When John Carter was released and the press surrounding the film was just relentlessly negative, the idea of beginning to drumbeat for Edgar Rice Burroughs other great interplanetary series, “Carson of Venus”, seemed a bit far-fetched. The sense of doom surrounding John Carter was just too overwhelming. But now, three months later, John Carter is already being regarded in many circles as a cult classic and it has inspired a fervent and committed fan base who are actively and aggressively lobbying for a sequel, trying to keep Barsoom alive. Meanwhile the Burroughs purists who didn’t like the Disney version of John Carter have also been stirred up and are out here vocally making the case the Edgar Rice Burroughs needs consideration as a source of uniquely imaginative works that can be adapted to the screen with extraordinary success if handled properly both in terms of production and marketing.
So let’s consider Carson of Venus for a moment. Here’s a nice little teaser synopsis, courtesy of the Realm of Ryan:
The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a. Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. The planet is caught in a battle between the country of Vepaja and the tyrannical Thorists. Carson finds time during his adventuring to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a Vepajan king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novelettes, and an orphaned novella.
Here’s the thing about Carson of Venus: The movie rights are available and now that there is a lively group of John Carter/Barsoom fans, is it time to start talking about a movie of Carson of Venus? Has John Carter — debacle that it has been — proved anything about the potential attractiveness of Burroughs other great interplanetary series?
Here are some preliminary thoughts:
Is Carson Napier is a more movie-friendly character than John Carter?
I can’t help but think that Carson Napier “former stuntman and amateur rocketeer”, a guy with a sense of humor and a bit of devil-may-care about him, would attract a badass leading actor who could deliver humor along with the romance, action, and fantasy that comes with the story. Think Robert Downey’s take on Iron-man with a touch of the young Richard Branson thrown in.
Is Amtor Visually Even Better than Barsoom?
Barsoom, in the books, had a certain majesty — Burroughs imbued it with a history that you could follow, races and cultures you could catalogue, and a certain chivalric, almost Arthurian vibe and that has made Barsoom the favorite of the ERBophiles. But cinematically, Barsoom — mostly a desert — had a certain barrenness to it. Let me hasten to say that there is an allure and mystery attached to Barsoom that is unique and untouchable. But let’s think about Amtor for a moment. Misty, fog and cloud enshrouded, massive forests so large that cities exist among the clouds in the upper reaches of the forests, oceans, strange compelling beasts and cultures……..Amtor would be pure eye candy from beginning to end.
Can Carson be made for the right price point?
John Carter’s downfall in many respects was the budget, and that budget was driven by it being a Pixar style combination of animation and live action, with a very large percentage of screen time involving motion capture 3D Tharks, often more than one character. If you want to know where the money went in John Carter, it was Tharks. The air battles; the cities of Zodanga and Helium; the overall world build — none of that drove the budget off the charts. It was the Tharks……now, a Venus movie with more humanoid screen time and less motion capture 3D character screen time could, to my indie producer brain, be made at a better price point — let’s ay 150m, the same as Wrath of the Titans and any number of other big movies of that ilk which just didn’t have the motion capture 3D component that John Carter did. So –let’s just hypothesize for the sake of discussion that a badass Carson of Venus could be made for 150m, by a studio other than Disney who “gets it”……
Is there a business model that works, at a budget of 150m?
At a budget of 150m the film would need to earn 300m global theatrical gross to be considered successful. (I don’t’ want to get into the whole financial model, but briefly, 300m theatrical gross means 150m to the studio, then you have DVD/Blu-ray, TV, Cable, etc, etc so that’s how you get to profitability….) Now, is there 300m in global theatrical gross out there for a Carson of Venus move, properly marketed, and well -produced?
Well, that’s just about what John Carter has made and it did so with the worst marketing campaign in the history of cinema (well, it seems that way), and with no real established fan base to begin with. Now, Carson would hopefully be able to attract the now-established John Carter fan base who, true, would rather have John Carter (and maybe they will get him eventually), but Carson is certainly a cousin of John Carter and worthy of support.
So if you have an established fan base that will support Carson, and if you have a marketing team who gets it and knows how to sell the picture, and if John Carter having neither of those did 300m — then the argument that Carson could probably do at least 400m is not an unreasonable proposition.
Where Will the Financing Come From?
Yes, a US studio might come up with the financing. But why not a consortium of Russia, China, and the US? John Carter was a big hit in Russia and China and those are huge territories. Let’s bring in financing from there to lower the risk for the US studio.
Am I dreaming?
I think it can be done.
Here’s some Venus Art by Paul Privatera just to get you in the mood.
And for a very nice summary of Pirates of Venus — go to Realm of Ryan.