Box Office Reality Check: Reports are out that John Carter Tracking is “Shockingly Soft”; so what will Disney do about it?

John Carter News

[Editor’s Note: I really debated whether to publish this or just ignore the report from Nikki Finke about how poorly John Carter is tracking. I don’t want to do anything to dampen enthusiasm for the film. But I decided that if JCF is going to have credibility, it’s necessary to not ignore the 600 pound gorilla in the room–or in this case, a 15 foot tall Great White Ape in the room with us. So I’m publishing this and letting the chips fall where they may. Make no doubt about it — JCF exists out of passion for the underlying ERB material and the passionate hope the Disney’s John Carter will be a great movie and will do well — but we’re going to call them like we see them and right now, this is important news for all to consider.]

Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood is reporting that tracking figures just out show that John Carter’s tracking is “shockingly soft” three weeks ahead of release. Sad and painful as this is to friends of the project like JCF, this is not a surprise to anyone who has been following the campaign closely.

Here is what Finke has to say — and our comments about that has to be done if Disney is to right the ship in the remaining window before opening day.

John Carter Tracking Shockingly soft; could be biggest write-off of all time
Hollywood is in a tizzy over the early tracking which just came online this morning for Walt Disney Studios’ John Carter opening March 9th. “Not good. 2 unaided, 53 aware, 27 definitely interested, 3 first choice,” a senior exec at a rival studio emails me. Another writes me, ”It just came out. Women of all ages have flat out rejected the film. The tracking for John Carter is shocking for a film that cost over $250 million. This could be the biggest writeoff of all time.” I’m hearing figures in the neighborhood of $100 million. And the studio isn’t even trying to spin reports of the 3D pic’s bloated budget any more.

Now, to be fair, this very soft tracking has been expected. The studios’ private reports have shown for some time very soft awareness and very little wannasee. So what’s Disney’s explanation? “It’s the last leftover from the previous regime of Dick Cook,” an executive who works for successor Rich Ross reminds me. “We’re not running away from the movie. Our job is to sell it.” Then again, Cook also left Ross Alice In Wonderland to sell, too, along with other hits and a few misses.

Disney is nervous, really nervous, but trying to hold out some hope. ”We know that we have a long way to go. It’s still four weeks out, and the bulk of the media hasn’t hit yet. Our Super Bowl ad did what we intended it to do: have a pop of awareness. On Sunday we launch a full campaign with 90+% of all of our media ready to go.” Problem is, John Carter (formerly titled John Carter Of Mars) only has a two-week window before Lionsgate’s hotly anticipated The Hunger Games opens March 23rd.

I want to preface what follows with this: Disney, God Bless’em, got this movie made when no one else was able to. They believed enough in the ERB material, and Andrew Stanton, to not only take a shot at it — but invest $250m in production and another $100m or so in marketing. For those of us who have waited decades for the movie to be made — we owe a great debt of gratitude to Disney. So … credit where credit is due, Disney made the movie and by all accounts the movie itself is good.  Disney – thank you for that.

Now for the marketing.

Thus far the marketing has been spectacularly unsuccessful. I will note that this week, the last couple of days actually, was the first time when it seemed to be gaining a little momentum on the strength of a favorable advance review from Europe, a string of accolades from Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News who saw a private screening on Monday and calls it ‘spectacular….a cinematic event’, and the release of actual clips from the movie showing the artfulness of the film-making. All of these things helped — but they also underscore the gap between what the movie itself is able to do–“play” effectively–and what the marketing is not able to do–sell the idea of the movie.

As Finke points out — this shouldn’t be a surprise. Disney from the beginning has just not seemed to understand how to market this movie to mainstream cinema audiences. Perhaps they are doing better with 10 year old kids who watch the Disney channel (and their parents) …. and perhaps that’s not showing up in the tracking data. And perhaps there are more Boomer demo Edgar Rice Burroughs fans out there than the tracking indicates, and maybe they will bring their kids and grandkids to see the film in theaters…..Maybe, maybe, maybe….

But none of that explains why Disney is so:

1) Inexplicably obsessed with the CGI and spectacle of it all–especially the damned white ape scene, which they feature that in every trailer, and now are featuring it as the main image that they are putting out on every bill board, bus billboard, bus-stop one-sheet, and you name it. Aren’t they doing any testing? Where are they getting the idea that this scene resonates and generates “must see” emotion? It doesn’t. They’ve been pushing that scene more than any other moment in the film ever since the Dec 1 trailer (which inexplicably leads with that scene). They made it the focus of the IMAX poster. They can’t seem to make a TV spot without featuring it. The reaction has been tepid from day one yet they continue to try and let this scene define the movie and it does no such thing: It’s NOT WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT. Let go of it, please. There is so much more to work with. Harry Knowles put it succinctly: “Action, Adventure, Romance & a strange world filled with amazing characters brought to life by WALLE dir!”

