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March 20, 2012

John Carter of Mars
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:40 PM *

I read over at CNN Money:

Disney: ‘John Carter’ loses $200 million

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — It’s official. The Disney movie “John Carter” is a flop of legendary proportions. “John Carter,” based on a Martian adventure novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is expected to lose $200 million in Disney’s fiscal second quarter, which ends March 31.

Later in the story we read:

Box Office Mojo estimates the movie, which is heavy on special effects, cost $250 million to make.

We also read:

The swords-and-loin-cloths epic, a blend of sci-fi and fantasy, has raked in $184 million at box offices globally since its March 9 debut, according to Disney.

So, $250 million minus $184 million equals “more than $200 million”? Ooookay…. Sounds like Hollywood Accounting to me, but what do I know?

What I can tell you is that failing to earn more in three weeks than most films earn worldwide in their lives isn’t “a flop of legendary proportions.” For that matter, earning $184 million in less than two weeks isn’t half bad. That’s better than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone did in its first two weeks, and no one’s calling Harry Potter “a flop of legendary proportions.” More so, given that John Carter doesn’t star anyone with a matinee marquee name, and came out on a non-holiday weekend in early March.

As it happens, Doyle and I saw John Carter this last Sunday night, down in Claremont, New Hampshire. I’ve seen some flops of legendary proportions—I saw Boat Trip with Cuba Gooding, Jr—and this wasn’t one. It was a charming little SF/fantasy movie.

We saw it in 2-D, which was just fine with us. (I think that 3-D is gimmicky.) I overlook the manifest stupidities (few people would know or care that our hero could hardly have been “decorated six times” in his role as a Confederate calvalryman—the Confederacy didn’t decorate its soldiers at all, and I’m baffled to this day as to why a US Cavalry officer, some years after the war, would bother trying to impress him into the army). The film was pretty, the characters were fun, and everyone involved seemed to be having a good time.

Watching it, I said to myself, “That looks an awful lot like Frazetta.” Later, I was unsurprised to learn that the original conceptual art was, indeed, done by Frank Frazetta. I’m the sort of guy who stays to the end and reads the credits: The best credit was for Spray Tans in the UK (by St. Tropez Tans).

Anyway, I thought it was a pretty good show. Better than either of the first two Star Wars prequels (I didn’t bother with the third Star Wars prequel: I hear it was a flop of legendary proportions).

Comments on John Carter of Mars:
#1 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 07:56 PM:

I wonder if the math is supposed to be "$250 million minus Disney's share of the $184 million haul = $200 million."

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:13 PM:

I've not only given up on the idea of "pure" adaptations, I understand why they're often a bad idea. The first Harry Potter movie wasn't bad, but it was so literal an adaptation that it threatened to be a snoozer. (Thank the wonderful cast for pumping life into it.)

Some of the adaptation choices made in the John Carter (of MARS damnit!) were puzzling. Specifically the nature of the bad guys. But OTOH, that set up a more interesting, IMO, method of interplanetary travel than used in A Princess of Mars. It wasn't a "throw away" idea, in that it was used to great effect in the twist ending of the framing story.

I think ERB would have gotten a big kick out of this movie. I got a big kick out of it.

I'm disappointed that the stink of failure has been hung on it by the industry, because I'd have loved to have seen the cast and production team do some more.

* * *
The recruit-hungry cavalry officer was Bryan Cranston! Judged by his movie career, he's a character actor; by his TV roles, a star. Interesting.

#3 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:14 PM:

We'd been thinking about going to see it, and now I'm leaning even more in that direction.

Re the 3rd Star Wars prequel I will only say that about 20 minutes in, I was looking at my watch. I didn't even do that in Pokemon The Movie 2000.

#4 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:32 PM:

The stink of failure?
Anybody else remembers 'comedy' "Ishtar"?

#5 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:35 PM:

The movie was tragically, hideously mismarketed - if you search you can dig out some articles on how its (normally brilliant) director suffered from being Too Big a Fan of the source material and assumed that a modern audience was as intimately familiar with it as he was, and thus caused a lot of this mismarketing - but I also can't help but wonder if someone had a vested interest in smearing this thing. I mean, the bad buzz began FAST.

The more cynical part of me wonders if someone at Disney is trying to punish someone else, or if this is going to be their sacrificial writeoff this year.

It's actually a pretty darned good yarn, and I've been telling as many people that as I can, to try to counterbalance that buzz, but I'm not sure I have swayed too many.

A lot of critics have hit it for being derivative, showing an astounding lack of history and knowledge, since those other movies they think it stole from actually stole from IT - from the source material anyway. I've been wanting to grab a couple of the people who have been writing "Star Wars did all this already, backwards and in heels," shake them hard by the neck, and shout in their ear "NINETEEN-TWELVE, IDIOT."

But I've mostly calmed down now. Mostly.

#6 ::: Horace Rumpole ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:36 PM:

Laertes has it. Studios typically receive a little more than half of the gross receipts, and the $250 million is only the production budget, which doesn't include the very substantial amount of money the studio spent on marketing the movie. So the loss is $100 million income, minus $250 million, minus the marketing budget.

#7 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 08:40 PM:

I think the math is "$250 million to make plus $X million in advertising minus $184 million in receipts = $200 million lost." Which solves for X=$134 million in advertising, which seems a little high, but it's Hollywood accounting.

I loved the movie. I read the books as a child and have longed to see Barsoom on screen. They did pretty well. Dejah Thoris is excellent (although clothed) and the Tharks are perfect.

The fact that John Carter did poorly and that abominable Lorax movie was a smash hit makes me lose a little faith in humanity.

