Surprise, surprise — looks like John Carter 2 didn’t make the cut with Disney. Yesterday Disney announced its slate of upcoming movies, and there was no mention of anything Barsoomian. The announcement included the following films and projected release dates:
The Muppets 2 – 21 March 2014
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D) – 4 April 2014
Maleficent (3D) – 2 July 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy (3D) – 1 August 2014
Brad Bird’s 1952 (3D) – 19 December 2014
Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 – 10 July 2015
Those who have been following the John Carter saga closely cannot possibly be surprised by this — it has been abundantly clear ever since March 19, 2012, when Disney announced a $200M writedown associated with John Carter, that no sequel will be forthcoming from Disney under Bob Iger, who aside from the “doomsday” $200m writedown announcement has on two occasions come right out and said he viewed John Carter as, in effect, a mistake — in so doing aligning his own personal identity and the prestige of his position against the notion of more John Carter from Disney.
So yesterday’s announcement cannot be considered a surprise.
Still, by making it quasi-official that Disney is well and truly out of the Barsoom business, it brings into focus a question: Should this affect the strategy of those lobbying for a continuation of the series? How do the fans react? ERB Inc? Does the announcement represent any opening to move the situation forward?
After reflecting on it, here is what I think.
It seems to me that this may well be the moment when all of the constituencies who are committed to a continuation of John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) as a film series need to take a collective deep breath and start moving away from “Disney, give us our sequel” and toward “Disney, give us the rights back”.
The message needs to become: Use it or lose it.
You’re not using it, so let go of it.
The pitch to Disney would be a rational one — that while JC may not have done enough business to entice a sequel with a $250M price tag, there is most definitely now a global fan base that would support other, less expensive products — a fan base which includes artists, filmmakers, writers, web developers, game designers who themselves could be players in generating an ecosystem of products and intellectual property associated with Barsoom — but wh0 are unable to do so now because Disney holds all the rights (until March 2015), not just film rights — and is doing nothing to exploit or develop them.
So give them back.
With Disney holding the rights, ERB Inc. can’t, for example, undertake the commissioning of the kind of contemporary Barsoom novels that it has undertaken with Andy Briggs and Robin Maxwell for Tarzan. Yet an early return of right would make this possible. Nor can games be developed without a return of rights, and there are game developers who have Barsoom on the brain and would love to create something. Ditto for animated web or TV series development.
Is it realistic to think Disney might play ball?
All that Disney can say is “no” — but even if the answer is “no” — certainly no one, not even Disney, would argue that ERB Inc. is acting in the best interests of the property by seeking an early return.
And if Disney won’t return the rights to make a sequel – – is there a possibility that they might reward the effort with a “consolation prize” in the form of the early return of some of the the lesser ancillary rights as a goodwill gesture and way of appeasing the Burroughs/Barsoom constituency?
They might say no on the movie sequel, but yes to Barsoomian novels, video games, etc.
In other words, they might throw everyone a bone or two.
It helps keep John Carter from creeping extinction while Disney holds the rights and does nothing with them.
And what’s more, there are outcomes short of getting the sequel rights back that could be helpful to the ERBophile position. For example, an arrangement might be arrived at whereby Disney might not release the rights 0—but someone (ERB Inc most probably) would be empowered to pursue continuation with other studios, a la Narnia, without such efforts being in conflict with Disney. This applies to dialogue with domestic studios, and with international ones. Because now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to harness the international (i.e. non-US) market both in terms of the market for film (greater share coming from abroad), and in terms of the financing plan, with foreign co-producers (particularly from China and Russia, both large and fast-growing markets where John Carter did well) potentially emerging as potent co-producers able to contribute substantially to the production cost, thus limiting the risk for whatever US Studio ends up as distributor and production partner on the film. That’s how Iron Man 3 and Kung Fu Panda 3 were packaged — each acquired a Chinese co-production partner who became an essential component to the greenlighting of the project. If Disney would step aside or even give an informal blessing, ERB Inc could proactively seek out such partners and use the acquisition of such a partner to leverage a deal with a US studio.
So I would put it this way.
“Disney, we want a sequel” may have run its course.
“Disney, free John Carter!” may have arrived.
Make no mistake. As it is now, John Carter is trapped in the Disney prison, unable to do anything other than languish behind bars until March 2015, a “sentence” of a little more than two years from now. If no one does anything, the Warlord will spend the next two years in that prison, and by the time he comes out — the modest but substantial groundswell of awareness and global interest in things Barsoomian will have dissipated.
Leave him there?
Or negotiate his release?