2) Incapable of showing relationships and “DOA” when it comes to depicting the romance that is at the core of the story and would, if properly handled, make it attractive to the female demographic that the tracking says they are failing to attract–cataclysmically so. John Carter has a central romance between John Carter and Dejah Thoris; it has a cross-species friendship between John Carter and Tars Tarkas; it has another cross species friendship between JC and Woola; it has the tragic and poignant Sola; plus it has the epic struggle between Helium and Zodanga which hardly gets any screen time in the promos (except for explosions and spectacle instead of anything showing characters interacting) — and instead, the whole movie as presented in promotion seems to be about John Carter in the desert among the green martians. Where is the balance? Where is the ability to extract this elements that really make the story special? It’s there in the movie but the promotion just misses the mark completely — so far, anyway. There’s still time….still time…..

3) Unwilling to turn Andrew Stanton, Academy Award winning director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, into a marketing asset of for the film. Hello–the perception is that the film is all CGI and spectacle with no heart or soul because that’s how it’s been marketed (the damned ape scene again and again) — yet Disney is holding two cards that can turn that around — Andrew Stanton, director of Wall-E, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, master storyteller who has inspired everyone in sci-fi. But they seem to be afraid to play those cards in any effective way. Are they afraid that because Stanton’s previous work was in animation — it might “tarnish” the image of this live action epic? Well– maybe that kind of logic could have been defended last fall sitting in a conference room at Disney — but now that the promotion has been going full steam for 8 weeks and it’s not working, this is a card the must be played.

I wish there was a way to stop this train wreck from happening.

Is all hope lost?

As John Carter says when he’s in a tight spot: “We still live.”

John Carter still lives but it is backed into a corner and in danger of being dispatched to a bloody and pitiless death if nothing is done.

Can it succeed?

Or more properly — can it overcome the clumsiness of the marketing and succeed, in essence, in spite of the marketing campaign, not because of it?

Here is a last gasp dying effort of my fevered John Carter fanboy mind to construct a scenario where the film overcomes the deficiencies of the marketing and achieves a level of success:

1. Let’s assume that the tracking polls have it coming into opening weekend tracking at $25-30m which seems likely at this point. That would normally spell doom for a $250m feature. Okay … but let’s think further.

2. Let’s assume that there is a “booster shot” of Disney kids and moms who aren’t showing up in the tracking–this are Disneyphiles who follow all things Disney but may not tweet, may not do a lot on Facebook, may not be quite as “harvestable” as data . Let’s say that causes the tracking to be low.

3. Let’s assume that there are Boomers who read the books in the 60’s and will drag kids and grandkids and they aren’t showing up in the tracking. Let’s say that this also contributes to the tracking being low.

4. Let’s say that the lack of competition helps — after all, JC has March 9th all to its lonesome.

5. Let’s say the fact that overall winter box office is up 18.6% has to help. It means that the top 12 films on March 9 weekend will probably be sharing $130m in Box Office Gross rather than $110m which would have been the number if BO weren’t running hot. As the sole wide new release that weekend, JC gets some of that by default.

6. And let’s say that as the date of the release gets closer, Disney’s strategy of scheduling special advance screenings pays off, and results in a barrage of positive word of mouth that the film is actually very good. There are at least a dozen advance screenings scheduled for the last week before the film is released — can word of mouth, positive reviews, etc leak out during that last week in such volume and intensity as to overcome the flatness of the campaign? At least give it a much needed boost near the end?

Let’s say all of those things come together, plus Disney does manage to somehow get a better feel for the material and comes out with some better spots closer to the release …..can all of that get the film’s opening up to …..say, $40m? Maybe even $45m?

Now let’s add in some other best case scenarios.

Let’s assume that opening weekend is $45m and is not 36% of the domestic total as is typically the case. Let’s say that, this being a film by Andrew Stanton, that it has the kind of “legs” that Stanton’s previous films typically have (a reasonable assumption), or like Pixar films typically have (not quite as reasonable but defensible)….Stanton’s average is 24% — meaning on average, his previous films did 24% of their total on opening weekend. His best, finding Nemo — did 20%. Let’s say JC does 20%.

That would mean that if all the best case options get it to $40m opening weekend, and that ends up being 20% of the total Domestic Gross ….. then it gets to $220m domestic. And let’s assume– again optimistically but justifiably–that is does a 40-60 split between domestic and foreign which is about what most Disney films have done lately, and is what Stanton’s previous films did….That gets it to $550m.

Is this really possible?

Could the Giants, when they were 7-7, still win the Super Bowl?

They did.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over but the signs are very, very disturbing.


  • Me too…..but I think the tide may be turning as tweets are coming out from press who saw the film and they all seem to like it. Our fan trailer seems to have also actually made an impact over the last two days since Stanton tweeted about it. — Just search “John Carter fan trailer” and we’re pretty much everywhere. We’ll keep plugging away.