#8 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 09:20 PM:

This reminds me of how Disney's Treasure Planet, which I also enjoyed, was a (probably engineered) "box office flop." In both cases I saw barely any marketing. I had to go out of my way to hunt down any tie-in toys for Planet, and I haven't seen any for John Carter. I'm convinced that in both cases some kind of internal politics led to the marketing division being ordered to sink the project.

#9 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 09:25 PM:

Standard first-week split is 90/10 to the studio. First week domestic gross was $40MM = $36MM to the studio.

Total domestic BO right now is around $50-60MM. I would take the math as $250MM prod + $20-30MM domestic advertising - $36MM - maybe 3/4*20MM = something just north of $200MM, with the non-domestic revenues being treated separately, in the manner of how the box for Heaven's Gate was about twice as large overseas as domestically and that affected basically nothing when the accounting was completed.

Unless it heats up this week, I'd ballpark the accounting loss at $200MM, too. (Of course, I would also note that pre-rights sales were probably completed long ago, a la Avatar, and that the Mouse's actual exposure is an order of magnitude less than those "losses.")

#10 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 09:46 PM:

I liked the Mickey's-Head tattoo on Dejah's right arm.

I too suspect that this film's "failure" is office-politics writ large, being played out in public.

#11 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 09:56 PM:

Welp, I'll be doing my part to offset those losses this weekend. I and The Boy, who, at 11, is quite the geeklet, are getting tix for Saturday afternoon. IMAX. 3-D. The Works. We expect a ripping good time.

#12 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 09:59 PM:

"I and The Boy ... are"

More Riesling, Mr. Static? Don't mind if I do...

#13 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 10:10 PM:

Columbina @ 5... assumed that a modern audience was as intimately familiar with it as he was

The young couple next to us chatted to each other the moment the film started, asking things like who that Edgar Rice Burroughs character was. I could tell they were going to be a problem so I turned to them and, in a voice that many around could hear, said "If you're not interested, why don't you leave?" They kept *very* quiet after that.

My big disappointment is that the film threw away the notion that this was a dying world. Remember the novel's atmosphere factories that were failing?

#14 ::: DaveMB ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 10:15 PM:

I also thought it was a pretty good movie. Woola was definitely the creature that my cairn terrier sees when he looks in the mirror.

#15 ::: Samatha C ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 10:36 PM:

My sole complaint of the movie was that Barsoom wasn't red enough. Neither were the Red Skins of Barsoom.

And let's not even talk about the Apache who were clearly not very conversant with even rudiments of Apache strategies. Or appearance. Or behavior. Not sure about the language, either...

#16 ::: Tangurena ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2012, 11:56 PM:

The movie studios charge movie productions credit card interest rates. According to wikipedia, principal filming ended in summer 2010, so the film has been racking up large amounts of "interest" since then that has to get paid off. This sort of thing gets mentioned in Deeley's book: "Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies".

#17 ::: Ken Fletcher ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 12:32 AM:

Three out of four stars, for a pulp science-fantasy adventure. I saw it in a theater in 2D, and I'll go see it again.

I work in a bookstore, and from the sf-readers who have seen it, the comments have all been positive; with some surprise that it was much better than they expected from the reviews.

#18 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 01:00 AM:

Yet another "disaster" that knowledgeable Hollywood insiders can use to prove that "Sci-Fi" doesn't work in the movies (the first three Star Wars movies were made more than 30 years ago, and "everyone knows" that Lucas was the only one who knew how to do it, and he's lost it now).

#19 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 01:13 AM:

Well, the other reason to hang the albatross of failure around John Carter's neck is that it was lapped on opening weekend by The Lorax, a cheesy 3D remake of a Dr. Seuss film. When you spend $250m in order to be beaten out at the box office by a formula kids' film, it kind of stings.

The big problem was the budget. In order to qualify as a "success", John Carter would have had to make $600m worldwide in the first two weeks, which would have been a new record.

You can read an interesting analysis of what went wrong with the film here:

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 03:18 AM:

The argument is that they added $100 Million promotional costs to the production cost. That is what the BBC report said, for instance.

I've seen a few adverts on TV, but that number just doesn't feel plausible. It's a huge amount of money to spend. Apparently, the news caused Disney shares to drop nearly 1%. And then it gets explained with a quote from a reviewer: "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."

The film makes a loss, so far, and that is inflated by some suspicious accounting. But Disney has enough income that even this isn't going to push the company into the red, not by a long way.

This isn't really a big enough drop to make a stock-exchange manipulation likely, but if you have the cash to spare that 1% could add up.

Office politics seems rather likely. Somebody successful from Pixar gets his hands on a proper film, and it flops. And that might be as true a story as anything else which comes out of this. Which isn't a recommendation for its honesty or likelihood.

The BBC Report

Incidentally. it seems last years big flop was another Disney movie: Mars Needs Moms That looks to be one of the pure-CGI movies trying a little too hard to show real humans.

#21 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 07:15 AM:

$100 million for advertising and marketing is a lot... but it's consistent with claims made for some other recent movies at the top of the hype effort. (And I gather that Disney showed previews during the Super Bowl -- that's a pretty clear sign of heavy spending[1]. It wouldn't surprise me if advertising and marketing were more than $100 million.)

(The other side of things is that movie studios are routinely accused of downplaying the actual profits in order to cheat other profit participants -- e.g., directors, major stars, outside producers, original authors -- out of their share of the profits. The Wikipedia article on "Hollywood accounting" has some examples, and this article discusses Warner Brothers' claim that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which Box Office Mojo says took in over $900 million worldwide, actually lost $167 million.)

