JOHN CARTER: Is it really doomed?
(GUYS, Please see this post. Do not let this go away fast. I worked very hard on this one, so I would like people to read it and see it. Not like last time when most people ditched my posts LOL )
Okay I know I’m taking a rather non-event kind of film. Alright, I am taking a film that doesn’t have anybody great to speak about. But frankly, I am amazed and baffled at the sort of negativity that has spread for the film weeks before release. And all this comes without anybody having actually seen the film yet. Huh, at least now I know that the practice of advance negativity is not limited just to Bollywood with all its fan-crazy factions.
But – just look guys. I have absolutely no idea why even I’m so defensive about the film, but I feel that I can do my bit by giving an analysis of the film in detail. Please bear with me.
John Carter is an upcoming science-fiction fantasy action film starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Mark Strong in the lead roles. Ring a bell? Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Kitsch and Collins previously had starring roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the former as Remy LeBeau/Gambit, the latter as Kayla) but obviously they aren’t major superstars that one can go gaga over just by hearing the name. Its directed by Andrew Stanton, and believe me this is one of the MAIN highlights of this film (I’ll tell you why). Besides, its a Walt Disney film.
Now, let’s start on the basics.
PLOT. The film revolves around a Civil War army captain John Carter who gets mysteriously transported to Mars. There he meets two warring alien factions (one of them a human-like species) whose war is depleting the planet (known as Barsoom by its inhabitants) of its resources and atmosphere. Carter has to save the planet and its inhabitants from extinction, in spite of the large threat of invaders and his own mortality. In the end, Carter becomes “John Carter of Mars”.
BUDGET. Perhaps one of the most maligned and sneered aspects of this film has been its budget. The official press release states that the budget is a jaw-dropping $250 million, which incidentally is more than Avatar ($237 million). However, industry insiders beg to differ. In fact, most sources have ocnfirmed without doubt that due to troublesome production and expensive re-shoots, the film has exceeded even this generous budget. Most estimates put the actual budget of the film at $275 million. Which is a LOT. Only 1 film has managed a budget bigger than that (unadjusted for inflation) and that’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($300 million). Unbelievable as it may seem, we have to digest this. And to top that is a reported $125 million in marketing the film, taking the total cost to $400 million (gasp).
SOURCE MATERIAL. John Carter is the silver screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess of Mars. Now most people will be blinking – who is this guy? Never heard of him? Then shame on you. Modern day science-fiction owes its existence to ERB and his John Carter series (which spans 11 books). Everything from Star Wars to Avatar have deep roots in John Carter. And additionally, ERB is also the writer of the enormously famous Tarzan. Get what I’m saying?
In fact, the John Carter series (called the Barsoom series, for reasons explained later) was hugely popular at its time. But as time went by, other people copied ideas from it and created their own sci-fi universes which eroded the popularity of John Carter; today, its not even known to the new generations. Which is a pity. But there are sci-fi geeks who revere the books even today, though its quite a small number.
TITLE. There has been a huge amount of debate regarding the title of the film. Adapted from A Princess of Mars, the director changed the title to John Carter of Mars so as to reach out to a wider audience. Later, due to the mega-bomb that is Mars Needs Moms (which lost $130 million for Disney) the producers became suddenly superstitious and decided to remove all Mars-related stuff from titles. Hence, the “of Mars” was dropped and finally it was just John Carter.
There has been heavy criticism of this title change. Most people have pointed out that removing “of Mars” strips the character of its identity, making it sound similar to John McClane from the Terminator series. In addition, despite the attempt to reach out to more people, the title change has done nothing to improve coverage of the film. Book fans have strongly objected to the change as it destroys the very essence of the book and its environment. However, amicably it has been agreed upon that no matter what the title, all that is needed is a good film.