    As someone who read ERB — please also be aware of our #GoBarsoom Grassroots Media project. We’ll have the media guide up by tonight and we’re going to be reaching out to local media trying to stimulate articles on the ERB/John Carter/Disney connections and history. We’re trying to identify cities where fans of the books are around and might be able to take a few questions from local media about their interest in the books….hint, hint!

    We are also looking especially for female readers …hint hint! (based on your email address it looks like you would be one of those!)

    Nothing heavy — just 3-4 questions: How did you start reading the books, what attracted you to them, did they affect your life in any way — i.e. stimulate more reading, cause you to become an astronaut, etc……


  • Michael.
    Luckily the producers did not hire just a pretty-boy actor to play John Cater! The young actor, who also did Remy in the X-men franchise, is really eye candy, but also a darn good actor. I was happy to hear he was playing JC, and I am far from being a teenybopper!

    I am disappointed in the marketing for the film, but I remain hopeful that the movie will bring a new generation to actually read the Barsoom books. I rad them all through my preteen and young teenaged years, as well as numerous re-readings. I don’t know how Disney will cope with the sexuality that runs throughout Burroughs’s books, but I am always hopeful!

  • Rebecca —

    You’re right — There IS an ample amount of fighting, skirmishes and action in JC. However, despite all that it soon became clear to me that Andrew Stanton isn’t a passionate action director in the vein of say Peter Jackson or James Cameron. The one big thing that younger audiences may be wondering is John Carter’s ability to make huge leaps ‘n’ jumps like the early Max Fleischer “Superman”… Andrew Stanton totally forgot to give John Carter’s characters flaws and weaknesses that Matai Shang/Therns and his future enemies could exploit!! Despite all that Indiana Jones affluence/mystery back on Earth/Jasoom, John Carter on Barsoom is a bit too one-dimensional. Of course, there’s his burgeoning love to Dejah Thoris, which will hopefully be exploited more (if there will be more movies) and his two children, Thuvia and Carthoris, which can be placed in jeopardy. But returning back to the Epicness… I had expected much more of that, since The Great White Ape fight is the only one, where John Carter (and Tars) has his back against the wall, and seems vulnerable. All those duels we read about in A PRINCESS OF MARS (remember how riveting ERB made them, with John’s “fighting smile”?) are just NOT in evidence in JOHN CARTER, and sadly even younger audiences will have a tough time to buy a leaping, sword-wielding hero, with NO evident weaknesses/flaws whatsoever… Like you, Rebecca, I’ve obviously only seen the movie ONE TIME. Maybe it gets better with subsequent viewings, but this is how I feel at the moment.

  • I am not buying the logic here, your comment sounds like you want us to sabotage the film

    what your comment is say “John Carter bad maket dont support film”

    that is all i am hearing with your comment.

  • @Barsoom M66 I just read through all of your reviews on the jcofmars site (registered, waiting on approval) and I noticed that you and at least one other screener were disappointed in the lack of epic-ness of the battles. I have said that I felt it was full of fighting, which I feel is a matter of taste and perception. I am a woman and not necessarily a sci-fi fan. Here’s a list of ‘fights’ that I saw

    1. JC fights w/ Powell trying to escape
    2. Skirmish with Apaches
    3. Shoots Thern after being choked
    4. JC tries to grab Tars Tarkus’ weapon (at hatchery)
    5. JC argues w/ Tats Tarkus about now wanting to ‘sak’ anymore (can’t remember if there was an altercation there or not)
    6. JC kills that Thark with one blow
    7. Fights Zodangans when he first rescues Dejah
    8. Fights Warhoons at the river
    9. Gets ruffled up by Tal Hajus before being held captive w/ Tars Tarkus
    10. Fights White apes
    11. Has to escape Matai Shang (w/ Woola’s help)
    12. Last battle at wedding
    13. Shoots another Thern

    There are possibly more that I missed, but to me, that seems like a lot. That one German guy, Praetorianer (sp?) asked me about a zillion questions about battles and wanted to know of they were epic… I guess not, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fighting, even if it is mild/moderate.
    Plus this movie is for everyone, especially kids. The adults I think want it to be blood and guts and show John Carter kicking the crap out of every living thing he sees (as he sometimes seems to do in the books), but I had a very different perception.

  • Forget the debate on how good/bad the actual movie might be. This is marketing.

    The biggest issue with marketing this movie is the fact that the general public have forgotten who John Carter is. Calling it by the generic, but easier to trademark name “Disney’s John Carter” and showing the public (again, not know who John Carter is) something they think looks like Star Wars isn’t helping.

    Mention ERB and Tarzan in the promos. Mention Mars, and don’t act like Joe Six-pack knows what Barsoom is.