#22 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 07:28 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 18:
Yet another "disaster" that knowledgeable Hollywood insiders can use to prove that "Sci-Fi" doesn't work in the movies

These days, I doubt it. That was sometimes true in the 1980s and even the 1990s, but given the continued success of special-effects-laden SF/fantasy/comic-book blockbusters in the last ten years or so, no one is going to be making that argument any time soon.

(What people may seize on is the Edgar Rice Burroughs authorship, or possibly the "Mars" angle.)

#23 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 09:12 AM:

I saw it on the opening Friday and may go see it again this weekend. The theater was surprisingly full on a Friday matinee--I had the afternoon off, and figured I'd have my choice of seats. It felt like a summer blockbuster, so why the decision to release it in March? And why release it the week after a kiddie movie (The Lorax, which was horrible but guaranteed to be a hit) and two weeks before The Hunger Games (also guaranteed to be a hit)?

It was a refreshing change to see a fun, action-y movie that was pretty well written and didn't have a lot of Big Name Actors in it. I guess we won't be seeing any sequels, though, although I'm willing to bet the movie will make a good profit after overseas releases are taken into account. Not that that *counts*, right?

#24 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 09:37 AM:

Anybody else noticed that two actors from "Wolverine", and two actors from "Rome", are in this movie? By the way, I'm glad they didn't go for nekkid Martians because Ciaran Hinds...

#25 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 10:21 AM:

Disney's marketing people have been screwing up for decades now: think of, well, everything that wasn't a Princess Movie and didn't have Johnny Depp in it. That said, it also suffers from being the Father of All Tropes as far as SF movies are concerned. I found it enjoyable enough, though I think there were some casting issues, the main being that I had trouble telling some of the Helium guys apart. When I saw it the house wasn't packed, but it was full-ish (prob. 2/3s seats filled).

Please tell me the Lorax was a flop. PLEASE. I hated that damn thing back when it was only a TV special.

#26 ::: Jim McGee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 10:33 AM:

This is the kind of informed perspective that will have me in the theaters this weekend.

#27 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 11:19 AM:

I may need a movie to fill a couple of hours on Friday while my teen and her bff are seeing Hunger Games. I've been curious about John Carter (of Mars) and think I'll see if it will still be playing locally and at a time that works out.

(No, I'm not going to see Hunger Games. Or rather, I might, if the teen wants to see it again, but I would not dream of intruding on her and her bff's movie night and was not invited anyway. They do ask me to come from time to time, and some movies my kid would prefer to see with me in the first place [Pirates: Band of Misfits being next on that list].)

#28 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 11:44 AM:

Your reaction maps pretty well with mine. I didn't go in expecting high art; I got the fun, actiony movie I was expecting.

I also had the "Wow, Frazetta!" moments. I was more thrown by how many bits reminded me of the Futurama episode on Mars when the Wongs' buggalo are being rustled. I had to keep reminding myself that it was the result of both using the same starting material (one literally, one as homage).

I wish it had been available in 2-D by me. The 3-D didn't add anything to the experience.

#29 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 12:02 PM:

Perhaps if Disney had combined one of their known high-quality live-action dramas of the past, and re-imagined it with the Martian angle...

The Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn, vicar of Dymchurch-under-the-Wall, owed his good repute amongst the folk of the Marsh to many things, not least his willingness to ride out at any hour to attend those in need of spiritual succour, arising from disease and accident. His kind words and his confident avowal of God's Good Word, eased the minds of all, and his other skills, while not a Doctor of Medicine, turned many on the path to recovery. In those days when the Marsh was, it was said, ruled at night by the Devil himself, the good Reverend would declare that God would protect him against the Devil and his works, and if the Scarecrow of the stories were merely some mortal man, then he, Christopher Syn, was not incapable of using his sword.

Indeed, our good cleric had more reason than his sword to consider himself safe from the Scarecrow, and some cause to take secret pleasure from the looks of consternation on the faces of some of his parishioners when he made that declaration. For, unbeknownst to almost all, Christopher Syn rode at night behind the mask of the Scarecrow, leading the very smugglers who encouraged the stories of the Devil on the Marsh, and who, discreetly, advised him it would be better not to try his mettle against the hazards of the Marsh, man or Devil. "For we can ill afford to lose you sir."

So it was that, on a night when the Scarecrow was not riding, Doctor Syn was returning, in sombre contemplation of the ways of the world, to Dymchurch, after comforting the parents of a dead babe, and employing all his considerable abilities to assuring them that their late child was now safely in Heaven. And why, he asked himself, did a Good God allow such things to happen? He had not expressed to the parents that chill ratiocination that their babe was in Heaven because God could not save him in this life.

He reined in his horse, and chuckled. Not for the first time, he mused on hos the Pagans saw the world, with their multitudes of squabbling Gods each taking charge of but one small part of the world. It explained why strange, inexplicable, things mught happen. You did not suffer because you God was not the Good God you have been taught to believe in, but because some other God was using you as a weapon. So you endured, because by so doing you fought on behalf of your God.

He looked up, and to the south-west, where the planet Mars shone red, and wondered if, had he been Pagan, he would have followed the War God. Considering his past exploits, perhaps he would have done, and perhaps not.

He blinked, and rubbed his tired eyes, and looked again. Mars could not grow like that. He was an educated man, he knew that the Mars he saw was a planer circling the Sun, as the Earth did, and many millions of miles away. He could not recall how many, but it was a good many. And for Mars to double in size, in so little time.... He could not compass the speed.

The vision seemed to fill his eyes, red and huge, not seeming to shine on anything of the Earth, and the Reverend Doctor Syn, believing that this must be his death upon him, laughed loudly, defiant in the face of eternity, for he knew his sins, many and varied, and had no doubt that this vision was not sent by God. Well, he would not start grovelling now. Red took him, and then blackness, and he knew nothing.

