Sunday, February 26, 2012

Opinion: The Fate of John Carter?

OK there will be some rambling, some ranting and some things that people may not want to hear or consider. But I guess I need to say something about this since this blog concerns everything John Carter and so far I haven't spoken about it. So here goes.

At this point, as most of you guys and gals probably already know, John Carter is having problems. BIG problems. For the last month what was seen for a long time as a sure bet at the box office and the next big movie franchise now has people proclaiming it will become the biggest bomb in movie history-or at least one of them. From Deadline Hollywood (which claimed it could be the biggest "write off" in film history and how the film has failed to connect to women of all age groups) to the Hollywood Reporter (who just a day after reporting about "happy audiences" at the film's premiere published another piece about the film's struggle to connect) to even Newsweek (which compared it to the 1980s movie bomb Ishtar) the story has been the same: a massively over budgeted film that went out of control that is struggling to connect with moviegoers.

Granted there has been some positive buzz building from early screenings and the film's premiere and the filmmakers have defended the film and director Andrew Stanton-who himself has denounced such stories as a "complete and utter lie." But will this buzz be enough to convince audiences to go to Barsoom? Or convince Disney to continue on with the series?

So who is responsible? Whose to blame for this state? If you look back it seemed to be such a sure winner-a classic novel from the creator of one of the most recognized characters in literature and film (and if you don't believe that, watch the current season of Survivor-there's a guy on there calling himself Tarzan) that has been claimed to be the influence for several influential science fiction writers and scientists (Ray Bradbury, Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke). That was name checked by the director of the biggest film in movie history as an influence on his film (that would be James Cameron) and has been sited as the inspiration for everything from Superman to Star Wars. The director attached had just come off of a big critical and commercial success with Wall-E, not to mention his connection to Pixar. The film's cast-while not filled with a big name-still has several respectable and familiar actors. And a big budget and the marketing machine that is Disney-what could go wrong?

Well a lot. That machine broke down and so far hasn't been repaired. Where did it break you ask? Well some say it was the time when Disney announced that they were changing the name from John Carter of Mars to just John Carter with various reasons given-fear of it being linked to Disney's huge flop Mars Needs Moms to Stanton himself claiming he did it so not to turn off non sci-fi fans and girls to recent ousted marketing head MT Carney being responsible. In fact Carney has taken most of the blame for the poor marketing, showing that she clearly had little understanding of the film or the audience. And you can see it in the confused trailers which ran from dour and solemn (the first teaser) to showing off all the big effects that makes it look like the standard empty FX showcase. Also take a look of what hasn't been in the trailers-no mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs or the novel and no mention of Stanton either. Maybe if Disney had mention Burroughs and the novel's history there wouldn't have been so many "It looks like "Fill_in_the_Blank" movies (Avatar, Attack of the Clones, Prince or Persia, etc). There's also been Disney's fear to use the dreaded "M" word anywhere. Only now-with Carney gone-have they even mentioned Mars in the clips and featurettes that have been released.

Some of this can also be blamed on bad luck. The Super Bowl spot-which was seen as Disney's last ditch effort by some-was nothing more than that image of a bunch of tiny scenes spelling out the title-a title that means very little to actual moviegoers. Yet the longer version was quite good but probably little seen. Also the fact that all of the hype for the month of March has been eaten up by The Hunger Games which hits theaters two weeks after John Carter. It's hard to get noticed when you're going up against one of the most hyped films of the year.

That may also have been a questionable decision. Originally John Carter was set to come out June 8 but Disney decided to move it up to March 9 without much explanation-the only one officially released was that Tim Burton's Frakenweenie, which was set for the March date-wasn't done and Disney needed something to take it's place. On the one hand it was probably smart to move it in order to avoid the crush of presold blockbusters (and any failure of star Taylor Kitsch's other big budget pic Battleship) but very few films have become major blockbusters in the month. Only one film-Alice in Wonderland-grossed over a 1 billion at the box office and that one had a major movie star, a familiar title and was riding on Avatar's success with 3D, three things John Carter doesn't have.

And maybe that's an issue also that has been ignored. For the vast majority of moviegoers-those people who lined up for Safe House and The Vow-they've never heard of John Carter of Mars (which again Disney can be faulted for for not giving Burroughs any mention.) There is no big name star attached-yes I know Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church are familiar names but they're playing Tharks and you have to wonder if people even know they're in the movie. And while he might have a devoted fan base due to Friday Night Lights Taylor Kitsch isn't a household name, nor is the rest of the cast. Even Andrew Stanton isn't a known name along the lines of Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson. As for 3D well now it's seen more as a cheap gimmick and isn't a security net like the studios want to believe.

Now I have to admit I've been skeptical about this film as anyone who has read this blog can tell. There are things and changes I don't care for, nor do I have the blind belief I've seen some have in Andrew Stanton (who hasn't exactly been Peter Jackson or Jon Favreau in welcoming or embracing the fans of the books-a base that should have been appealed to right at the beginning). But I always thought the marketing would have been in the bag. Maybe if Disney had understood what they were selling in the first place. Maybe if they had took a page from The Lord of the Rings and reached out to the fans and got them talking sooner instead of pretending they don't exist. Maybe if they realize the film should be aimed at more than they're 10 year old Disney Channel audience we wouldn't be having this issue. We wouldn't be worried that John Carter will flop and that the sequels won't get made.

So what's my opinion? Yes Disney did blow it. They blew it big time. They didn't understand this film and still don't. At the same time I also feel that they-and the filmmakers-have ignored those who could have helped them-the fans. There may not be the overwhelming base compared to say Harry Potter or Twilight but you know what-those bases started out small too. Disney and Stanton should have thought about that and worked to get them on their side. I know that may not have changed much but still as a fan I feel this movie has been poorly marketed not only to the non fans but to the fans as well. I do hope I'm wrong-and those positive reviews at least seem to confirm it will be a great movie, even if it does sound like a poor adaptation-but at this point I won't be surprised if we never get a sequel. Disney has buried this film with their standard incompetence. Let's just hope John Carter can survive. He's survived Tharks, Warhoons and other enemies. It would be shame if he can't overcome Disney.

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