    Disney can sell Princesses like they print money from their tiaras, but they bought Marvel Comics a couple years ago because they can’t figure out how to sell product to boys. You’re seeing that ineptitude at work here. Sadly, almost any other studio could have aced this bit alone.

    Honestly, the marketing of the movie reminds me of Disney’s Prince of Persia. They hired a pretty boy as the lead instead of a man who looks the part and hope that’ll pull in female audiences who will drag along their boyfriends that first weekend and who will then spread word-of-mouth to their single buddies how awesome the movie is. How did POP work? marketing was a disaster. The movie was worse.

    Go buy the first 10 issues of Dejah Thoris on Comixology for $22 and wait for John Cart…sorry… “Disney’s John Carter” to hit DVD.

  • Dotar Sojat,

    I couldn’t agree more. Of course we also have to take into account all the potential ancillary revenue; cable, TV, DVD, Blu-ray… Disney will ultimately look at it all. However, that’s no substitute for stellar box-office, when the budget is north of USD 250 million!!! I must agree also with JO’s suggested Disney ADHD Syndrome in view of abandoning franchises like corpses… Folks, good word of mouth is right now (in advance of the release itself) nearly an IMPOSSIBLE idea to build on — BECAUSE IT ISN’T GOOD. It can only start building up from the opening day and forwards. I’ve seen the movie, and I’ve dissected for myself what its narrative problems are. Mind you, this is ONLY one guy’s opinion. JOHN CARTER delivers about 75 percent of the time, and yet some people will be alienated by it. A big problemo is admittedly that Stanton hasn’t made Barsoom enough “alien.” I’m not comparing it to PRINCE OF PERSIA by any means, but I was still disappointed that the movie didn’t go out with A BANG. The Earth denouement itself (after the Barsoom climax) is great and emotional, but it may not be enough for those who aren’t die-hard fans of the books as we are. Let’s hope the best. Nothing would please me more than to see GODS and WARLORD. Also, I want to see Ras Thavas, the Mastermind of Barsoom (wouldn’t someone like the quirky John Noble, Walter/Walternate in FRINGE be an interesting choice?) and the lovely Thuvia…

  • I think the movie is going to be good, from everything if heard and seen of it. Stanton is someone who grew up with these books, and that is what a good book adaptation needs: a passionate, yet critical fan.
    However i fear for John Carter financial success.
    I fear there won’t be a sequel. Disney is lately notorious for dropping franchises. The dropped the Narnia Franchise after Prince Caspian made ‘only’ 419 million worldwide with a budget of 225 million $. That really made me angry since The Chronicles of Narnia books are up there with Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit as my favourite books off all time.
    Also no Prince Of Persia, Tron Legacy sequels because they had underwhelming results.
    If Gods Of Mars would be made, John Carter definitely need more than 700 million worldwide and at least 225 million $ domestic, in the range of blackbusters as Pirates of The Carribean and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
    But i rather have one great movie of Barsoom, than 4-5 weak, generic movies that make a billion $.
    Anyway it’s thanks to this film i came aware of the books and i’ve now read them up until Thuvia, Maid Of Mars.

  • Thanks Barsoomian…..I agree it was bad news yesterday but I think there is a path to success– a tough one, but not impossible. I’ll be trying to pull those thoughts into something coherent over the weekend. In the meantime I think we just have to pick ourselves up off the ground and keep pointing out the positives about the film — and there are many.

    Just about everyone I’ve ever given and ERB novel to and said “read this” has been skeptical,the same way the theatrical audience-in-waiting seems to be skeptical about JC. And every time, without fail, they’ve come back and said “wow”. I do think that there will be a good word of mouth/twitter/facebook/social media buzz starting the weekend before the release, when reviews start coming out, and when Disney has a bunch of advance screenings scheduled.

    We’ll see.

  • “I have to still believe Stanton made a pretty good film on it’s own terms, but it doesn’t seem to resemble the books I love. You’d also think a film that cost this much wouldn’t look so inexpensive and rushed.”

    I’m sorry, but I completely disagree with this.

    You haven’t seen the complete film. I haven’t seen it either. You cannot determine by only a couple of trailers and clips that this film completely destroys the books that you and I have read. You can only determine that upon seeing the complete film.

    Look, you have valid concerns about this film, as do I. But you seem to have forgotten that NO adaptation of a novel–say, novel to film–is ever 100% faithful. Take a look at the venerable 1930s film of FRANKENSTEIN–great movie, classic film….but it’s not a faithful adaptation of the novel.

    If things were changed to bring APOM to the big screen, while still preserving what made the book such a great read, I’m fine with that.

    “Best case scenario is this movie gets a generation of kids reading the books…”

    Well, I can agree on this. Heck, maybe they will also discover the Pellucidar novels and the Carson novels.