#30 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 01:29 PM:

Serge @24: two actors from "Rome", are in this movie

Two and a half, if you count Polly Walker (Atia) voicing Sarkoja.

#31 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 01:30 PM:

(Er, that is if you count her voice-work as a "half-role" because she doesn't physically appear in the film, though it's possible she did some motion/facial-capture work for the CGI modelling-- no slight intended on Walker's talents.)

#32 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 02:13 PM:

I've heard from two friends, one a highly skeptical ERB fan, who enjoyed the movie.

This makes the business-news smugging about "the flop of the year" really bothersome.

#33 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 02:24 PM:

Dave Bell:

Please, please, don't stop there.

#34 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 02:30 PM:

Julie L @ 30... I stand corrected. By the way, I thought that James Purefoy as Kantos Kan had the movie's funniest scene when he tried to get John Carter to abduct him.

#35 ::: Kathy Routliffe ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 04:33 PM:

I went to see the movie after having seen other fen's reasonably good reactions; I wanted it to work, because I grew up as an ERB fan in general and specifically of his Mars series (one of my original sensawonda touchstones, along with Sturgeon's A Touch of Strange and a book of Beardsley-illustrated fairy tales).

I was happily pleased with what I saw, and would probably go see it again if I had the cash to spare. The acting and the script were both serviceable and occasionally more than that. Some plot changes and adjustments made sense (although I, too, would have preferred to see the dying atmosphere plants rather than the "moving city" silliness.)

The two most important things for me were that the film team *kept* the feel, or what I thought of as the feel, of Barsoom, and they jettisoned as much as possible of ERB's woeful sexism and racism.

It didn't look, sound, smell nor taste like flop to me, but who am I to question the Grand Poobahs of Flopicity?

#36 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 05:11 PM:

If moviemaking were really about making movies and getting people to show them, studios would be doing things like handing out small budgets to indy directors and waiting for the 27th one to bring back the next Blair Witch Project, rather than sinking increasingly huge budgets into proportionately risky projects.

I look forward to seeing it, probably after our local library gets it in, and our name comes to the top of the request list (we just saw Thor, and are still waiting for Green Lantern).

#37 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 05:33 PM:

Carol Kimball @33

Considering who played Dr. Syn in the Disney movie, I am struggling to avoid a certain Welsh village...

#38 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 05:34 PM:

Hot dang! There is a 7:10 showing at the same theater where the teens will be seeing The Hunger Games at 7:30. That should work--they want to line up early for Hunger Games and John Carter is 10 min shorter than HG, so I should be out well before them unless there's a problem of some kind.

#39 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Dave Bell again -
Yes, exactly!

#40 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 06:39 PM:

I am the Burrax, I speak for the Tharks
Who happily lived in desertified scarps
Before they were mangled by strange story arcs.

I speak for the Tharks, and the red Martians too,
Who happily fought over lands made anew
Til you turned their tale into leftover stew

I speak for the fighters, the Jeds and the Jeddaks
Whose roles in the story all suffered some setbacks,
But must needs go along lest production might get axed.

#41 ::: Stefan S ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 07:05 PM:

Erik Nelson #40: Perfect, brilliant mashup. I could picture Seussified 6-armed things.

#42 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 07:43 PM:

It takes place on an environmentally devastated world. A reclusive former adventurer and fortune seeker gives his legacy of stories to a young narrator. The world is populated by fanciful made-up creatures with funny names.

#43 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 08:00 PM:

I want to go.

Unfortunately, the powers that control the local movie theatres have decreed that unless I can get myself to an early morning showing, I have to see it in 3D.

I don't want to pay the 3D markup.

So at the moment odds are very high that I'll wait until Netflix.

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 08:17 PM:

Bah, I may have missed my chance. It's already out of both my closest theaters. (Yet another way to make sure a movie's going to flop....)

#45 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 11:32 PM:

I have a question, for people who have seen this movie and liked it, does John Carter feel like Return of the King? I ask because I looked at the ads and said to myself, "Looks rather like a cross between LotR and Avatar." Since I was bored to death in both those movies I was going to give it a skip.

#46 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2012, 11:47 PM:

I liked the movie a lot. (And, no, it didn't feel like Return of the King to me.) It took itself sufficiently seriously, and it was true enough to the spirit that I remained unbothered by liberties with the text. Josh was annoyed at one of the bad guys monologuing for no good reason, but that was the only thing that bugged him, and it really didn't bug me. And, despite the monologuing, he's not sure it isn't better than the original Star Wars movie. Me, I'm not so sure, but that's a tricky call to make.

#47 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 05:12 AM:

No, this is nothing like any of Jackson's LotR movies.

It's more like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad on Mars.

#48 ::: JD Rhoades ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 07:56 AM:

I loved the books, and I'd heard ominous rumblings about changes and "updates" made to the story, so I went in being prepared to hate it. Even more so when I found out the only showing was in 3-D, which is a PITA because I have to put the 3-D glasses on over my regular ones. When they brought out the "walking" city of Zodanga, then "Professor" Dejah Thoris, I said to myself, "okay, here's where it starts to suck."

It didn't. It won me over. Willem Dafoe's Tars Tarkas began the thawing out process, and Woola completed it.

Good movie. Considering my initial bias against it, possibly an objectively great one. It could have used more Kantos Kan, though.

#49 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 10:54 AM:

"The first item is beans."
- John Carter

#50 ::: Keith Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 12:47 PM:


but I also can't help but wonder if someone had a vested interest in smearing this thing. I mean, the bad buzz began FAST.

