When did the negative press for John Carter start, and why?

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I’ve spent a frustrating couple of days trying to research exactly when, and how, and why, the negative press for John Carter began and I want to share some of what I’ve found — and ask for some research help on a couple of items where I’m lost in the weeds.

Here is what I have been able to determine:

On June 16 2009, announcements went out that Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins had been cast, and some of the articles contained references to the film being budgeted at $150m.   Here is a sample, from HollywoodNorth.com:

Canadian film actor Taylor “Friday Night Lights” Kitsch has been cast as the lead in Disney’s upcoming adaptation of author Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ John Carter Of Mars, to be directed by Andrew “Wall-e” Stanton in 2010. Stanton confirmed that the $150 million budgeted sci fi production, will be live-action. “There are so many creatures and characters that half of it’s going to be CG,” he said. “but it will feel real. The whole thing will feel very, very believable.” Author Burroughs of Tarzan fame, wrote 11 volumes of the Mars adventures, focusing on wounded Civil War veteran ‘John Carter’, whose retreat into a cave to avoid capture by Apache Indians takes an otherworldly turn as he’s deliriously transported via ‘time portal’ to the planet ‘Barsoom’ (Mars), taken prisoner by 12-foot-tall multi-limbed green Martians, meets the princess of his dreams, becomes a king, raises Martian rug-rats and lives happily ever after.

This is the first reference to the budget that I’ve been able to find.  Does anyone know of any earlier reference? Or any other references to the budget being $150m?

To put this in context — Dick Cook was still chairman of Disney Studios at this point; he would resign on September 18, 2009.

Going forward, the film went into production in January 2010 and the announcements that production had begun went out on January 15th — and there was no mention of budget.  During the production period I can’t find any articles mentioning the budget.

Principal photography was completed in July 2010 and on August 9, 2010, Disney announced the release dates for John Carter (June 8, 2012), and Frankenweenie (March 9, 2012).   There was no mention of the budget and there was no chatter about the budget in any of the articles or comments.  I also couldn’t find any real negativity anywhere in any of the comment threads — everything seemed generally positive at this point.

Disney made no announcements or released any new information about John Carter during the fall of 2010.  The next announcement came on January 19, 2011, when Disney announced that it was moving Frankenweenie to October 5, 2012, and John Carter to March 9, 2012.  Again, there was no mention or discussion of the budget in either the announcement or the chatter it provoked.  The general tone of the reporting on the swap was focused on the fact that this created a showdown between John Carter and Prometheus, which was scheduled for the same release date, and the possibility that Prometheus might move, in effect swapping with John Carter.  That’s what happened — on January 26,  a week later, Fox announced Preometheus was moving.

The reaction to the announcement that John Carter was moving up from June 8 to March 9 is the first time negativity started creeping in, not to the articles themselves, but some of the comments — there was speculation in a few instances that the move was a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in the film.   This was not widespread, but it was there.

Going forward through the winter and spring of 2011 — there was very little.  About the only substance was a red carpet interview with Andrew Stanton on January 31 at the MTV Movie Awards.  In the comment threads, there was discussion about the “radio silence” — i.e. long period between updates.  No mention of budget, no negativity n the commit threads.

Next came the announcement on May 23, 2011, that the title was being changed from John Carter of Mars, to John Carter.   This was the beginning of negativity in the articles (previously there had been a little in the comments) …… lots of writers questioned the change and began to question the marketing approach to the film.  (Just for context, as this was happening, Stanton was doing re-shoots at Playa Vista in LA, and this was also the timeframe in which Disney marketing and Stanton were going back and forth about the teaser trailer, with Stanton rejecting a number of early efforts until finally, in May, someone at Disney came up with the Peter Gabriel version that Stanton liked.)  I can still find no discussion of budget, nor any discussion in the press about reshoots.

On June 15, 2011, the teaser poster came out and got a very mixed reception.  Some liked it; many didn’t, saying it looked like a cologne commercial (a comment repeated across many articles and discussion threads).  Again — no mention of budget.

On June 16,  2011, an interview of Stanton by Geoff Boucher of the LA times came out in which Stanton mentioned having done “a month of reshoots”.  This is the first solid reference to the reshoots that I can find.  Also in June, 30 journalists went to Berkley for  an “edit bay interview” with Stanton and producer Jim Morris. They were also shown the teaser trailer and some clips, plus props, costumes, etc.  In these interviews — which were very lengthy — Stanton talked at length about the ‘Pixar process”, the fact that reshoots were an organic part of that process, etc, etc.

