Thanks to Bill Hillman of Erbzine for tipping us on this. I’m going to post it now and add my comments in the comment section.
Disaster on the Screen: John Carter
In the second part of my look at box office catastrophes I delve into the baffling failure of Walt Disney Studio’s John Carter.
Now, this one sticks in my throat a little because, personally, I adored what Andrew Stanton brought to the big screen. However, for some reason (or many reasons), the pulpy space opera didn’t seem to strike a chord with many critics and/or cinemagoers.
The story of Civil War soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) being magically whisked to Mars (or Barsoom, if we want to give it its local name) where he becomes embroiled in a battle between the cities of Helium and Zodanga. Upon meeting princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), Carter learns he is seen as the saviour of Helium but he must, first, decide whether he wants to be part of the war or if he should return home.
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘A Princess of Mars’ novel, it’s clear why this tale was ripe for a big-budget movie adaptation. However, given the budget just to create the film is estimated to have been around the $250million mark, Disney were already facing a possible uphill battle.
Hopes of a profit-making film were hampered by, in my humble opinion, a quite horrendous marketing campaign. First, the film title was altered from John Carter of Mars to, simply, John Carter. It’s understood Stanton removed “of Mars” to make it more appealing to a broader audience, stating that the film is an “origin story. However, former Disney marketing president MT Carney also has taken blame for suggesting the title change claiming a significant loss in March 2011 with Mars Needs Moms resulted in the studio reportedly conducting a study which noted recent movies with the word “Mars” in the title had not been commercially successful.
Whether the ‘of Mars’ would have helped or hindered John Carter is up for debate, but what isn’t is the fact the marketing budget – allegedly around $100million (on top of the $250m production budget – added further possible issues with turning a profit.
Now, this is where I have issues. If the budget to market the film to the public is almost half the cost of the movie itself, questions have to be asked as to why TV spots, trailers and billboards (in Scotland, at least) were scarce. I can honestly say that I, personally, only saw the trailer on television three times in the run up to it being released in cinemas. Meanwhile, poster & billboard campaigns were at a minimum. Whether this was the case elsewhere in the UK (and the US, where it bombed), I couldn’t tell you. But in Scotland, advertising for a film seen as a tentpole release was minimal.
Just a week before being released in the US, Disney decided to lift an embargo on reviews for John Carter – a move that may have hammered quite a few nails into JC’s coffin. It opened to a raft of mixed reviews among which Peter Debruge of Variety said: “To watch John Carter is to wonder where in this jumbled space opera one might find the intuitive sense of wonderment and awe Stanton brought to Finding Nemo and WALL-E.”
Elsewhere A.O. Scott of The New York Times said: “John Carter tries to evoke, to reanimate, a fondly recalled universe of B-movies, pulp novels and boys’ adventure magazines. But it pursues this modest goal according to blockbuster logic, which buries the easy, scrappy pleasures of the old stuff in expensive excess. A bad movie should not look this good.”