I had the same thought. But then, why? Is it just the byzantine economics of movie making, where they have to write off a certain number of films a year for tax purposes? Unrealistic expectations? Or do critics just not like movies set on Mars?

#51 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 01:33 PM:

Ken Fletcher @17: Entirely off-topic, you are aware, I trust, that you are on my website. =:o)

Josh Berkus @19:

No kidding. I surfed onto the trailer from IMDB. Ten minutes long. The most boring ten minutes of the movie. No special effects. No sensawunda. I had to go look up JCoM in Wikipedia (never having read the books) to be sure I was watching a trailer for the right movie. I mean, wow.

The reason I did go see it was because of the buzz here. Go, ML.

I will have to say, I would have liked Woola better if he hadn't been so explicitly a dog in a newt suit. But I suppose it would be hard to code "devoted alien pet" behavior such that it would translate in the desired way for a general audience.

Serge Broom @24: two actors from "Rome"

Ceasar and Marc Antony, w00t! And Willem Dafoe FTW!

--E @28: I also had the "Wow, Frazetta!" moments.

I thought Dejah was particularly evocative.

I wish it had been available in 2-D by me. The 3-D didn't add anything to the experience.

In fact, in a lot of places, it added a perceptual distortion that made my portrait-artist brain hurt. I got the sense that the 3-D was sort of layered onto the live-action photography after the fact. And not very well. "C'mon! It's 2012! And it's Skiffy! It's gotta be 3-D."

Just like back in the early days of desktop publishing, and 3D outline text: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

#52 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 01:44 PM:

Jacque @ 51... Dejah was particularly evocative

Is that what they call it these days?

#53 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 01:49 PM:

Jacque writes:I got the sense that the 3-D was sort of layered onto the live-action photography after the fact.

Exactly so. This was filmed in the usual way, and then processed to give a 3D effect.

The Hobbit: Episode 1, A New Hob is being filmed in 3D from the outset, a much more expensive process, as used on the live-action bits of Avatar.

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 01:59 PM:

FWIW: The Hobbit movie is also being "filmed" at a very high frame rate, which as I understand makes motion very smooth and the experience more immersive and vivid.

#55 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 02:04 PM:

Niall McAuley @53: The Hobbit: Episode 1, A New Hob is being filmed in 3D from the outset, a much more expensive process, as used on the live-action bits of Avatar.

Urm, most of the live-action bits of Avatar. I got the impression they'd already started filming when they decided to go 3D, because some of the early live-action scenes have that same grammar-school-construction-paper-diorama look, like it was filmed in 2D and then retro-processed. Like I said; makes my brain hurt.

#56 ::: Chris Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 02:17 PM:

I saw John Carter. Great pop corn flick. My general take is John Cater has been marketed horribly. Which is a shame since it is a pretty decent flick.

You should see Episode III. George Lucas pulled his head out of his butt long enough to made a decent Star Wars flick. No awesome but head and shoulders above the first two prequels.

#57 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 02:24 PM:

I think I want to watch 1976's "At The Earth's Core" again.

#58 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 08:30 PM:
So, $250 million minus $184 million equals “more than $200 million”? Ooookay…. Sounds like Hollywood Accounting to me, but what do I know?

What do you know? Apparently, less than you need to, if you think that's a reasonable equation. :-)

Here's some business perspective from an onlooker a bit nearer the heart of the beast:

First, $250MM is the production budget. The production budget is not the studio's total cost for a domestic theatrical release. It's somewhere around half the total cost.

[Neep: The production budget takes you from an idea (or outline or script or whatever) to a master negative, ready for duplication and distribution - which is why it's also known as the 'negative cost.']

The other (roughly) half of the studio's cost (for a domestic release the studio itself distributes) is 'P&A' - 'Prints & Advertising'.

[Neep again: P&A is the cost of taking that master negative and making thousands of release prints (35mm film or encrypted digital hard drives mostly), shipping them to theatres, and creating and delivering the advertising that lures customers in to buy tickets.]

As a *very* general rule, domestic P&A should be about the same as your film's production budget - otherwise, you're just throwing away your production budget by not doing enough promotion to lure in the ticket buyers you need.

At the higher and lower ends of the budget range, that doesn't quite scale:

Low-budget works may have P&A spends several multiples of their production budget - making your film on the cheap doesn't make good promotion equally cheap (unfortunately) and small films can use good promotion if they want to be big hits.

At the top end, P&A usually caps out around $120-150MM, no matter how big a mega-blockbuster budget gets. There are only so many billboards and bus shelters. :-)

So, in addition to the negative cost, Disney has also spent at least $100MM on domestic P&A.

(Industry scuttlebutt says they actually spent an unusually large $200MM, because they kept re-doing trailers and promo materials when the early tracking numbers looked dismal. That can get expensive pretty quickly.)

So Disney's costs are somewhere between $350-450MM for the negative and domestic P&A.

Secondly, the studio's revenue is not at all the same as box-office gross - domestic, worldwide, or otherwise. It's considerably less.

On the domestic side, the distributor/exhibitor split is a sliding scale that starts out around 90/10 on opening weekend, and then declines over time, with the exhibs getting progressively larger fractions in subsequent weeks. Over the course of an entire run, the distributor will generally end up with about 50-55% of the total domestic box-office dollars. The rest, the exhibitors keep.

Foreign distribution is far more variable, but generally returns a somewhat lower percentage of box office dollars than domestic, since the foreign distributor - whether in-house or contracted - also has their own P&A expenses. (Also, the smaller foreign markets don't have the same economies of scale). Some foreign terrtory sales are flat-fee, some are fee+percentage, some are discount pre-sales, yadda yadda - it's all over the map.

All in all, the studio gets around half the domestic theatrical gross and somewhat less than half - how much less is pretty variable - of the foreign theatrical gross.

