It was back in May of last year when Dark Horizons broke the name change, with no explanation from Disney as to why John Carter of Mars was dropped. But some had speculated that Carter's name change was enforced to distance the film from 2011’s poorly performing Mars Needs Moms –though even that seems stretching it, especially since today’s audiences have really short attention spans.
Now, Deadline is reporting that Disney’s $250 million production of John Carter is tracking soft, meaning the film –despite some expensive marketing on the Super Bowl- could be a huge expensive flop for the Mouse House. And part of the problem seems to stem that the wider audience –beyond the sci fi geeks who’ve been reading Edgar Rice Burroughs books for decades- have no idea what this film is about. Most of the trailers and TV spots seem to concentrate on the visual aspect of the movie –where most of the films budget went too obviously- but the biggest problem lies in the title. The movie is based on Princess of Mars, the first book in Burroughs 11 volume Barsoom series, and I can understand why Disney chose to rename it John Carter of Mars –don’t want to confuse those little girls and their mothers thinking Disney is coming out with a new princess. But somewhere along the way, the film became just John Carter, which is just plain, dull and has no hook. Is it about the Noah Wylie character in ER?
As a matter of fact, another article on Deadline points out one MT Carney, who was –until early January- President of Worldwide Marketing at Walt Disney Studios. One source told Deadline that it was Carney’s idea to drop the “Of Mars” from the title of John Carter. The source told Deadline that “It’s based on a big geek book. You are taking a piece of very well-known classic source material and taking the marketing hook out of it. It’s like putting it through the deflavorizer. It’s like a perfect microcosm of what went wrong.”
So if the movie does indeed fail, they have a scapegoat.
Then there is Taylor Kitsch, who seemed cast mostly for his looks, than a leading man bent on carrying a big, very expensive film. I have no issues with Taylor Kitsch, as he is handsome, but he does not scream leading man. And sadly, had Disney cast Taylor Lautner, you would’ve gotten the same performance, I think. Anyways, in the books, Carter also spends good time almost naked, while in the movie Kitsch is basically just shirtless. So one sees how Disney is attempting to woo potential female audiences into what is surely a male dominated demographic. Which is how most films are made anyways, but the point being that instead a potentially strong, even well-known actor, Disney went with a man known more his male model good-looks than acting ability.
Also 2012 also marks the centennial of Burrough’s John Carter character, having appeared in serialized form beginning in 1912. Now while the John Carter books have a huge following, the character has been eclipsed by Burrough’s other creation, Tarzan; which is something Disney can’t market with, or chooses not to.
Beyond the potential scapegoating of MT Carney, I feel sorry for director Andrew Stanton, who helmed Disney/Pixar films Wall-E and Finding Nemo, who makes his live action directorial debut with this film. Unlike Brad Bird, who made The Incredibles at Pixar, and was handed a well know franchise that was Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol for his live-action debut, Stanton has been given a riskier, more potentially problematic film in John Carter. They’ve spent $250 million already, with rumors running its cost close to $300 million. The film will have to make $700 million before Disney can have a franchise. I’m hoping Stanton can survive what could be the biggest flop of 2012.