UPDATED: There have been rumors for months that Bob Iger was pursuing Lucasfilms and the Star Wars franchise, and there is no doubt that discussions and negotiations started long before the March 9 release of John Carter. So it should come as no surprise that Iger, acting as if he is George Steinbrenner’s Hollywood twin, was up to his ears in doing what the Yankees did for so many years — which is to forget about nurturing talent through their own farm system and instead just flex the power of the checkbook and buy up all the established talent, in the process spending the opposition into oblivion. Under Outsourcer Iger, gone are the days of Disney nurturing its own creative output. Why bother with that hassle of nurturing a franchise like John Carter into existence when you can buy franchises? In the process Disney, once the heart of Hollywood creativity, has become a heartless hub, never mind whether it retains even a hint of old Walt’s soul and spirit. Walt is dead. Not just the man, but the spirit he embodied. Disney Corp doesn’t exist to create — it exists to make shareholders money, and Iger is doing it, efficiently and robotically. John Carter is collateral damage to the pursuit of that vision. Why struggle with a quirky, difficult-to-market “rookie” franchise when with the stroke of a pen you can acquire a stable of a dozen or more seasoned all-star superheroes?
Quick, what’s the last home-grown Disney adventure franchise? Pirates of the Carribbean? Well, and guess where that started? On the back of a napkin between Dick Cook and Johnny Depp. Dick Cook, the last ‘old school’ movie mogul that’s had anything to do with Disney. The same Dick Cook that greenlit John Carter and the same Dick Cook who was unceremoniously dumped by Iger because he didn’t get the Iger program of Disney Studios as distribution hub for the creative genius of others.
How long do you think this acquisition has been in the works? A year? Two?
Roll back the clock. Run the tape with an awareness that Iger was chasing Lucas and Star Wars as John Carter was rolling out.
Go back to the incredibly, bafflingly inept marketing and promotion of John Carter — the campaign that ignored its heritage, made it look like a pedigree-less CGI schlockfest . . . . with this happening at the same time that Iger was courting Lucas with his eye on the prize of Star Wars becoming a Disney IP asset. Make more sense now? Of course it does. Does it rise to the level of a complete Machiavellian plot to bring down John Carter? No. Does it explain the absence of an all-out effort? Maybe. Does it explain the failure to emphasize the heritage of the movie as the source material for Star Trek and Avatar? Oh yeah. (And I know that at the very 11th hour when all hope was pretty much lost, Disney rolled out 15 second TV ads with “Before Star Wars, Before Avatar, there Was John Carter” — but that so much “to little too late” as to be a joke.)
Go back to March 19, 2012. Ten days into the John Carter run with the film struggling in the US but doing well overseas, with key markets China and Japan untapped. Now run the tape of Rich Ross announcing at this early juncture that it was taking a $200M writedown, sealing John Carter’s identity as a colossal, epic, iconic Hollywood flop — in the process closing the door emphatically on any possibility of a future under Disney. Why? What benefit could Disney get? Was it, as they claimed, simply a matter of disclosure requirements? (But they never made such an announcement after other flops.) Or was it, as now seems clear, a maneuver that would help Iger reassure Lucas that John Carter was not going to be in-house competition for Star Wars if SW came to Disney. The announcement helped Iger achieve a heroic (for him) acquisition of Star Wars by eliminating any doubt about future Carter pix at Disney. It cleared the way for his acquisition of Star Wars and Lucasfilm — the cherry on top of his decade of acquisitions that reshaped Disney.
Enough of what happened at Disney. The final piece of the puzzle is now in place.
For me, the large question is this.
As a lifetime fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs who suffered through the endless disappointments — Disney/McTiernan, then the Paramount years — Rodrigues, Conran, Favreau …and then finally the Disney JC debacle . . . . of course the hope was for something something better than the news that Disney was putting its eggs int he Star Wars basket. But let’s be real. What does this mean? Is it doom or deliverance?
Did anyone seriously think that Bob Iger’s Disney was going to do a John Carter sequel? Folks, that ship sailed a long time ago. If it wasn’t clear enough after the March 19 announcement, it should have been clear in early may when Iger claimed he “had a feeling” beforehand that Carter just wasn’t going to perform, or his response in August when asked if there would be any John Carter elements in theme parks: “No, no, no, no. Some things work, some things don’t.” It was clear that Iger considered John Carter to be a completely failed enterprise.
So this should not come as a surprise or sudden revelation that Disney is not headed in the direction of more John Carter. We’ve all known that for some time, even if there has been an element of denial about it.
So is this news disaster for the John Carter franchise? Or liberation?
In the words of Erik Jessen, who started the Facebook sequel movement for John Carter, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Think about what Lucas said: “For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come.”
Well George, …..here’s the immediate counter-quote that pops into my mind:
“For the past 100 years, the characters and cultures created by Edgar Rice Burroughs have inspired generation after generation of readers, and sparked the imagination of scientists, storytellers, and filmmakers, bringing out the best in them and generating new worlds and characters to cherish. Flash Gordon, Superman, Star Wars, and Avatar all owe their origins to Edgar Rice Burroughs original Martian series. As Edgar Rice Burroughs begins his second century, the legacy continues . . . and will continue.”
Look, I’m not dissing Lucas. God Bless him. But we know who the master was. And who’s the student.
John Carter fans, ERB fans, — it’s time to move beyond Disney. No one ever said this would be easy or that it would be quick. Disney under Iger has had a master plan going on for some time, and that plan never included John Carter or Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Now it can be said, the “We Want a John Carter Sequel” movement needs to progress.
Now, basically, it’s : “Free John Carter!”
Meaning, Disney, don’t cling to rights you have no intention of exercising.
Don’t hamstring Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. from being able to take advantage of the fact that 40 million people worldwide have just been exposed to the genius of ERB, however modified by Andrew Stanton, and there is something there to build on that won’t be there if you cling to the rights. There are other studios, other opportunities. Free John Carter and free Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
So, what would keep Disney from providing an early return of rights to the Burroughs estate?
Well, for starters, it would be a way of keeping an obvious bit of competition for Star Wars off the playing field at a time when Disney wants to dominate that playing field with Star Wars. Disney can cynically say we paid for it, we’ll keep it to suppress any chance of it becoming a competitor.
Is Disney that cynical?
I honestly don’t know. Iger and Disney no doubt view the John Carter IP as collateral damage — in other words, they didn’t intentionally torpedo it but first with the acquisition of Marvel, and secondly with the pursuit of Lucasfilm, it became an inconvenient impediment to the master plan. Iger would argue that it died of its own accord — not through neglect. “We gave it the promotion it deserved,” he said on May 8. But does that mean that Iger would block the continued film legacy, purely to suppress competition? Or would he and Disney “do the right thing” and let John Carter out of the dungeon that he’s locked in now?
Is it time to seek an early return of rights? Or at least seek some concessions from Disney to allow for the development of the new opportunity? However disappointing Disney’s handling of John Carter was (from conception to destruction), the fact is — there’s a hugely enhanced fan base out there now. Hundreds of times more people are aware of, and intrigued by, Barsoom than was the case a year ago. It’s crucial that those who continue to believe that this is a unique, special creation, continue to lobby not necessarily for a Disney sequel, but for a future for the legacy. That’s really what it’s all about.
And there is a future.
Just not with Disney.