Whirling Nerdish: Movie Marketing and John Carter

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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.


  • MCR wrote —

    “Yeah I guess Star Wars, Avatar, ET, Jurassic Park, ID4, Men in Black, The Matrix were all just big bombs. Seriously what planet is this guy from? Don’t call your website Whirling Nerdish and make a statement like that.”

    Oh, MCR, you little minx, don’t you realize that average Joe and Jane Moviegoer (the common clay, the salt of the earth — you know — morons) don’t look upon these films as science fiction? They’re summer blockbusters, blow-’em-up action films, big-budget buddy comedies (in the case of MIB) and that’s how they are promoted. Sure, to you and me all the films you list are science fiction, but we’re not average. 🙂

    Is “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” science fiction? Sure it is, but never identified as such.

  • I love his alternate poster with the subtitle! In my mind, that would have been the PERFECT title for Stanton’s movie.

  • As promised. I have the deluxe package, which is fine, because when my original Pannie HD died last year the new one I replaced it with is 3D enabled. The box comes with a lenticular 3D cover, unfortunately it is the stupid side view of JC and the two overgrown monkees. The one concession they have made towards trying to corrrect the wrongs of the packaging is a small removable sticker on the front that says, ” A Warrior on Earth Becomes a Hero on Mars ”

    Visual quality of the film is fine, although I do miss the sheer scope of the theater screen. If you were very happy with the 2D presentation of Avatar, you are going to be fine with this. While this is not knock out 3D like Avatar, it does add a little bit of immersion or “realness” to the experience. The sound mix is truely terrific, good sound placement and lots of LFE action giving the subs a good work out.

    The John Carter 360 Degrees, is about twenty five minutes long. This is the ” making of ” featurette. Lots of padding going on here, really, there is a twenty second flash cut montage
    of the guy in the craft kitchen washing dishes. A little too much time spent with extras and and PAs. It starts to get more interesting with Lynn Collins gettting her make up applied. Each person has there own set of tattoos and according to the guy who designed them, up close, they are not solid colors but filled with small Martian symbols. She is then covered with small tiny jewels in small patterns to further enhance.

    Finally, we get on the set and get to watch some actual making of footage. This gets fairly interesting. It is parts of the big battle from the end. The airships were on big elaborate gimbles to get them rocking, explosions were set and fired off, we see Stanton direct the scene where Shang tranforms out of his Tars version into the evil Dejah. This was interesting because as filmed, Dejah has to keep adjusting here sword height to keep up with the character shrinking in size as he changes. In the final film it goes TT to DT but as filmed, he had Defoe on stilts, then Mark Strong as MS and then Lynn’s stunt double as the evil DT. Stanton directs this with one of these new hand held displays so that he can see the pre viz characters instead of the actors and in one instance immediatly plays it back for the actors to see. Far cry from “Hey, we have to wait for those dailies to get here.”

    Two things I took away from this, everytime Stanton talks about his love of this property, he refrences the ” World ” aspect of it, which is entirely valid, but he never once speaks about the character of JC, it does explain why he threw ERB’s characterization out the window so easily.

    This was a HUGELY detailed and pre planned production and once it was “go time” on the set, where ever he was in his heart, he had to be the “confident leader” and get the shots in the computers.

    The “100 Years in the Making” starts well with some good stuff on ERB, a tad of Clampett’s animation, interviews with Jon Favare (?) and Michael Chabon among others but then shifts to Stanton which is not as interesting as the first part.

    Not all that much in the Deleted Scenes, but it does show some interesting variations and evolutions. I’ll break it down in another post later today.

  • It’s a great writeup! And I don’t think he was referring to the few films that have done huge box office. The percentage of greatly successful scifi films is very small compared to all that have come out over the years.

  • “The movie is sort of disadvantaged because science-fiction movies don’t have the best track record in cinematic history. ”

    Yeah I guess Star Wars, Avatar, ET, Jurassic Park, ID4, Men in Black, The Matrix were all just big bombs. Seriously what planet is this guy from? Don’t call your website Whirling Nerdish and make a statement like that.

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