Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Who killed John Carter?

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.


  1. Interesting. I saw 'John Carter' at the cinema and came away feeling that, while it was far from being one of the best movies ever, it was an awful lot of fun. In an example of YMMV a friend of mine compared watching 'John Carter' to the first time he saw 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'

    *If* 'John Carter' was slain by Disney, why? My limited knowledge of the inside workings of Hollywood (i.e. reading a few books by Hollywood insiders) suggests that it might be that there was a change of management, and 'John Carter' was the baby of the out going manager, or given the convulted nature of film finance it *might* be that it was more cost effective for Disney if 'John Carter' made a loss rather than a profit.

    OTOH there is a lot to be said for the old saw of "Never attribute to malice, what you can put down to stupidity." -sigh-

  2. Fruitbat44,
    I think you are on to something. This movie had none of the usual Disney marketing and that seems to have been deliberate. The history of studio politics does not preclude one studio top banana sinking a project (that was too far gone to cancel, the usual way to rid oneself of a predecessor's pet project) in an effort to show why dumping the last top banana was a really good idea. It's a costly move to be sure, but if you can blame the mess on someone else and it's not your money anyway, it makes a certain kind of egotistical sense. I certainly don't believe the reports that they spent $100,000,000 on marketing, as no team of ad guys could spend that much money on hookers and blow and live to tell the tale.