One of the members of the John Carter Facebook group found this article and posted it today. I’m sharing it here as this is obviously a topic of interest to us. It takes a while to get going, but it eventually gets into some interesting points.
Movie marketing is a tricky and incredibly difficult business. Whenever you market a movie, you’re making a promise to the audience that the movie will be a certain way. People like to see the same thing in a new way—we’re weird like that. We like to be told what we’re getting into. The less sure people are of what to expect, the less they’re willing to take a chance and drop $20 – $50 at the movies. If you advertise a movie one way and it’s actually a completely different type of movie, you may have a large opening weekend, but your movie will quickly tank as word of mouth spreads that your movie is a stinker.
All of this discussion of movie marketing leads me to the actual point for this article, which is to discuss the movie John Carter, an action-adventure sci-fi, space opera movie that did rather poorly (at least, in American markets) largely, I feel, due to its bizarre treatment in marketing the movie to the public.
John Carter was a mess of marketing issues. The movie is sort of disadvantaged because science-fiction movies don’t have the best track record in cinematic history. Sure, Alien, The Terminator, etc., but John Carter’s story is based on a golden-age science fiction novel series—which are often very cheesy, and would appeal to a very niche audience these days. Like B-movies.
This movie was expensive, and they needed to make a lot of money to justify how much they spent. So when marketing the movie, you try to appeal to the broadest audience out there, which is why, I assume, the advertisements look like a Michael Bay flick…because he’s incredibly popular right now for providing big, dumb action movies with lots of epic action scenes but very little in the way of depth or substance or characterization. People love big dumb action movies—including me. But marketing a movie as a big dumb action movie when it’s not is a huge mistake.
For example, if people go into a movie expecting gigantic visual spectacles and wall-to-wall action…well they’re not going to get that from John Carter. Don’t get me wrong, there’s action. Lots of it. It’s really cool, too. But there aren’t a lot of scenes just for the sake of scenes. Most of the scenes in John Carter move the story forward and develop the plot. In addition to plot, however, the movie takes time to develop its characters, creating three-dimensional people instead of cookie cutter “good-guy” and “bad-guy” stand-ins.
Now, I’m not saying John Carter is a perfect movie. But it’s much better than it’s been getting credit for.
Another issue that people probably had with the movie, at least whether they’ll go see it or not, is the “what is it?” issue. You often know where you stand with a movie based on the title and the advertisements.