On July 11, 2011, a major barrage of articles came out, most of them sourced to an edit bay interview in which 30 journalists had been taken to the post production facilities where Stanton and producer Jim Morris gave a long presentation, and showed them the teaser trailer, etc.  In these interviews Stanton talked in detail about the Pixar process, the 18 days of reshoots and how he felt that reshoots war normal and essential.    No discussion of budget yet in the articles or comments.

On July 14, 2011, the teaser trailer was released.  It got some  very positive reactions, some negative.  No discussion of budget.

With the release of the trailer, the number of articles increased. There was chatter about Disney not attending Comic-con, and then in August there was coverage of the D23 Expo.  I’ve gone through hundreds of articles from this busy period and there is a mixture of excitement, some negativity — but no railing bout the budget.

The first reference I can find to the budget being 250m is August 13, 2011 news that Disney had shut down production on The Lone Ranger because the budget of $250m was too high.  The reporting on this contains references to the John Carter budget having “ballooned to $250m”  and the whole situation surrounding Lone Ranger leads to a lot of discussion of movie budgets having gotten out of control, etc.  From the point on, the budget for John Carter is constantly referenced as $250m, and the issue of the budget is on the table and part of the growing negativism.

Now — my question is this.

Can anyone out there find a  reference earlier than August 13, 2011,  to John Carter’s budget being $250m?  Because although I’ve spent a lot of time and can’t find anything, I have a nagging feeling that there might be something out there that I’m missing.  This is a little hard to research because when you search for articles about the John Carter budget being $250m (or any other number) you are engulfed in the post release avalanche of articles talking bout it.

I appreciate anything anyone can add to the foregoing.  Obviously — please provide links whenever possible.



  • From The Los Angeles Times, Sunday June 3, 2012; Print edition Section D, pages D1 & D11: “Culture Perspective: The iron law that’s choking creativity” by Neal Gabler

    Neal Gabler, author of the thought provoking and highly recommended AN EMPIRE OF THEIR OWN: HOW THE JEWS INVENTED HOLLYWOOD, offers an incisive view of the cultural blandness that has stymied the current Hollywood film industry. For instance, he writes:

    “When it comes to contemporary American culture, its slogan ought to be “same old same-old.” Same old movies — one bombastic comic book adventure after another. Same old TV shows — one “Friends” clone after another, from “How I Met your Mother” to “Happy Endings” to “Whitney” to “Men at Work.” Same old journalism. Same old politics. There are, of course, outliers and renegades, but there seem to be fewer of them nowadays, and they are just that: outliers. For all the obsession with the new and different, we seem to be living within deja vu.”

    Gabler goes on to offer the example of David Puttnam, the British producer of the Academy Award winning CHARIOTS OF FIRE, who was head of production of Columbia Pictures for about a year in the early 1980’s. Puttnam bucked the system and forced out of office for his boldness. Gabler goes on to say:

    Thus Puttnam’s Law: It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. And its corollary: The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. In short, you can screw up with impunity so long as you screw up like everybody else.

    “This is not only the iron law of the entertainment industry. It is the iron law of life. No one wants to be caught out on a limb for fear of having it sawed off behind him. Or put another way, there is safety in numbers even if there isn’t necessarily wisdom.”

    “Thus, even when you are wrong, you have the defense of working within the consensus. When you are wrong outside the consensus, you have no defense. You are on your own. That’s Puttnam’s Law again.”

    “To be fair, America has long been in the grip of Puttnam’s Law. Conformity is comfort. Early in the 19th century Tocqueville remarked, “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” But the law operates with greater force now because the culture has become so status- and success-conscious at its upper echelons that there is more at stake by risking independence, and because mass culture itself intensifies the fear of being different. For all our vaunted individualism, majority not only rules in America; it rules with an iron hand.

    It is often said of Hollywood that it is like high school with money, meaning there is the same childish fixation on status. But when it comes to peer pressure as well, that joke is sadly accurate about nearly every sector of respectable adult life. Most people prefer self-protection to the risk of being ostracized. As a result, we increasingly live in retreat from anything that is daring, exciting or different because what would the other kids think if we didn’t all do what they were doing? So there is a monotony in American mainstream culture, an overwhelming sense of groupthink, for which there is no punishment save the awful damage it wreaks on our national imagination and on our sense of creative adventure.

    And that’s Puttnam’s Law.”

