John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood 3D

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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

On Amazon, the early user review has risen to the top as there and is ranked “Most Helpful” of all the reviews is this one, by Rick Barry.
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.

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.

13 comments

  • Pascalahad, very good observation which is very telling of several not so great decisions Stanton made. I picked on his obsession with the correlation between John Carter and the Superman comic character which he references about six times in the commentary track for the film. This explains the super exaggerated leaps Carter makes in his film. He is a comic book boy not really an appreciator of the book and Burrough’s written character.

  • Michael’s observation in the book that Andrew Stanton fell in love first with the Marvel comic books is very interesting. Indeed, the Tharks in the movie are Marvel Tharks, more than Burroughs’. They’re smaller (even if the size of Tharks in the comics varied wildly from panel to panel!), humanized, and sometimes used as comic relief.

    Burroughs’ Tharks wouldn’t need that sophistication in animation, they’re cruel, vicious monsters, only Sola and Tars Tarkas have more “human” qualities.

  • No Bob, Stanton just pissed in our faces and on one of my favorite books and expected us to praise him for it. The fact that people want it to happen again is something I would like to avoid. And if the editing leaves it another bad CG action sequence that’s no surprise considering how badly staged or derivative most of the action scenes were in this movie.

    As for John Carter, I know John Carter. And Mopey Carter is no John Carter of Mars.

  • Wow, MCR, you make old Charlie One Note seem like a multi faceted, eclectic character with your obsessive hatred of Andrew Stanton. Did he come to your house when you were a kid and steal your presents, shoot your father, kidnap your mother and burn your house down leaving you an orphan ?

    No matter what the discussion, it always has to go back to that Andrew Stanton / Dead Wife thing. You have said it so many times, that I actually made a fan edit of that sequence with the offending scenes cut out and you know what, it totally does become Prince of Persia. or any other of these dumb cgi meaningless battle sequences.

    I know John Carter and I know what you are talking about in how the characterization was changed in the film, but you doth protestest too much.

  • If this turns out making no sense I’m on my phone trying to respond.

    If this movie is a “median” as far as adaptations go then the mean has fallen even lower then I thought. True another director might be even more off base than Stanton but how do we know? That person couldn’t be any worse or arrogant as Stanton and company was so…Also maybe it’s time for ERB Inc to really try to put some foot forward and stop allowing ERB’s work be mishandled this way. You mentioned Iron Man 3 here and the thing is Marvel found a way to balance being faithful and making it accessible to audiences. And that was without giving Tony Stark a dead wife or making the Red Skull a shape shifter.

    With budget, yes the dead family was pointless. So was shape shifter Shang, moving Zodanga, Carter’s Superman jumping abilities, Woola’s Road Runner act, etc. That all adds up to money poorly spent. Even the dead family was wasted expense since that required hiring an actress, building sets, costumes…and for what? So Stanton could show more of his lack of respect to Burroughs and ripoff Clint Eastwood? And you think he could do a sequel for less even if design work was done with that evidence?

    I do agree it will be long slog but we need a plan A, no wasting time and then back shooting a Thern when that isn’t working.

  • MCR Wrote:

    The only way for John Carter of Mars to proceed, to be rehabilitated in the public’s mind is to reboot it since from a story telling point Stanton had destroyed the novels’ setup and to bring in people who can respect the material, not “improve” it with their own bad ideas as did Stanton and the co-writers did. To suggest that Stanton should be allowed to continue is akin to asking David Lynch after he made Dune to make the second film. Who would want that?

    It’s a tough one. You’re a purist and on a certain level so am I. But I think a) the amount of change that Stanton brought to it is about “median” on the “Hollywood book adaption” scale and I don’t think there is any real assurance that any other major director will deviate less. Meanwhile, the movie does sink it’s hooks into many, many of those who see it, and they are probably the only reason there is any discussion at all of a sequel given the way Disney through the whole enterprise under the bus. I think the issue of sequel vs reboot will resolve itself over time — the longer a sequel isn’t mounted, the more likely it becomes a reboot.

    It seems that rule of thumb is sequels cost more to make, especially since new characters would have to be cast, new designs would have to be made-like Plant Men for example-and these things tend to cost money. Also you’re asking Andrew “Money is No Object” Stanton to compromise on the budget? He couldn’t seem to do it on the first film and made it quite clear he doesn’t work cheap. Then again who knows? Stanton probably threw out most of the second and third books anyway so unless he made Issus a giant robot that battles a giant lizard monster it could be done cheap. After all how much did they waste on shape shifting Shang? The problem wasn’t the Tharks-it was Stanton’s pointless ideas that caused the budget to burst. Get rid of them and that would save some money.

