John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is finally here and to tell the truth, it might as well have been titled “The Case For a John Carter Sequel (or Reboot)”. It tell the entire 100 year story from publication as “Under the Moons of Mars” in All-Story magazine in February 1912, to publication as a book under the title “A Princess of Mars” in 1917, and then through all the false starts, near misses, and failed efforts to get it made as a movie, culminating in what became, as Richard Lupoff has termed it, a “calamity of historic proportions”.
As of today both the ebook and the are Kindle edition are available on Amazon.com.
Here’s what Richard Lupoff has kindly written about the book after reading it and providing a substantial dose of wisdom while it was still in draft form:
How did this classic tale become a calamity of historic proportions?
It took 100 years to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars to the big screen. It took Disney Studios just ten days to declare the film a flop and lock it away in the Disney vaults. How did this project, despite its quarter-billion dollar budget, the brilliance of director Andrew Stanton, and the creative talents of legendary Pixar Studios, become a calamity of historic proportions?
Michael Sellers, a filmmaker and Hollywood insider himself, saw the disaster approaching and fought to save the project – but without success. In John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, Sellers details every blunder and betrayal that led to the doom of the motion picture – and that left countless Hollywood careers in the wreckage.
John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a must-read for every fan of John Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and every film buff intrigued by the “inside baseball” aspects of modern Hollywood.
Richard A. Lupoff
Author of Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure and Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Martian Vision
5.0 out of 5 stars A story worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs himselfBy R. BarryMichael 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.
Both of these comments capture what it was I was trying to write . . . and I am deeply appreciative that some of those who have read it are responding to it in this way. I know it won’t always be that way — these are from readers who are, as I am, lifetime fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs who see in the Andrew Stanton Movie a vehicle for introducing millions to Stanton’s version of Barsoom — many of whom will then begin clicking online and find their way to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original stories, and become fans of ERB. Helping make that happen is what motivated me to put in the “agony and sweat” that the writing of any book represents.
On this site there are plenty of readers who thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and there are some who thoroughly detest it. I get that, and want to be respectful of those who think that Stanton’s film deviated too much or failed in other ways, thereby disqualifying it for series continuation and evolution as a franchise. I respectfully disagree. I think that while I have a pretty good list of things that I would have argued to do differently if I have been a writer or producer on the show — I am convinced that this film series deserves consideration going forward, in the first instance as a continuation of the trilogy that Stanton planned, and if that can’t happen, then as a reboot.
Is this a pipe dream?
Setting aside for the moment the arguments about who like what and who dislikes what — what about the question: Was the financial performance of the film so bad that no case can be made for continuation? That’s certainly the general impression — “megaflop”, “greatest flop in cinema history”, “Ishtar Lands on Mars” — we’ve read them all. But the actual box office performance was $283M , about $50M short of what Prometheus did — and Prometheus is considered a success and a sequel has been ordered. For John Carter to get within $50M of Prometheus in spite of what is widely regarded as the worst marketing campaign anyone has ever observed . . . doing so without the benefit of a large pre-existing fan base . . . . has to open the door to the argument that films 2 and 3 could be viable if they can be produced at a better price point than the first one. Prometheus was produced for $140M; John Carter was $250M. Could films 2 and 3 be produced at a more manageable price? What if, for example, they were shot concurrently? Substantial savings would be achieved. Plus the designs are set, prototypes no longer have to be created . . . Plus, although no one knows the exact path Stanton’s stories will take — if they follow the books as much as the first film did, then it would mean the there will be much, much less “Thark screen time” as the story moves more toward conflict among the various human races and the Therns — and it was the constant presence of Thark characters on screen side by side with humans that is the core reason the budget for John Carter went as high as it did. Less Thark screen time would result in savings. And there are many more strategies.
Another reason that a sequel could make economic sense if produced at the right price is the fact that it did very well in key, large, fast-growing overseas territories–particularly Russia and China, both of whom are growing at a prodigious rate and both of which have shown themselves to be sequel-friendly. And not only can these territories provide an expanding and friendly market — they are both territories where potential coproduction partners can be found to lessen the risk on the US Studio. After all, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Iron Man 3 are both being produced with a Chinese co-production partner.
So no — it’s not a pipe dream, but it’s going to be a long slog.
It’s my sincere hope that John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood contributes to a rational ongoing discussion about the true value of the underlying literary property, and the film property that has been created. If it keeps the dialogue going; that’s good. If it finds its way into the hands of a studio executive who had written off the series, but after reading it says — maybe there’s something there — then that’s good. And if it finds its way in front of a Chinese or Russian studio chief who’s looking for a way to make a splash in Hollywood by partnering on a major franchise — that’s the best outcome of all.
In closing my pitch here — let me address an overarching question: Why the special attention for John Carter?
Here is my answer.
Those who have been touched by Burroughs’ Barsoom understand that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation is a global cultural treasure that has shown, over its century long history, a unique ability to capture the imagination and inspire. In our own lives it is natural for us to succumb to the human tendency to let other human beings define what is possible. Burroughs’ stories counter this. Through dazzling imaginative transport and ennobling characters his genius evokes a sense of wonder and a realization that in real life too, more is possible. The stories inspirea belief that something more awaits us if we just go for it and trust that we have what it takes to overcome inevitable adversity and keep fighting, in whatever struggle or cause it is that we take up or that life throws at us. This is not the lonely personal observation of one author writing an unlikely book about a bungled film enterprise; it is the observation of profoundly successful creators like Ray Bradbury, Carl Sagan, and others who found in Burroughs unique inspiration for their lives.
In sum, Burroughs stories do far more than just entertain us — they touch our souls and remind us that no matter how bleak our circumstances may seem, as John Carter would say: “We still live!” Burroughs’ genius illuminates the fertile possibility of life, and urges us to believe in that possibility. There is a timeless, global value in that, and it is something that must not be lost, and is worth fighting for.
In Hollywood, films happen because someone fought for them. Usually it is a lonely struggle behind the scenes by an individual filmmaker, perhaps with a few key associates, who carries the argument forward, refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer, and eventually prevails.
In the case that is being made for the cinematic continuation of John Carter, that voice is not a lonely one, nor is it happening behind closed doors in Hollywood. Rather it is a collective voice emanating from all the corners of the world. Disparate individuals from vastly different backgrounds and cultures are finding inspiration in Stanton’s film, Burroughs’ stories, or both. Fueled by that inspiration and empowered by the tools of social connectivity, they are finding each other. Together they’re using their voices in ways that are empowered by the technology of our times.
So — the book is part of that, a small part of a large effort by people from many different cultures who find something special and worth saving.