John Carter Sequel? Let the Amazon User Review Games (Wars?) Begin

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Those who have been following the march of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood and, more importantly, Disney’s John Carter, know how this goes:  Passionate fans of the film on one end of the spectrum, dismissive critics of the film on the other.

Writing the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood posed a unique problem in that on the one hand the goal was to present a fair-minded, even-handed and accurate account of what went wrong with the release, while on the other hand making the case that the book series on which the movie is based is an extraordinary treasure worthy of more films, and thus what happened in the making and marketing of it by Disney was an affront to that treasure and to the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In the early days after releasing the book, the first readers to find the book, read it, and comment on it were — not surprisingly (and intentionally as far as publishing strategies go) — friends of the cause who want to see a continuation of John Carter in cinemas.  Thus the first round of user reviews on Amazon were all positive.   In fact, the first five reviews all gave it 5 stars and one of these, by Rick Barry, is solidly ranked as the “most helpful”.   To establish the positive side of things, here is that review:

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 starsA story worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself, December 2, 2012
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This review is from: John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (Paperback)

Michael Sellers has taken a story worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself and told it with style, skill, fairness, thoroughness – and great affection for the original material. He narrates the gripping saga of the 100-year-old novel’s long march to the big screen, during which time much of Burroughs’ creative genius was ‘strip-mined’ by such later icons as Lucas and Cameron. Along the way Sellers treats the reader to an insider’s view of today’s ‘gods of Hollywood,’ who are not the autocratic and capricious moguls of a bygone era but equally aggressive, corporate warriors navigating the narrow straits between ever-adjusting, long-term, strategic visions and those pesky, quarterly earnings reports. In this world, cinematic artistry becomes a consumer product; and even a $250-million tentpole film can be sacrificed on the altar of an executive coup or the next acquisition.

In true Burroughs style, this timely tale ends with its own, real-life cliffhanger: will the concluding installments of the Burroughs/Stanton trilogy ever see the light of day, or, more to the point, the warm, inviting light of an IMAX theater? Against all odds, Sellers shows how that just might happen.

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Needless to say, as the author of the book and a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was deeply appreciative of these kind words which capture a great deal of what I was trying to do with the book.

Enter the Naysayers

Last night, however, the first salvo of  predictable negativity landed and it will surely not be the last.  It came in the form of a well written and articulate trashing (or perhaps “dismissing” would be a better word) of the book on the ground that it is written by an “uber fan” whose view of the material is thus “obviously skewed”.
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Passionate, if a bit fanatic tome for a middling movie, December 6, 2012
This review is from: John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood (Paperback)

A not particularly critical look by a fan who’s fanaticism over a middling movie out of place and time is mildly entertaining, but not for the reasons one might suspect. It’s a glimpse into an uber fan’s well meaning, if obviously skewed love of the pulp novellas and it’s translation into one of the biggest motion picture blunders ever. The film itself couldn’t convince audiences to care–it never rises above just another content filler for late night cable tv filler.

The information on the films mishandling by marketing is certainly the most interesting part of this book. Why would Disney not properly promote a film, no matter how weak, that it spent so much money on? It’s certainly far better, as a film, than dreck like Tim Burton’s moneymaker Alice in Wonderland and the bomb Tron Legacy.

Ultimately, the book can’t shake it’s “fan-boy” status, and it’s passionate argument for a sequel isn’t very convincing. Taken with a very large grain of salt, it’s more interesting as a peek into the culture of fan-dom than a serious look at the perils of Hollywood moviemaking.

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Two readers have left comments:
Richard A. Tucker says:

To each his own. I haven’t read the book but have it ordered. As for your take on the film, well, the studio dropped the ball on marketing and there’s no mistaking it was done with intent. Whether the book delivers on the reasons or not is yet for me to determine. That said, there’s a reason a lot of the people who saw the film liked it and liked it a lot. I was set to dislike it like all of Hollywood’s horrid attempts at adapting pulp adventure to the big screen. Stanton surprised me in a very big way. It’s too bad he didn’t do the same for you. I hope you’re laying the fanboy accusations on too thickly. I work in the industry and grow leery of such fandom (if I never see another lame tattoo of a pop hero/heroine/hobbit/droid etc. it’ll be too soon) but on rare occasions it’s warranted. Like it or not (your well intentioned but misguided cynicism being duly noted) this film has a loyal following and a large support group. Still, you’re opinion is not completely dismissed, just a footnote I’ll consider when I read the book. The risk was always there because of the passion of the fans and the shabby treatment of the film by the studio (no studio in the history of the medium has declared their film both a loss and a bomb while it was still in the theaters).
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3 of 4 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you? Thank you for your feedback.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2012 7:45:19 AM PST
Dennis K. Wilcutt says:

Could not have said it better, Richard

My Take On It

For a negative review,  this one is fair enough.   I am “guilty as charged” on the count of being an “uber fan” of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books which he dismisses as “pulp novellas”, and I’m in good company in that regard , including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Carl Sagan, and half the geeks at JPL who put the Rover on Mars.   I contemplated (briefly)  writing the entire book from the perspective of an “impartial journalist” — but I am on record here and far too many other places as being a lifetime fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs to be credible with that approach.  I came to the conclusion that I need to own that reality and acknowledge from the outset that  I care about ERB’ legacy and believe that his books are a greater treasure than this reviewer does.  I spent some considerable time at the beginning of the book acknowledging this about myself and my perspective, and making the case for why these books are special and are deserving of more than casual dismissal.  There is plenty of objective evidence supporting the notion that these are more than just your average “pulp adventure novellas”.  They became a global phenomenon and  were translated into 58 languages in Burroughs’ lifetime, turning him into a  global superstar author at a time when there were no global superstar authors.  He was the most widely read author on the planet when hundreds of other writers of “pulp novellas” simply passed into obscurity.  So if being an “uber fan” of ERB is the worst he has to say about me, I’m okay with that.  It’s accurate.   The question is whether this informs the book with a a deeper understanding of the underlying material and its virtues — or clouds the author’s vision.  Given that the book is ultimately meant as a “defense of John Carter” as a cinematic franchise, my hope is that it’s ultimately a positive — and anyway, I can’t change-and don’t want to hide- the fact that I’m a fan of ERB.
Aside from that I’m reasonably pleased that, even within the context of a negative review, he wrote:
“The information on the films mishandling by marketing is certainly the most interesting part of this book. Why would Disney not properly promote a film, no matter how weak, that it spent so much money on? It’s certainly far better, as a film, than dreck like Tim Burton’s moneymaker Alice in Wonderland and the bomb Tron Legacy.”
I labored long and with the utmost diligence I could muster on the presentation of Disney’s marketing blunders and, more significantly, documented lack of effort in the marketing.  A reader coming to the book with this one’s outlook would, I think, be quick to pounce on sloppiness or lack of discipline in the presentation of the critique of Disney, particularly so because of suspicions that would obviously flow from considering the author to be a “fan on a rant” — but implicitly the reviewer seems to acknowledge that this information is presented in a manner that is thought provoking.  And I would call that  a good thing.
Anyway, for those who might have interest in joining the discussion on Amazon, here are some links:
In closing I’ll note that the only somewhat “mean-spirited” aspect of this negative review is that the reviewer went through all of the positive reviews and answer “no” to the question “was this review helpful”.  The Yes/No voting on each review affects how high up it appears in the reviews when they are listed, as they are by default, in “most helpful” to “least helpful” order.
One last note — as negative reviews go, this one was pretty fair-minded and basically flows from the fact that the author considers the movie to be a “content filler for late night cable tv filler.”  Given that this is the orientation of the reviewer toward the movie, my final takeaway is that the review could have been a lot more hostile than it is, and the author has not been particularly mean-spirited or unfair.  His views will be shared by many others who simply do not see anything “special” in either the books or the film.


  • I’m currently reading page 170, and it IS a journalist approach to me, 100%. The “objectivity” of journalists is just a myth anyway. Unbiased journalism is fairly rare. I fond your work as objective as possible, the facts as you reunited them are telling by themselves. When you could have interpreted the facts to your advantage, you just wrote “no one knows what happened exactly”, as during the times the marketing department did nothing on the media front for sometimes months.

    It reminds me of another favorite of mine, “The Secret History of Star Wars” by Michael Kaminski, a reconstitution of the behind-the-scenes story based on interviews and facts.

    I will add my review on Amazon after I finish your awesome book, Michael, something I doubt this particular naysayer bothered to do.

    As for the movie, it lacks the daydreaming, wish-fulfilment of Burroughs’ works. Attempting “historical realism” can’t really achieve that. It’s an alternate take on Barsoom, which has his appeal, but as an adaptation, this approach seems somewhat mislead. Stanton stated that appealing to his 12-year old self was easy, it was his 50-year old self that was harder to please. He should have listened more to his 12-year old self in my opinion, because he’s the one that fell in love. The movie is good, but only a fraction of what it could have been.

  • Michael, when I was a young reporter for a daily newspaper, I quickly learned that negative feedback is actually a positive development — it means you’re being read. Obscurity is always a writer’s greatest enemy. Congratulations again from one admitted ERB fan boy to another.

  • Mine were:

    –Dead sea bottoms/ancient ruined cities
    –JC earning respect and allies
    –winning Dejah
    –Magic of the one man flier
    –Swords, swords, swords
    –Friendship with Tars, Kantos
    –sense of being an explorer of discovery

    My biggest problem with the movie is the damned medallion (well, the white ape, but I don’t dislike it so much in the movie, it’s just that they over-used it in the marketing to the point that I hated it because it came to be the iconic image of the film and that is part of what doomed it.)

    The medallion because it robbed the story of the spiritual rebirth that Carter experiences in the book. He literally thinks himself dead; he looks up and sees Mars an feels an intense yearning . . . and when he goes there, he never thinks of going back to Earth nor does he want to . . . he has a new life, and he wants to make it work there. The silly part is that I think Stanton’s only reason for having the medallion was the perception that there needs to be a scientific explanation for Carter’s transport to Mars, and this provides it – but it changes the whole dynamic of the story and character. Instead of finally arriving where he was meant to be and making his way in the world there, Carter is rudely hijacked to someplace that he doesn’t want to be, and doesn’t show a keen interest in for most of he movie. I’ve said it before, it’s almost (not quite) like Taylor in Planet of the Apes, rather than Dunbar in Dances with Wolves, which is how it should have been.

