but not promote their own Studio’s work?” That said it all. I’m looking forward to reading Mr. Sellers’ book.

  • The first trailer left me confused. It was definitely not ERB’s Barsoom, and the images felt reminiscent of other movies. Yes, Prince of Persia came immediately to mind. All the comments I read confirmed that the trailer got at best a “meh” response from most of the viewers. I didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it either. If first impressions were what counted, it was not a good sign for the movie, especially one I was waiting already for some twenty years. I waited for other trailers to show the goods, and it never came.

    I never understood why no music of Giacchino was used in the trailers. The score was recorded in december of 2011, on the 17th three cues were aired in that radio show:

    http://www.wqxr.org/?utm_source=ad&utm_medium=splash&utm_campaign=q1221c#/programs/movies/2011/dec/17/

    To me, hearing these cues was the first sign of relief, the score was a huge selling point, the first that gave me some sort of confidence for the movie. There was more than enough time to incorporate those in further trailers, but it didn’t happen.

    Based on his interviews, Stanton really seem to believe that literary Barsoom’s fans only lived in the sixties (also see his comments about Frazetta’s art). Was he really that impervious of the relevance of the material up to this day, for people that didn’t see The Magnificent Seven on first showing?

  • I liked the first trailer a lot. It may be because I’m a Peter Gabriel fan to be sure (I found it interesting that he was thanked in the credits of the movie – I think a musical cue was also used from his song “Rhythm of the Heat” for later trailers), but I thought it made it mysterious and it worked well with the images. I am not unbiased in this I guess, but to me it was thrilling to see Gabriel’s version of the Arcade Fire song associated with something I’ve loved for a very long time. At any rate, it was the only trailer – outside of the fan trailer – that wasn’t a mish-mash of images with no idea of plot.
    And Dotar, I took the liberty of taking a stab with some artwork of the title of your book. It may not be the style or tone you are looking for, but I had to get it out of my system. Thought I would show it to you anyway.
    http://i79.photobucket.com/albums/j136/BobJ_61/Hollywoodvsmars.jpg

  • Just when I think that nothing more about showbiz can surprise or make me mad, something will and this advertising boondoggle does. I admire your tenacity in doing all the research and making ‘sense’ of what happened. In many ways, it only proves that the mindsets of ‘tptb’ don’t expect intelligence from an audience.
    I am 63 and enjoyed the movie very much. I’m so glad I could see it at a theater.
    I am a fan of DUNE and except for the actors and costumes, David Lynch destroyed it.
    Andrew Stantion didn’t do that to John Carter. I understood all the changes and juxtapositions he made. After I have seen it several more times, I will be able to give reasons for my thinking.
    Thank you for taking up the banner.

  • I’ve never liked the first trailer, mostly because of the music. An instrumental would have been superior choice, it would have been great if Michael Giacchino could have done a custom score for the first trailer (similar to what Daft Punk did for one of the middle trailers (TRON LEGACY). But even Giacchino most likely could not have scored the first trailer, there are plenty of good instrumentals music out there that would have fit better than the Arcade Fire song, such as a piece of classical music.

    The other big problem is that the first trailer had nothing distinctive of Barsoom. That first trailer made the movie out to be a run of the mill desert adventure film, worse yet people thought “Prince of Persia sequel” rather than “Edgar Rice Burroughs story”. Even if the Tharks weren’t ready to be shown yet, some CGI of Barsoomian airships could have been fast-tracked in the months prior had marketing bothered to request the footage.

    And of course the “in a world where..” concept for the first trailer was very much like DUNE’s marketing campaign. From concept to execution, nothing about the first trailer tries to sell the movie as unique, it’s really a complete failure as a first impression.

  • When I saw the first trailer last summer, I thought it was mysterious and made it look like an adult appeal science fiction movie, which I thought was good. But I’m 55, so not exactly the demo they are looking at for a blockbuster. I didn’t know it was supposed to be a blockbuster as I hadn’t read anything about it. When they found a lack of buzz, they should have changed tactic and come out with a trailer with more boom and zoom. Not showing it at ComicCon and not having a panel there was a big mistake as well. They didn’t need to show much. Just tease and talk. Wrong marketing and lack of tie-ins killed the movie.

    I did see it again last night at my local Farmington Civic Theater $3.50 showing, a decent print that’s been around the block a little but not broken (all my previous dozen or so viewings were 2D digital at various AMC Theaters – I don’t like 3D movies – they give me a headache) and there had to be a couple dozen people there which isn’t bad for a movie that’s been getting trashed… it was a good mix, too, young and old with a few more women than I had seen at any showing previously.

  • Another great entry in the series! Looking forward to the book and the completion of these articles!

  • Ah you left us with a cliffhanger. You ERB nut! Still great reporting and some interesting topics brought up.

    I’ll make my “cranky” comments and get it over with.

    “pleasing a few thousand lingering fans from the sixties who are passionate advocates of the original material in all its specificity just couldn’t be a major consideration. Be respectful, yes.”

    And I guess being respectful means just ignore them period. Stanton and company did a great job with that approach. I suppose Peter Jackson just wasted alll that time buddying up to those Tolkien geeks for nothing! (Sorry for the sarcasm.)


    It was suggested that this be simplified or even cut — with the latter suggestion being that Stanton consider following Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lead and have the view experience Barsoom only through John Carter — traveling there with him, and learning about it as he learns about it. Stanton was strongly against this:”

    And it seems strongly against this movie resembling Burroughs in anyway. shape or form. Actually what this implies is that it was Stanton’s way or the highway. Even the valued “Braintrust” couldn’t get through to him it seems on this issue. And his solution-an even more confusing and badly staged opening.

    “A Eureka Moment for the First Trailer

    Throughout the spring, Disney marketers from Burbank continued to present revised cuts of the trailer, first in Emeryville, and then at Playa Vista as the reshoots were under way. It was in a presentation at Playa Vist when what a breakthrough occurred. Someone at Disney, after hearing Stanton and company repeatedly say that they felt the film had to have a unique feel and not feel like another “In a world where….” genre pice, came up with the idea of using a mournful Peter Gabriel song, ‘My Body is a Cage”, and the backdrop for the first trailer.”

    So the “eureka” moment was to appeal to every Prozac popping Emo kid on the planet? Clearly who ever made that suggestion should have gotten the boot with Carney and Ross.

    OK now get the book out!

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