(Disney does most of their own foreign distribution, so they probably get a larger-than-average share of foreign boxoffice gross - maybe 35%-40% once you account for their foreign P&A.)

...earning $184 million in less than two weeks isn’t half bad.

Actually, yes it is, if that's the worldwide gross for a film that cost $350-450MM for neg+P&A.

That’s better than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone did in its first two weeks, and no one’s calling Harry Potter "a flop of legendary proportions."

No, it's NOT better - you're comparing non-equivalent numbers.

$186MM was Harry PotterSS's two-week *domestic* gross; John Carter's equivalent two-week domestic - *not* worldwide - gross was only $55MM.

*Big* difference.

And Harry Potter's neg cost was a much smaller $125MM. Its P&A was probably about $100MM, tops. It didn't need a whole lot of promotion - tell the fans when it opens, and you're basically done. :-)

So, yeah, neg+P&A of ~$225MM with a two-week domestic gross of $184MM is a serious box-office hit; neg+P&A of ~$350-450MM with a two-week domestic gross of $55MM is a serious box-office flop. No mystery 'Hollywood Accounting' there.

Here's a tip if you want to play "Hit or Flop?" with box-office and budget numbers:

A (very rough) industry rule-of-thumb for predicting overall ballpark profit-or-loss once all the ancillary revenue streams are in (including cable, TV, DVD, etc.) is to compare the size of opening-weekend domestic theatrical box-office to neg+P&A costs, as a percentage.

An opening-weekend domestic gross equal to 20% of neg+P&A costs is generally regarded as about the break-even point. Over 20% portends a profitable film; under 20% portends a loss, and the further you get from 20%, the better/worse the eventual financial picture will likely be.[1]

Applying that rule-of-thumb to John Carter and Harry PotterSS, respectively, gives:

Harry PotterSS:
$90MM domestic opening weekend / $225MM neg+P&A:
40% ratio - Big profit coming!

John Carter:
$30MM domestic opening weekend / $350MM neg+P&A:
8.6% ratio - Big loss ahead!

Seriously: given the figures, $200MM is not an unreasonable early estimate of the overall losses Disney will ultimately rack up (especially if the $200MM P&A gossip is true).

I’ve seen some flops of legendary proportions—I saw Boat Trip with Cuba Gooding, Jr—and this wasn’t one. It was a charming little SF/fantasy movie.

Don't confuse "box office flop" with "crappy movie." They're overlapping but not identical sets. :-)

Many genuinely crappy movies have been box-office hits, and some pretty decent movies have been box-office flops. Yes, those films run contrary to the general tendency; but they're not uncommon.

The contrary cases usually come down to marketing. Sharp marketing can make an investor's silk purse out of a sow's ear of a film, while inept marketing can doom even high-quality productions.

Looks like that's what happened here. The article linked above details some of the problems. The LA Times article Why did Disney's John Carter flop? has some insightful commentary as well.

No matter how good a film John Carter may be, all indications are, sadly, that it is a box-office flop, the victim of a perfect storm of marketing cock-ups. No funny math required.

At least that's how looks from this corner of Hollyweird. :-)

[1] Note that these estimates and rules-of-thumb apply generally to mainstream 'Hollywood' fare opening domestically wide-or-wider - say, 1500 screens and up.

For other sorts of films and other releasing strategies and patterns (especially odd independent films and platform release patterns), different rules and estimating techniques apply.

Your mileage may vary.

#59 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2012, 09:34 PM:

I didn't actually mind the 3D, and I do wear glasses. I could have lived without it, sure, and we would have seen it in 2D if that had been available in the time slot we had, as paying the somewhat less exorbitant 2D price would have been nice. But we wanted to make sure to see it before it vanished.

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 03:05 AM:

Stefan Jones @ 54;

It can drastically increase the realism of the film if it's projected back at the same rate. Doug Trumbull (the inventor of the "slit-scan" effect used at the end of 2001, A Space Oddessy) has been using frame rates of 72 to over 100 in theme park rides for several decades, and has been pushing to get film makers and distributors to go up to at least 48 frames.

Re 2D vs 3D: the last time I saw a 3D movie, was Alice in Wonderland, also a post-process job, not shot in 3D. Aside from the fact that the 3D added very little to the viewing experience, it gave me a nasty migraine, which seriously detracted from the experience.

#61 ::: Phil Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 03:22 AM:

I think the problem with the film is that it is steampunk, which doesn't work well outside of comics. The other critics have touched on this, referring to a cognitive dissonance between the fictional and the real Mars, but the essence of the difference is that John Carter is set on a steampunk Mars. If anyone knows how to clue an audience in to steampunk and impart to them a whole set of enjoyable expectations through the medium of a poster or short tv slot, then the franchise might even be saved. It might be possible - to my mind, what rescued pirate movies was the moment that Geoffrey Rush said "Arr!". Depp was brilliant too, but reducing the problem of selling a movie to a simple grunting noise was what made it work.

#62 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 06:04 AM:

The Mars thing might be an actual thing; I haven't seen the movie, but every SF fan I respect liked it, but every other movie set on Mars that I can remember sucked big time.

Mission to Mars, Red Planet, Ghosts of Mars...I think those are everything in the 21st century or around there...

Mission to Mars: The precursors were the abominable spawn of Greys and Pokemon.

Red Planet: We're all gonna die...oh, we can breathe on Mars! Helmets off, guys, don't worry about the temperature!

Ghosts of Mars: I'd make a joke if this movie had been sufficiently comprehensible.

Any counter-examples?