  • “They hated on Avatar before it came out too. It doesn’t matter what the trailer looks like it’s always the same crap- “meh/pass/fail/shite” etc. The CGI is always bad to these people. For weeks before Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out it was just a non-stop barrage of FX/trailers/dialogue/cast/title bashing. These people are just assholes, that’s all. It’s like d-bags at Comic-Con….Hollywood puts way too much stock in all this nonsense.”

    Good points, Wonkabar. I also remember the merciless slagging AVATAR received before it came out, the moans and groans about how “nobody knew what the hell it was”, etc. And we all know what happened.

    What is more frustrating to me is the fact that so many who are trashing the film either ignore outright that the film is based on a classic novel that has influenced many writers and filmmakers. And while I do wish that Disney would market the film better, I’m more po’d at the completely close-minded, clueless pre-cogs who are already wanting the film to fail (hell, they pretty much want every film to fail, it seems)….the types you usually spot at AICN’s Talkback forums.

  • Kaor! I saw JOHN CARTER last week, and have written extensively at about it. There’s a lot to like about. I’m not a fan of Andrew Stanton’s way of staging / directing action. I had expected the action and the battles to be more EPIC in nature. The action/battles plus the climax itself (on Barsoom, not Jasoom/Earth) are the biggest problemos of this movie. With this many fine screenwriters (plus Stanton), I’m disappointed by how little thought went into The Big Climax. The Deadline report did not make my day, either. I have no doubts about its accuracy, and alas, it does project a dire outcome for the movie’s B.O. As usual, the movie will no doubt make more of a buck internationally than it will in the U.S. This is tragically ironic, since John Carter of Mars IS a major American literary property. Maybe the zeitgeist has moved on. Yet LOTR and AVATAR clearly proved that there’s still a gigantic audience for well made sci-fi/fantasy. Alas, I fear that Andrew Stanton’s “learning curve” as a live action/hybrid CGI director will deny us GODS and WARLORD on the screen. I pray to Issus that I’m wrong. But the writing’s pretty much on the wall at this point — the tracking numbers DO NOT BODE WELL for the outcome…

  • powers ripped from later derivative works?

    if you mean their powers are based on tarid and lotharian (both burroughs books) abilities then I guess you are right

  • Yes, I’ve read the novelization and I know they are being set up as otherworldly beings with [nano]technology so advanced it only appears to us as magic. They are not invincible, they are not true ‘Gods’. Sure. I also know the official line is that they only ‘claim to be’ priests serving the Goddess, and that the silly blue Stark lens flares are the source of it all.

    That doesn’t change that they have apparent superpowers ripped boringly from later, derivative works, and it still undermines the irony and perversion of the Therns as written, as well as one of the central themes of the series.

    I’m not saying it isn’t sort of clever. It is. I’m saying it’s not as strong as what Burroughs was doing and, in this standalone film, works against what he was saying.

  • Great point, Patrick….I wonder why no one has talked about that? At any given point from March to April, 10-15% of school kids are on break……yeah! Bucks me up a bit.

  • Wonkabar,
    What you’re describing is social media tracking which is a component of what the studios do, and there are probably services out there that provide it to studios just like they do to regular companies who want to track their social media mentions, their positive/negative ratio, etc.

    But the report that was being discussed is more “old-school” than that. The company conducting it operates pretty much like a political polling company — they call a certain number of adults selected from various demographics and ask them questions — have you heard of this movie? if so, favorable or not favorable? Do you want to see it? In theaters, or on DVD, or not at all? Is it the number one film you’re waiting to see?

    It can be wrong, like any poll, but the studios have used them forever and marketing execs consider it a basic tool of the trade.

  • It will be a hit. (I keep saying that to myself) Want Gods of Mars made. Word of mouth, foreign markets responding to positive US momentum, maybe one more new trailer with scenes not yet in previous ones–Dotar is on to something when he mentions the tracking doesnt include most Boomers (and older!), and Disney addicts. I havent been on my Facebook in a couple months, but I have been fan-trolling for this movie since it WAS with Del Toro, Favreau and Conran. With Stanton refering to the Whelan book covers, and his promo about growing up with them, meeting Danton Burroughs for the go-ahead– everything about this film’s journey screams sincerity. (Cue Linus in the pumpkin patch) Was there sincerity with ebonic-speaking robots in Transformers? The Mcguffin in Prince of Persia? Most fantasy adventure films and their marketing are appealing to the lowest common denominator, but thank god there are still directors like Stanton, Jackson, Spielberg, Burton-minus POTA, even Tarantino, who can direct something that is fun, has depth and will last another 100 years..Kaor! AS–dont change the Plant Men!!

  • Something I haven’t heard discussed is the public/private school spring-break factor. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in Texas the schools will turn out for an entire nine days beginning March 9 or March 16. Kids will be looking for something to do, and I don’t think there’s another new kid-friendly movie until “Hunger Games” on the 23rd. I’m hoping they’ll flock to “JC” and spread the word via social media.