VISUALS AND VFX. Disney is, of course, quite an expert at this category. The much-maligned Tron: Legacy is evidence of that. Many people have come out saying that the visuals look “bad”, “derivative” etc. Now “derivative” is an unfortunate thing because actually all other sci-fi films derived from John Carter, but we can’t do anything about that. But then, “bad”? WHAT? Just take a look at these photos, and look me in the eye and say the visuals look bad :-
MARKETING. Now this is one thing that Disney has messed up. And I mean Messed up with a capital M. I simply can’t understand how such an insanely expensive film could mess up such a crucial aspect this badly. First off, the official trailers of John Carter are bad. They are confusing and are just targeting the VFX aspect without talking about the story. And today, when the original source is faded, telling the audience what this is all about is of UTMOST importance. Clearly the makers have failed there. The trailers have been such that a fan-made trailer comprising of clips from each of the official trailers has received a whole lot more positivity than the official ones, and that’s a BIG fail for Disney. You can watch it here :-
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(Or watch it at YouTube here :- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BxeHQY1NuM)
In addition, the marketing has been strangely misguided. Disney spent millions of dollars on a Super Bowl ad that barely created a flutter. And there is no toy lines/merchandising around this film, which is an absolute MUST for a film like this as big films require epicness to be given out, and that epicness is completely lacking here. In fact, it looks like Disney isn’t interested in getting viewers to theaters (this has a lot to do with the messy internal politics of Disney, but we needn’t go to such depths).
The poor marketing shows in opinion polls, where the tracking has been “shockingly soft” – 53% aided awareness, 2% unaided awareness, 3% first choice. Such figures have prompted rival studios to start jeering and taking potshots at the film already; much of this mud-slinging is responsible for the negative halo around the film. Couple this with bad trailers and even the people are beginning to trash the film. Several forums are filled with all sorts of “flop”/”disaster” comments, comparisons to Battlefield Earth etc. And the biggest negative factor is the fact that John Carter seems very derivative of Star Wars and Avatar (even though in reality, its the other way around).
But there is always a silver lining. And that silver lining comprises of the director’s credentials, and early feedback.
DIRECTION. The director of this film is Andrew Stanton. Now he’s no Nolan. Yet. But if I were to tell you his credentials, you would be left open-mouthed: Stanton is the writer of all three Toy Story films, and he has directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E. NOW do I have your attention? Stanton is a hot Pixar favorite, and now he’s transitioning to live-action. Reminds me of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Brad Bird (another Pixar hot-shot) made a similar transition and minted money at the box office. Stanton has more impressive credentials; is there anything to suggest he won’t deliver as well? Ah yes, MI does have the advantage of an established brand and a big superstar (Tom Cruise) but let’s not forget that the MI series were off from a badly-received part III and Cruise’s superstardom had been on a downfall accelerated by the poor Knight and Day.
EARLY REVIEWS. Junket screenings of the film, and a Los Angeles premiere, have meant that there will be people ready to review this film. There is an embargo on any reviews as of now, though Disney selectively lifted that. And from what we are hearing, the film is great. Most of the reviews coming out are quite positive, with most people stating that they were “pleasantly surprised” by the film and recommended it strongly. People also pointed out that the film is quite emotional too, in addition to some great battle scenes and aliens, a point that the marketing team has failed to show. Twitter has been abuzz with this positive news, and since then some of the negativity around the film started to decrease – a great sign.
Andrew Stanton’s previous films have all been great sustainers at the box office, with an average second-weekend drop of 24% (which is amazing). If John Carter can get that sort of WOM (which is highly likely now) then rest assured, the chances of this film is quite bright. And with Stanton at the helm, the quality should be top-class.
BOX OFFICE REQUIREMENTS. Things may look bleak or mixed at the moment, but as hard mathematicians we also have to see about the FUTURE of John Carter. Disney has released a statement saying that John Carter need to earn $700 million MINIMUM to green-light a sequel. That’s a very tough task, especially since nobody knows how this film will be received overseas. And $700 million is more than what Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl earned ($654 million). It seems a tall order as of now, but only time wil tell whether the film can scale this. Miracles do happen. Remember, Avatar suffered a lot of pre-release negativity due to “blue-skinned aliens” and “different technology” but we all know what happened to that. Its premature to determine a film’s failure before release; turn-arounds do happen.
All in all, I am quite optimistic about this film in spite of a horde of negative aspects. I’m a fan of the original author and strongly hopes that a series is made; it will be Hollywood’s loss if it isn’t.