    Read the entire text at:

    As the article on this site comparing BATTLESHIP & JOHN CARTER notes, BATTLESHIP was essentially made by commitee. Stanton, for better or for worse, made JOHN CARTER as an auteur. If Puttnam’s Law is applied, it would seem that Andrew Stanton failed first and above all to conform to the established and acceptable mode of failure in the film industry.

  • Woola: Very interesting – thank you for that one, but I’m not getting the 2 Jan 2011 reference. What I did find — happily –is that on that MovieInsider link you sent, if you look in the right sidebar, there is a link that says “66 updates since Jan 2007” and then if you click on that link you get this link: …… that link gives you each update, the date of the update, and by whom. For Aug 22, 2011, it notes that “JPK” changed the production budget to $250,000,000 — which tracks with the apparent fact that it was that Deadline Hollywood report on the Lone Ranger that was the first time that number came out.

    That makes sense, too. Prior to the Lone Ranger decision, nobody in Disney was talking publicly about the budget. Then the pulled the plug on Lone Ranger, and then they started fielding questions about that — and people started disclosing the John Carter budget which caused it to end up in Deadline Hollywood and then get spread around from there.

  • Gregory Paris wrote —

    “In the comments on the piece Kevin Sanderson linked to, there’s reference to JC as a “failure” – dated August 13, 2011! WTF?”

    Good Lord, you made it through those comments? You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

  • I haven’t come much else relating to the budget yet but I did find a few things that may be of interest to folks.

    Here’s a June 2008 interview with Andrew Stanton by AICN’s Capone. Apparently Stanton (and others on his team) had not settled on live action or animated feature at that point. Here’s the link, the interview is primarly about Wall-E, the John Carter comments are at the end.


    More on the animation or live action, AICN’s Quint asked Stanton in January 2009 and Stanton confirmed that the movie would be live action. So the decision to go live-action was made no later than late Jan. 2009.


    Maybe something of interest, I found a Salt Lake Tribune article (via AICN) from June 2009 that references state paperwork on a tax credit Disney filed for based on a commitment to spend $27.7 million directly in the state.


    AICN credits website Dark Horizons being the first to break the title change news on May 22, 2011.


    Here’s an August 22, 2011 production cost reference from AICN’s Mr. Beaks reporting on Disney’s D23 event, and specifically the JOHN CARTER presentation. Mr. Beaks refers to the “…allegedly $300 million production [cost]…”.


    Here’s another view on the JOHN CARTER’s D23 presentation by AICN’s Quint.


  • Forgot to add that, after reading Dafoe saying he knows where the Tarkas/Carter relationship goes and that it was going to get “intense”, makes me even antsier to see the sequels. Sigh indeed.

  • I’m sure you’d have found this, but just did a Google search for John Carter and there’s a new article about Willem Defoe’s surprise at John Carter’s “failure”.

    Here’s the link, with snippets following. His comments echo what your site has talked about for awhile now, and even more interesting is that Defoe HINTS at what coulda been in the sequels. Some great comments by Dafoe and I agree them all.


    “You don’t like to publicly lament disappointments too much, but I’m still kind of scratching my head over it,” Willem Dafoe told IFC during a recent interview. “For me, I thought ‘John Carter’ really captured something. It was very pure in its approach. It was classical. It wasn’t hip and cool. It was really from the source, and I appreciate that.”

    “In my experience, sometimes a movie just hits at the wrong time, gets the wrong press, or gets the wrong representation, and it gets misunderstood,” he continued. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to really decide, too. There’s so much reporting about the business and that other stuff, that they really get distracted by some of those things, and then it influences some of the weaker-willed people to not have their own opinion.”

    “It sure doesn’t seem like [there will be a sequel], which is a shame,” said Dafoe. “This was the set-up for what could be a great series of movies. . . I was looking forward to doing a sequel, though, because I know something of where the story goes and the character of Tars Tarkas. He’s big, and the relationship with John gets more intense.”

    “So, yeah — that’s a shame,” he sighed.

  • In the comments on the piece Kevin Sanderson linked to, there’s reference to JC as a “failure” – dated August 13, 2011! WTF?

  • I was deeply online during the Superbowl weekend. in my mind that was where thinks went from hollywood bla bla bla to a Warhoom pile up. I was on twitter and ” their coming in too fast ! ” is one way of putting it. I couldn’t keep up and bailed from a torrent of drunk (it was late ) viscous tweet attacks. They fed off each other and after that – it just got worse.

  • I wish the google advanced search offered “prior to” or date range search options. I’ve tweeted to see if anyone there can help with info. Very hard scouring the web like you said. If I find anything I’ll let you know.

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