    Well — my short answer is that I’ve made 20 movies and based on my experience in the industry, I do believe it’s possible. But it can never happen with a “money is no object” point of view. And yes, it WAS the Tharks, or more properly the amount of Thark screen time (especially multiple Tharks, and Tharks in the same frame with humans) that drove the budget where it did. Stanton’s “pointless ideas” (by which you are referring to the wife and family backstory) represents pretty much the cheapest couple of minutes of screen time in the movie. The “rule of thumb” you refer to reflects the fact that films that become sequels end up paying substantially higher amounts to the producer, director, and stars. There will be automatic escalations in everyone’s contracts — but all of that is negotiable and the base level on JC is very low — no one got paid a ton. No Johnny Depp, no Jerry Bruckheimer. Plus prototypes and designs are set, yada yada. Oh — shapeshifting Shang was nothing, cost wise. I could do that in an indie film. There are about twenty frames that have to handled in the morph . . . that is uber cheap.

    You just described who this film needed and any potential films do: someone inspired by Burroughs, someone who respects his work and the world he created. Find that person, that’s what should be the major goal of your campaign

    It will evolve over time . . . . we’ll see.

  • First let me say congratulations for getting your book published and out there for people to read and think about. With that out of the way I’ll play contrarian for a few points here:

    “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.”

    You know where I come down on this. The only way for John Carter of Mars to proceed, to be rehabilitated in the public’s mind is to reboot it since from a story telling point Stanton had destroyed the novels’ setup and to bring in people who can respect the material, not “improve” it with their own bad ideas as did Stanton and the co-writers did. To suggest that Stanton should be allowed to continue is akin to asking David Lynch after he made Dune to make the second film. Who would want that?

    “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.”

    I don’t think this will work for a variety of reasons. It seems that rule of thumb is sequels cost more to make, especially since new characters would have to be cast, new designs would have to be made-like Plant Men for example-and these things tend to cost money. Also you’re asking Andrew “Money is No Object” Stanton to compromise on the budget? He couldn’t seem to do it on the first film and made it quite clear he doesn’t work cheap. Then again who knows? Stanton probably threw out most of the second and third books anyway so unless he made Issus a giant robot that battles a giant lizard monster it could be done cheap. After all how much did they waste on shape shifting Shang? The problem wasn’t the Tharks-it was Stanton’s pointless ideas that caused the budget to burst. Get rid of them and that would save some money.

    “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”

    You just described who this film needed and any potential films do: someone inspired by Burroughs, someone who respects his work and the world he created. Find that person, that’s what should be the major goal of your campaign, not reelect Mr. “Damaged Goods and Dead Wives Make Great Stories” Stanton and his team. Find that one person who has the goal and the drive and you will hit a home run.

  • Rick . . . I’ve been thinking a lot about that because as this book comes out, a lot of people from the other parts of my world who kinda wonder why I’ve been relatively quiet from their perspective, are finding out what I’ve been doing — and a lot of them scratch their head and seem to be wondering, why so much passion about this. I have to develop good answers — the one you quoted in your comment is part of it. I’m looking for more, though — more insight into what is so unique about Burroughs. I’m always asking . . . . and all of the “faithful” agree that it absolutely is special, but explaining exactly why in a way that non-readers of the books can understand is the challenge. Working on it!

  • Thanks, Michael, for mentioning my Amazon review. I confess to being passionate about your wonderful book. I’m also an example of your comment that “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.” I’m a relative newcomer to Burroughs. I read my first Burroughs novel, “A Princess of Mars,” just two summers ago and have now read about two dozen of his stories, including all the Barsoom books. So, yes, a century later he’s definitely still attracting new fans.

  • Hopefully the iBook will be ready by the weekend — worst case early next week. There will be two iBook versions — the first one, which is the same as the print book but with color photos and a few more photos — and a really, really beautiful elegant design that you can only do on an iBook (not possible on Kindle or the others, which have very limited formatting options). Even the first one will have some really nice scans of some of the great classic Burroughs art, an things like that. But the enhanced iBook will have videos and a lot of very cool stuff . . . that’s a few weeks away…

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