#63 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 06:11 AM:

Phil Palmer... On the other hand, how much of the public is there out there who knows about the real Mars? Throw neat stuff at them and they'll be happy, whether the place is called Tatooine or Mars. The rest of us will approach the tale saying "We know this is not the real Mars, but we'll pretend". We do that all the time when we re-read old SF set in our solar system, whether it's Bradbury's Mars or Brackett's.

The problem is that they didn't know how to sell this darn movie. And they must have had low expectations about their target audience for them to begin the movie on Mars, instead of having us discover Barsoom along with John carter.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 06:47 AM:

Marc Mielke @62: Any counter-examples?

Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Just saw it again a coupla weeks ago. HD not your friend with '60s-level production, and I got really tired of Mona's screeching. But other than that, it actually held up pretty well.

#65 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 09:09 AM:

Jacque @64: Robinson Crusoe on Mars was a movie I waited along time to see — it played once as a 9pm movie on one of the networks when I was 10 or 12; I was allowed to watch the first 20 min or so before being sent to bed.

I was probably 20 years before I caught it again. As I remember, the first half of it was pretty good.

The second half was disappointing, with spastically animated space pirate ships (the bottom half of George Pal's martian ships — which look like they had been optically cut into the movie from a print of War of the Worlds). These shots totally overwhelmed 'suspension of disbelief' for me and knocked me out of the movie.

On the other hand, I'd just picked up and have been rewatching Ray Harryhausen's First Men in the Moon. The first time I had seen that film, one of the networks had played it during the Apollo 11 television coverage while we were waiting for the astronauts to reach the moon.

#66 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 09:34 AM:

Serge Broom @57:

I think I want to watch 1976's "At The Earth's Core" again.

I watch it every so often. What my family refers to as the "cigarette lighter monster" is an old favourite.

#67 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 10:06 AM:

Jacque @ 64... Robinson Crusoe on Mars...held up pretty well

"Here on Mars, you have to face the reality of being alone forever."

#68 ::: J F W Richards ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 10:25 AM:

Marc Mielke @62: Any counter-examples?

Personally I have a degree of fondness for Total Recall.

#70 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 10:53 AM:

Harry Payne @ 66... And Peter Cushing got to show his comedic stuff.

#71 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 10:54 AM:

Don't hate me, folks, but... I like 1980's "Martian Chronicles" miniseries.

#72 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 12:06 AM:

This is what happens when I'm feeling punk and go into a thread where I know a bit about the subjedt: catch-up and minor quibbles.

Jim Macdonald: I think that 3-D is gimmicky.

I'll have to agree to disagree here. Reprocessed from 2D films like John Carter or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: I agree 100%. Films shot to throw stuff at the audience like Coming At 'Ya or The French Line (even with Howard Hawks directiing and Jane Russel in 3D), likewise. I will argue strenuously, however, that Hugo (and to a lesser extent Avatar) are not, mainly because the director spent the time and effort to use the process rather than exploit it.

Sarah: Disney's Treasure Planet, which I also enjoyed, was a (probably engineered) "box office flop."

Er, not engineered, no. A bit of background: Disney spent a shocking amount on it in 2002: 140 million is the most commonly quoted figure. The studio heads at the time were determined that it would show how Disney animation ranked above everyone in the world. My favorite example of the promotion efforts were the covers of Animation Magazine, which was the Variety of the field at that time. Before the voting for Best Animted Picture nominations were due, the studios would buy the covers and run "For Your Consideration" ads, sometimes including pictures that hadn't opened but would do so by voting time. The back cover that year was Ice Age--Fox probably didn't really think they had a chance, but it's always worth a shot. The inside front cover was Lilo and Stitch, which received only moderate publicity funding because of the deal DeBlois and Sanders made: as long as it was under budget there was to be no studio interference with the project. (I've never seen any proof, but I suspect that they'd heard enough details about the studio cancelling The Emperor's New Groove three times during production and then releasing it with an advertising budget of about $1.47 that they wanted as much protection as they could get, As it was, they got a lot of heat for casting "a porn star like Tia Carrere" as Nani.)

Inside back cover was Spirited Away. Disney had bought the rights to dump Studio Ghibli films to video, but John Lassiter threw seven kinds of shitfit, including forcing Eisner to watch Princess Mononoke with him. Eisner agreed to release it theatrically, but said it wasn't appropriate for the Disney brand and sent it to Miramax. Harvey Weinstein was eager to release it if he could cut half an hour, but when he learned that the contract prevented cutting as much as a frame of the film (Wikipedia's coverage of he reason why is reasonably accurate, but they skipped Miyazaki throwing the monitor followed by the TV out the plate glass window when they showed him Warriors of the Wind. Cowards.), he sent it out with an advertising budget that made Lilo and Stitch's budget look large. When it only made $144K the first weekend in the USA, Disney pretty much decided there was no point on theatrical releases of Miyazaki's work, but once again Lassiter got angry and the last thing they wanted to do was have him pissed at them. (Eisner didn't care about having Steve Jobs mad at him when he testified to Congress that the iPad had been created to steal Disney music. Stupid, stupid decision.) That's how the Oscar winner ended up in the back of the book.

The front cover cost the most to buy, and was traditionally saved for the film that the studio was SURE would win the Oscar. You guessed it, Treasure Planet. It grossed 38 million, which by all accounts was less than the advertising budget (I can't find a firm figure on what the advertising budget was, unfortunately.)

Dave Bell: Office politics seems rather likely. Somebody successful from Pixar gets his hands on a proper film, and it flops.

Brad Burt. Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol

#73 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 12:35 AM:

And more, because I'm a windy bastard.

Jacque:Urm, most of the live-action bits of Avatar. I got the impression they'd already started filming when they decided to go 3D, because some of the early live-action scenes have that same grammar-school-construction-paper-diorama look, like it was filmed in 2D and then retro-processed.

