I re-watched John Carter on the new DVD release and I'm more convinced than ever that this film didn't die at the box office on its merits; it was sabotaged by Disney. It's pretty common to love a film the first time you see it and discover that a repeat viewing reveals just how bad it really is, but with John Carter, I didn't have that experience. I still contend that it was an excellent adaptation of A Princess of Mars that did justice to the source material, took the non-fan audience into full consideration and came out with a feature that was loads of fun and never had me looking at my watch.
The question is, why did it do so bad at the box office? There may be other factors, but the main one, I suspect is, sabotage.
I'm not the first one to say this. In fact, there's an excellent open letter to Disney that covers this written back in March. Really, I can't do much more than echo and elaborate on what the author said. It struck me as odd how little publicity was given to John Carter in the past year and what there was proved horrible. The publicity stills looked cheap and dull like something out of a Syfy feature. The trailer was so badly put together that fans re-edited it to better effect.
Then, as the opening approached, it went from odd to suspicious. Where were the interviews? The cynical little marketing bits on the cable channels or on Youtube? No paperback editions of the Barsoom series with stills from the film on the cover? No special edition hardbacks with the same? No viral campaigns? No posters? No toys? No Happy Meals? No "fan art" that started popping up at just the right time? No saturation coverage on Disney-owned outlets? Odd.
Then the smell factor kicked in when I saw what little was out there. Posters that made no sense. Standies in the cinema featuring white apes that gave no clue as to what the film was. Efectively, there was nothing out there.
Then, as the open letter pointed out, Disney was very keen on declaring it a flop as soon as possible. All this while wailing about how much money they'd lost–including $100 million in advertising. As the open letter pointed out, who did the publicity? The characters from Entourage?
Then last Thursday, the final piece fell into place. I saw the DVD cover that looked like something off of a Chinese pirate version. More than that, I saw the lone special feature; a making-of video obviously made by the filmmakers that showed them as passionate, creative, high-powered Hollywood types who really wanted to deliver. I also saw the concept art (where was this before the release?) and crews dedication to doing right by Burroughs.
My verdict? I'm not enough of a Hollywood insider to point fingers, but from the outward signs, I must conclude that someone high up in Disney had it in for this film or someone behind it and did everything he could to ensure its failure. Someone not only starved it of the oxygen of publicity; he poisoned it with bad publicity. When else has a studio ever come out and said "Our film is crap. Stay away."?
John Carter was murdered.