Wednesday, November 7, 2012

About John Carter, And Not The Character From "ER"

By Eilis Flynn

From the time Disney announced the title of one of their movies, it was pretty clear they wanted nothing to do with it, and did everything they could to kill it. Why, I never could figure out, but it was obvious something had happened, and Disney (symbol DIS, if you’re curious enough to watch the stock go up and down online) decided it was easier for them to make sure they washed their hands of it than recoup their losses. And they made sure there were losses.

I speak, of course, of the movie JOHN CARTER, which came out earlier this year and died almost immediately. The critics lambasted it, and the word spread about how terrible it was, and how it was basically an embarrassment, it was the end of the careers of all concerned, so forth and so on. Perhaps you might not remember that it came out at all; if that’s the case, that’s not a surprise, either. Based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs series of books, the title itself was guaranteed to confuse anyone familiar with the books, and it was guaranteed to confuse anyone who might recognize the name from, say, a character from a long-running TV series on NBC. (The series was ER. No one on the show, as far as I could tell, ever mentioned the books, or the hero’s name; I can only assume that it was creator Michael Crichton’s little private joke.)

Given that the movie was based on the first book of the series, the confusion mounted. The book was titled A PRINCESS OF MARS, and I’m sure that in the wisdom of the entertainment industry, anything with the word “princess” would scare off boys and men who would refuse to shell out to watch it, so Disney decided that the title had to change for the movie. But change it to JOHN CARTER? The title could have been WARLORD OF MARS, because that’s what the character, an ex-Civil War soldier, became, but perhaps the logic was that a title like that would scare off another group. The title they decided on clearly was someone’s punishment, and it pretty much worked, because it sucked. Mind you, this is all speculation. But it was a crappy title, because it didn’t say anything about the story.

(According to IMDB, there were conflicting reports about why the change in title – from A PRINCESS OF MARS to JOHN CARTER OF MARS, and then to JOHN CARTER – occurred, ranging from the marketing department or the director wanted to appeal to a broader audience, or the studio wanted to create a film series with “John Carter” in the title. Hm. And apparently the industry also believed that movies with “Mars” in the title underperform financially, and in the case of Disney, its MARS NEEDS MOMS, which was not a success, to put it mildly. Apparently producing a good product wasn’t in the cards.)

And everyone who knew the story would have been confused. And those who knew there was a movie based on the Burroughs books on the way would have been confused. Yes, pretty much screwed one way or another. “Flop” was the term used. “Flop of legendary proportions,” to be precise, was the term.

Was the punishment aimed at the director? He apparently had control of the marketing, and considering how much money the company put into the marketing, I had to think that they threw bad money after good, truly a money pit. And that pit kept getting deeper and deeper. Was the studio head on someone’s shit list? Sure seemed like it.

So what, you ask?

So there was a twist to the end of the story. The critics savaged it, and the general audience stayed away. But those familiar with the books? They liked it. And they told their friends, and even commented about it in social media. So when the movie became available on DVD and Blu-Ray, they even bought it. In fact, it made money overseas, so it did recoup some of the loss. By early April, the movie had made back its production costs of $254.5 million worldwide. As of August 2012, the gross was up to $283 million worldwide. (And of course, this is the company that also enjoyed the billion-dollar success of THE AVENGERS the same year, so it’s not hurting.)

But the Disney studio chief had to step down, and the movie still holds a reputation as being a stinker. So whatever happened in the background, someone cheered with a sneer and someone groaned with whatever rhymes with “groaned.” And who got screwed? We did.

What’s the moral of the story, you ask? Oh, I have no idea. I wanted to complain how badly this movie was treated, and you, dear readers, were convenient. What’s the moral? Uh, don’t piss off studio heads? Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia? Don’t screw with a classic, not when the title is important? Yeah, that’s it. Titles are important.

Titles are important. You can’t deny that, can you? Nobody can.

So go out and buy the JOHN CARTER DVD and enjoy it, because it’s a pretty good movie. The end.

Eilis Flynn saw JOHN CARTER and liked it, screw the critics. She can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at

Disclaimer: I own Disney stock. So what?