  • I guess their ruse is working as even the fans are being deceived.

    apparently the atmosphere factory will make its way into a sequel from what I hear.

  • Well, if this so called “tracking” involves twitter or Internet message boards then every movie coming out this year is screwed. Go over to aicn and look at what they’re saying about The Amazing Spiderman….it’s pretty ugly. Hell, I even see people trashing Prometheus. Unless it’s a big sequel like TDKR, these tools on the Internet hate everything. They hated on Avatar before it came out too. It doesn’t matter what the trailer looks like it’s always the same crap- “meh/pass/fail/shite” etc. The CGI is always bad to these people. For weeks before Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out it was just a non-stop barrage of FX/trailers/dialogue/cast/title bashing. These people are just assholes, that’s all. It’s like d-bags at Comic-Con….Hollywood puts way too much stock in all this nonsense. Disney does need to up the game, but c’mon…

  • MCR — to be clear — to my knowledge no one who has seen the movie has had anything other than a positive review to offer. I’ve read or heard feedback from five people who have actually seen the film (not counting the head of Disney publicity whom I talked to but that doesn’t’ count for obvious reasons)…..a) Rebecca Garland and her son and husband (that’s 3), b) the guy who attended the European distributor screening and posted about it this past weekend, and c) Harry Knowles. If/when some advance screeners start complaining, I won’t run from it.

    But it hasn’t happened yet.

    John Carter is 5 for 5 in that department.

  • No I should have typed “her word.” You’re solid with your sources.

    As for the white ape I’m not defending it but I don’t have any other explanations for why Disney keeps using it. Unless they took Taylor Kitsch’s comment in the “An Introduction” featurette seriously (In case anyone forgot he says they kept saying The Great White Ape scene is alone worth the price of admission) and thought “Play up the ape.”

    As for talking about the disaster that is the marketing, that’s different than someone saying the movie is a disaster. The Princess Bride-one of the best movies of the past 30 years-had a terrible ad campaign and failed at the box office because of that. But no one said it was a bad movie. I do hope John Carter is a good movie but I would at least like other opinions and not just the gushing ones.

  • Yes Eric! spoilers… JC shoots a thern in the cave (and at another time in the film) and they die… It is alluded to in the film that the medallions are the source of their power and that everything spectacular they have/make/do is a technological machination. I predict (if we get a sequel, please God let us get a sequel) that the atmosphere factory will have something to do with their powers.

    They are god-like, but not innately. They have help from technology. It’s all a ruse, as in the books (but not word-for-word, I guess I would call it the same ‘poetic-idea’)

  • I’m not losing hope that the film can somehow overcome the inept marketing — I have great hope that reviews, word of mouth, digital buzz will save the day. But it shouldn’t have to. The marketing should be an asset, not a liability to the film. That’s all I’m saying. But nothing will stop me from hoping, and working, to make the film a success. It deserves that — ERB deserves no less.

  • Look bro, STOP LOSING HOPE. Don’t just focus on the trailers, focus on the storys and aspects it’s based on. Steven Spielberg did a wonderful job with TINTIN, you just have to support Stanton. I heard from the people who saw the screening , and you know what, they said that it was a great movie! You got to give all o the cast and crew credit. After all, it is Stanton’s first live action film. Don’t lose hope.

  • MCR…..
    My point about the 10 year olds is that there probably aren’t enough of them to justify spinning all your advertising in their direction. Sure, on the Disney Channel — special spots and trailers for them would be a good thing. But this has been THE MAIN THEATRICAL TRAILER playing in all theaters… the main TV spots even those playing on the Grammy’s and other Award shows (few 10 year olds watching that)….

    Finke just did what everybody does — she got an “insider” report from a rival studio and they didn’t show her the actual document — they gave her three numbers and she quoted them and those numbers are real and accurate : 52% aware, 27% want to see and 3% first choice. When you say “your word”, you’re referring to her, right? Not me? I was clear in my sourcing.

    Lastly .. Knowles…’s a big secret. I’m trying to help promote the film so when somebody like Knowles crows about it, I’m going to be the best megaphone I can be. As for what I would do with the information that the film is a disaster — well, I will answer that question with a question: what did I do with the information about the film’s marketing being a disaster?


  • Here is a problem, you are assuming that htere isnt a scientific explanation for the therns in stantons version.

    you are assuming that they are magical

    that is their deception

  • From what I know of the great Dr. Sagan, I don’t know that he’d have appreciated the turn this adaptation has taken.

    Burroughs’ Holy Therns, for instance, were a brilliant critique of organized religion – mortals convincingly masquerading as divinity to themselves and others. False Gods with no real power beyond other men. Stanton’s Holy Therns are godlike, mystical supervillains performing all sorts of Jedi levitation and magic shapeshifting/teleportation.

    Carter, like Sagan, was ever challenging the mystic, revealing the rational truth behind superstition, and battling ignorance.