    Oh well. I still like it . . . .

  • I’ve always been curious, and I’m not quoting, just going by memory, that some fans have mentioned important elements in A Princess of Mars for them includes:
    – Thark marksmanship
    – JC working his way up ( metal and rank )
    – gaining trust of the Tharks
    – Southern Gentlemen and horseman
    -series of challenges

    I’ve heard all of these and there probably more that fit this kind of catagory ( whatever it is ) and they have been sore points for those who REALLY dislike the film. They are also very different items than concern me.

    Everyone gets different things from the same text or the same movie. My personal key points for my reading of A Princess of Mars
    – the exploration of an alien world ( really down in the dirt and personal )
    – learning about the tharks
    – great mood, lot’s of action
    – romancing Dejah
    For me it’s the alien world experience. I love that stuff. The movie mostly worked for me. I say ‘mostly’ because I have my quibbles but I figure that everyone’s version will never be mine so I just roll with it. Although I could have gone for a tiny bit more exotic landscape. I like the ‘real’ take on things, but I miss the quartz outcroppings ( I know the hatchery had it, but it wasn’t what I wanted ) and maybe some more otherworldly plant-life/set dressing. But most of what I did want from.

    So is anyone closer to the first list ? I think it’s it got a lot to do with what people think John Carter/A Princess of Mars is, or should be. – Jeff

  • Wouldn’t be surprised if that first prominent naysayer on Amazon is an industry professional or member of the literary or media community. Seems to be parroting the establishment talking points about ERB that were kicked around by many of the “thumbs down” critics back when the movie was released. There seems to be a subset of folks who pride themselves on not “getting” pop culture phenomena. Or their “literary” training robs them of curiosity that would result in the discovery of the real treasures that ERB fans enjoy.

    If more passionate fans took the time to write books like yours, the world would be a more genuine and inspiring place.

  • Well, I just ordered the book yesterday and I can’t respond to anything in the book until I have read it. But I will be back with a review. I liked the movie despite some of its faults. I also think it deserves a sequel, either by Disney or someone else. If Disney does not want to do it, then let it go now and let other movies companies enter the picture.


  • Steve — good point. I meant it as a spectrum, not a tautology. I think I’ll reword it to that effect.

    I think you also get at something that I’m wrestling this, and that is how to reconcile my “unconditional love” for ERB with my “cautious acceptance” of Stanton’s interpretation and adaptation of it. I feel so much affection for Burroughs, who cracked open my mind to the possibilities within ourselves, and the possibilities “out there” . . . . and I didn’t fall in love with Stanton’s adaptation. I respect it, and I respect his right as a film-maker giving up 5 years of his life for the film, to make his film, not mine. But damn, I wish he’d made some different choices.

    Still, where I think you and I part company is that as imperfect as it may be, Stanton’s film a) seems to have struck a deep responsive chord within certain people who see it and that response is similar to my response to ERB’s writings, and thus I wonder if maybe he came closer to getting it right than our Burroughs’ purist orientation can acknowledge. . . and b) 30 Million people, more or less, saw it in theaters and a small but significant subset within that large number have been inspired to discover the novels. Thus the film has really helped create a platform for a potential resurgence of interest in Burroughs — something akin, potentially, to the great Burroughs revival of the 60’s. I’m all about that — and so I’m grateful for the film creating that opportunity.

    As time goes on and it becomes clear that Disney is not about to greenlight a sequel anytime soon, my thoughts about whether it’s a sequel or a reboot that should be sought are beginning to evolve. I really do respect you and MCR and some others for your unbridled appreciation of ERB’s work, and there’s a piece of my brain, and perhaps heart, that agrees with you about the misfires by Stanton. But I feel that giving in to that may obscure the ability to get full benefit for ERB from this situation. Again, I know you see it differently — you see it that Stanton has basically polluted the waters, if I understand you correctly, and that’s a bad thing.

    We’ll see.

    Anyway — for anyone who reads Steve’s comment, here is how the first line originally read: “” Passionate fans on one side, dismissive critics on the other.” and here is how I’m going to change it” “Passionate fans of the film at one end of the spectrum, dismissive critics of the film on the other.”

  • Mr. Sellers,

    I object to this opening line of your piece – ” Passionate fans on one side, dismissive critics on the other.”

    No one will dispute the fact that I have been a “dismissive critic”. But this is not a tautology: it is possible to be BOTH a “passionate fan” of Barsoom and a “dismissive critic” of the (*) film. (*I’m refraining from using my usual passionately negative adjectives here).

    Both my original review of the film and my follow on pieces (at least one of which you yourself admitted made some good points) brought up several issues that other critics have since agreed with are in keeping with their own problems with the film.

    Be that as it may, I believe that your either/or characterization of the audience does I and other critics a disservice: we are critical of the film BECAUSE we are such fans of Burroughs work – not in spite of it.

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