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John Carter

Oh dear, oh dear. Where did it all go wrong? Disney's John Carter is currently bombing at the box office - nine days after release it's taken just under $180 million worldwide against a production budget of $250 million. For a film which reputedly needs to make $700 million just to break even John Carter is looking like a flop of epic proportions. And for Disney, this is the second Mars related disaster in two years: 2011's Mars Needs Moms is currently nursing a net loss of $139 million. Reports suggest Disney itself may be projecting a $200m loss for John Carter. What is going on?


First things first. What's the movie actually like? Well the BBC's film critic Mark Kermode said: "The story telling is incomprehensible, the characterisation is ludicrous, the story is two and a quarter hours long and it's a boring, boring, boring two and a quarter hours long." and that seems to be the popular consensus. Director Andrew Stanton's previous experience was with the expensive but highly successful Pixar animations Wall-E and Finding Nemo so Disney must have thought he was well suited to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs rich tale of Martian adventuring to life. And in one respect the film is undeniably successful. Visually it's a treat. It's a shame,though, that Stanton didn't divert a small part of that cutting edge CGI budget into a better script. 


That said though there are a lot worse films out there that have made an awful lot  more money. I saw the film at the weekend and if it hadn't been saddled with the expectation of that budget we might actually be looking forward to the sequel. Yes, some of the new plot elements are a bit confusing (everyone is now being manipulated by mysterious yet ultimately hopeless bad guys with inexplicable motives). But the characters are promising if not fully realised and the story builds its tension nicely. And after seeing the 3D re-release of Star Wars: Phantom Menace a couple of weeks ago I've got a hugely disappointing (though in box office terms very successful) film to compare it with. And I have to say John Carter is much better than Phantom Menace in all respects.


I've heard Stanton being interviewed as to why he dropped 'Of Mars' from the film's title. That followed test screenings where it was clear some people were switching off in the middle and some (especially women) were not relating to some aspects of the story. Instead of concluding that the film needed some tighter editing in the middle, maybe cutting down on the length and eliminating some of the confusing action, replacing it with more characterisation he instead concluded that he wanted to broaden the film's appeal by eliminating any hint of science fiction from the title. As if filmgoers wouldn't notice the bright red picture of Mars behind the Tarzan-dressed Carter in the movie posters. Good job James Cameron hadn't heard that some people don't like science fiction or he would never have made Avatar. And someone should tell JJ Abrams that the new Star Trek film needs to drop a word from the title. Did George Lucas consider changing the title or Star Wars because some people don't like science fiction?


So Stanton hacked off the SF community by changing the title but still failed to broaden the film's appeal. He also missed what he really needs to do to attract a larger female audience: build up the characterisation and don't hide one of the key strengths of the movie, that is, the romance between Carter and the Martian Princess Dejah Thoris which was so central to the original book as well that Burroughs called it A Princess of Mars. If only Stanton had done the same Disney might not be looking forward to the biggest loss in cinema history.

Comments

  1. Mark - sorry to contact you via your blog. I'm the Resident Supervisor for Odyssey and didn't get a reply from you to my email confirming I had the address correct. Please email me at ellen @ denham . virtualave . net (remove spaces) so I can make sure you get signed up for the Yahoo Group that will contain all the crucial info for Odyssey. Thanks!

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