    Rest In Awe.

  • Well that’s fine if there are millions of 10 year olds. But how many of them are wanting to see this movie might be the issue? Also think about this-if you’re going after that audience what do you think they’ll want to see-a bunch of actors spouting dialoge or a giant huge ape? Maybe that’s why the ape is in all of the TV spots.

    As for Finke I didn’t know about this report. I just think if you’re going to quote something let us-the non-movie studio people-see it for ourselves. Let’s not just take your word for it, especially if the only people you’re quoting are “unnamed sources” or “rival studio” people.

    Finally you can crow about Knowles all you want. I’m just saying he’s not infallible when it comes to picking or gushing over good movies. Like most critics he can make mistakes. I just wonder if he was saying it was a disaster would you be crowing about that?

  • Ha…coupla thoughts MCR

    1) I hope there are just a gazillion 10 years olds who are highly motivated. I mentioned in the article that this is an x factor. I just don’t think there are enough of them to make up for the bungled efforts in other demos.

    2) Nikki Finke is repeating real numbers in this case. It’s a report that gets published by a service that everyone in theatrical releasing subscribes to. Someone from Sony and someone from Warners have both confirmed the numbers to me privately. They didn’t reach out to me — I called them, so there’s no sabotage in play. That said, the numbers, while real, can change and in fact I’m sure there was upward movement this week after the “polls closed” on this one due to positive advance reviews and….

    3) Harry Knowles… him, hate him — you can’t deny he’s influential. IF someone influential is out there crowing about the movie, why wouldn’t I quote them? What would be my motivation to sit on it? At this stage, anyone who has actually seen the movie and wants to talk about it has a forum here.

  • I too find the obsession with the white ape puzzling. Certainly the animation is superb, but that is what I’ve heard described as a “whistling dog” – yes, someone’s taught a dog to whistle, but it doesn’t whistle all that well and it’s still just a dog.

    The animation of another CGI creature – Woola – is far more interesting. It’s far more subtle, complex, more expressive and moreover, Woola is a significant continuing character.

    I agree with all the points and particularly #2. I remarked on another thread that there does seem to be a strategy – spectacle first, then characters, but the marketing is conservative and narrow.

    My impression is that they think that they have to pitch it as an action movie aimed at a very particular demographic while the appeal of the books – as the feedback from the teenager reading project has shown – the STORY appeals to more than just boys looking for violence and spectacle.

    I’m struck by the success of the rebooted Doctor Who – there are many aspects of it that are “childish” and “silly” amongst the more adult (often horrifying) elements, but that is deliberate: it is, unashamedly, a family show, and children and their parents can watch it together (with the children hiding behind the sofa now and again). Now Doctor Who is an institution and generations grew up watching it, so there are adults who have loved it since they were children, and the Barsoom novels haven’t been on the screen ever before, but still, as we see, there are plenty of adult fans.

    The next phase of marketing needs to emphasise the people, their relationships, we need to see people speak and we need to see the “all ages appeal” instead of what has been called a rip-off from one of the Star Wars prequels. So far we’ve seen very stilted, portentious phrasing from the human characters that serves as exposition – there’s even a diagram of the solar system drawn! We need to see the CGI monsters made more real, by speaking real language – I note that Tars Tarkas’ “You are ugly but you are beautiful” has been much noted on web fora because it’s distinctive, funny and tells us something about his character. What does Sola have to say? Does Tardos Mors ask, “Has anyone seen my toothbrush?”

    OK, maybe something more interesting that the last example…

    @Austcheen “How they SHOULD market this film in the upcoming weeks is use Stanton’s name in the trailer, with an Oscar® image next to his name.”


    @MCR “What will help is getting the word of mouth from average moviegoers and getting Ebert and more mainstream critics raving. Just my thoughts on that.”

    I wouldn’t put hope in Roger Ebert simply because he’s Roger Ebert – he might hate the film… but I think that he’d like it a lot, and he surely knows and loves Burroughs’ work. It’s a pity that a certain fan of Burroughs isn’t around – Carl Sagan.

    Anyway, I’ve read lately that a lot of films stand or fall now based not just on word of mouth from people leaving the theatre, but on tweets from people IN the theatre.

    (Sorry about the long ramble)

  • All that said, I do believe this is a better film than Disney is selling. It has to be, right?

    Even a terrible John Carter of Mars film should be able to draw a massive audience considering all the ways you can spin it. All the marketing points in the article are solid, and I hope someone is paying attention.

    Even if they deserve it, I really don’t want to see Disney John Carter become the next Waterworld punchline.

  • I don’t know if killing the ape will help at this point. I think the problem has been this-they are going for 10 year olds. That’s been Disney’s main market now for years and they don’t know how to market a film for an older crowd. I mean if you look at the company they shut down their Touchstone label-except for using it to release DreamWorks films, they got rid of their interest in Miramax and have pretty much made movies aimed at only the age bracket-whether it’s animated or live action (because honestly at this point who else but a 10 year old wants anymore Captain Jack Sparrow?)So the tracking is off because Disney is too busy going after only one audience.

    Now I don’t put much stock in Nikki Finke or Deadline. The few times I’ve went on there it’s been the same: unnamed sources from “rival studios” or her own contempt for people who apparently don’t kiss her backside (Steven Spielberg for example seems to be a frequent target of her derision). Now mayb this tracking data is real but I would like to see it before getting worked up over it.

    Finally just one word-don’t put so much stock in Harry Knowles. For pete’s sake he thought Starship Troopers was a masterpiece. (Not to mention Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and hwo knows what else). He’s not Roger Ebert and I doubt outside of his “fans” (if he even has any. You should read some of the comments left on Aint It Cool News-most of them are there to ridicule him) it won’t help at the box office. What will help is getting the word of mouth from average moviegoers and getting Ebert and more mainstream critics raving. Just my thoughts on that.

  • Q: What is marketing?
    A: Brainwashing, basically


    Right now it’s a problem because people need to “wash” their brain of the useless way that it’s been marketed and something needs to take root in its place — and that would be the notion that in spite of the lousy trailers and clunky marketing, “the movie is actually good”.

    You can call it brainwashing if you want. How would that be any different than marketing for any other movie. What makes you want to go see something you haven’t seen? Marketing.The idea is implanted in your brain that it’s good, that you must see it…..seems like marketing 101 to me, but if yo want to call it brainwashing go ahead.

  • I know, Noir. I keep trying to like what I’m seeing, but it’s incredibly difficult. It looks awkward and aimed exclusively at young children, with uninspired VFX and wince-inducing performances. I hope Kitsch plays better in longer scenes, but I’m pretty appalled by what I’ve seen so far.

    I have to still believe Stanton made a pretty good film on it’s own terms, but it doesn’t seem to resemble the books I love. You’d also think a film that cost this much wouldn’t look so inexpensive and rushed.

    Best case scenario is this movie gets a generation of kids reading the books, and by the time there’s another chance to get it right in a decade or two there will be a real ERB fanbase hungry for a more serious take on Barsoom.

  • Most people who have commented feel that the the individual scenes are stronger than the trailers …. or perhaps they are grasping at straws because the trailers leave so much to be desired. I personally think the “Mars Best Friend” Woola scene is very artfully constructed for the kind of scene it is; and the “I’m on Mars” scene shows good chemistry between Kitsch and Collins – better than what’s in the trailers; and “Virginia” is good as well. ARe you specifically saying that these scenes suck? I don’t like the desert pursuit scene very much but it’s mostly action.

    As for the positive reviews — I’m not making them up. I’m reporting what comes across the wires. If bad ones start appearing, I’ll deal with that in the same manner I’m dealing with the bad news about tracking.

  • So you’re basically saying that people need to be brainwashed into liking this movie?

    No, thanks. I’d rather wait another 20 years (yeah, I’m not as old as most ERB fans) to see a better version than to have people fake their enthusiasm over this crapiola.

  • KILL THE GREAT WHITE APE! Audiences who are unfamiliar with the story are NOT going to go out to the theater just to see an ape (unless it’s King Kong?). I personally think that the very first trailer is the best. The music was mysterious, not Led Zepplin rock.
    How they SHOULD market this film in the upcoming weeks is use Stanton’s name in the trailer, with an Oscar® image next to his name. That’ll make people aware that this isn’t some stupid, made-for-money film. But most importantly, Disney needs to allow reviews from the screenings to be released as early as possible! Pick the best reviews, throw them in the trailer. People WILL go to this movie if it’s critically acclaimed.

  • “actual clips from the movie showing the artfulness of the film-making” – really? REALLY?? It’s the actual clips that have me doubting the quality the most – they’re derivative, badly acted, horridly timed, the humor is for 5-year-olds and the CGI is all ‘meh’ at best.

    It’s time you put down your rosy glasses. It’s not just marketing that’s killing this movie.

    And please stop giving Disney ideas with the ‘positive reviews’ talk – I’d much rather see realistic reviews than ones pretending the movie is ‘the best fantasy evurh!’.

  • All indications are that the film itself is GOOD, maybe better than good, maybe EXCELLENT. That idea — that the film is really good–needs to get implanted in people’s minds. It’s all that’s left. The rest isn’t working.

  • I am sorry, but John Carter will not do good at all. Only to us fans of the book, and the people that have changed their opinion about the film. The only people that can help Disney get a good box office, is the Community. The Good Community vs. The Bad Community. What the community needs to do is to talk some sense into the bad community, (bad meaning, people that are bashing on this film, etc) (good community, meaning, the people that have read the books, etc)

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