James Cameron has been shooting 3D off and on since 1996, with the longest preAvatar film being Ghosts of the Abyss. I haven't seen any info on 2D-to-3D having been done on Avatar, especially since Cameron had had the 3D cameras used built to his specifications. That being said, it was one of the first feature films released widely using 3D digital projection, and there were a lot of problems with theaters and the projection systems in use at the time. I suspect this may have contributed to what you saw.

(I admit to curiosity as to what the reprocessed Titanic will be like, mainly because nobody has ever thought it worthwhile to spend $8 Million on a reprocessing job before--it's either going to be total crap or tolerable and I don't know which way to bet considering how obsessive Cameron can be when it comes to tech stuff. I'm not likely to go, but I welcome reports.)

I always liked Cameron's account of the first meeting he had with Murdock executives at Fox over Avatar. According to him, the first words out of their mouths were "Can't we cut all this ecology shit?" I gather his reply was something along the lines of "If you want me, the director of the highest-grossing feature film in the history of 20th Century Fox, and of the 20th Century," (I know that's not adjusting for inflation. He probably did too,) "to take this to another studio I'll be happy to do so." Things warmed up after that.

#74 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 09:34 PM:

Okay, that was a decent movie.

Except for the 2-armed Martians all being white folk except for the woman who conducted the marriage ceremony. Since the whole "red people" idea was ditched, there was no reason for them all to be one skin color.

The Tharks were pretty wonderful, though.

Interestingly, at my local theater, which has 12 screens, only 3 movies were playing: John Carter, 21 Jump Street, and The Hunger Games, which started the week with about 7 screenings but by the time we actually got to Friday, was having screenings about every 20 minutes, in 8 or 9 of the 12 auditoriums.

Even more interestingly, while the early evening show of John Carter was lightly attended (20-25 people in there with me), the 10:20 show was sold out.

#75 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 10:29 PM:

I have nothing to add here, except that I just saw it (2D-style) and it was a good solid movie. Some smart bits, some clever bits, some funny bits, some pretty bits, and that's what I wanted out of my evening.

#76 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 11:01 PM:

Bruce Durocher at 72:

"Directing Jane Russell in 3D"

Is that 3D as in
:)3D=| ?

#77 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 11:44 PM:

Erik Nelson: That's 3-D as in the National Office of Decent Literature list, which meant that if you read a book, saw a play, or watched a movie that made the list you could be excommunicated. Until the last twenty minutes I couldn't figure out why it had made the list. Then, thanks to the miracle of Technicolor and Polaroid I found out. You can watch it on TV as much as you like but I promise it won't be as evident...

#78 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 12:31 AM:

I've seen at least one fan trailer out there:

That one is just a trifle long. They could have cut out 30 seconds. A little bit of dialog would have helped. But even so, SO much better than the dreary exercise Disney plugged the film with.

#79 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:09 AM:

Stefan Jones @ #78, I'd pay money to see the movie that trailer shows me.

#80 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 11:53 AM:

I was hearing the movie would be a flop before it was even released. Another interesting thing: no merchandise. Several people who enjoyed the movie report visiting local Disney stores to see if they could buy Carter-related material. In every case they were told there was none and that they weren't the first person to ask for it. Think about that. This was a $250m movie yet Disney - the kings of merchandising - had no tie-in merchandise ready to go if it was a success. Strange, no?

#81 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 05:01 PM:

Bruce #72:

OK, you obviously know more about it than I do; but I'm still curious - did Disney crunch the numbers and decide just before releasing Treasure Planet that it wouldn't break even?

It's just that it seemed to me (living in Toronto) that there were barely any posters and trailers promoting it, when compared with their previous animated features.

#82 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 06:27 PM:

Sarah: OK, you obviously know more about it than I do; but I'm still curious - did Disney crunch the numbers and decide just before releasing Treasure Planet that it wouldn't break even?


It's just that it seemed to me (living in Toronto) that there were barely any posters and trailers promoting it, when compared with their previous animated features.

If the release dates in Toronto were anything close to the release dates for the USA, you might not have seen the target material. To quote Wikipedia (always a dangerous thing), "Prior to and during its theatrical run, Treasure Planet had promotional support from McDonald's, Pepsi-Cola, Dreyer's, and Kellogg Company. McDonald's included promotional items such as action figures and puzzles in their Happy Meals and Mighty Meals, Pepsi-Cola placed promotional film graphics onto the packaging of a number of their soft drinks (Mountain Dew, Code Red Sierra Mist, Mug Root Beer, Orange Slice and Lipton Brisk), Dreyer's used their delivery truck panels to promote ice cream flavors inspired by the film (such as "Galactic Chocolate" and "Vanilla Treasure"), and Kellog included film-branded spoons in their cereal boxes. Hasbro also released a line-up of Treasure Planet action figures and toys."

A studio doesn't invest in tie-ins of that magnitude if they've decided the film won't break even. Disney was convinced they had a monster hit on their hands, and that Spirited Away and Lilo and Stitch would lie there and die there.

#83 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:15 AM:

I totally forgot Total Recall was on Mars! Good catch! I actually kind of liked bits of the 80's Martian Chronicles myself, and remember a fun 'sensoround' film at Disneyland called "Mission to Mars" which I liked when I was seven but can't remember anymore. I think it got cut for Space Mountain.

I keep hearing that James Cameron wants to do something involving Mars, which may or may not be an adaptation of the Kim Stanley Robinson series. Either way, anything with Cameron attached should beat my above examples just on basic production values.

#84 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:48 AM:

Rob #80, both my wife and I noticed the same thing; a distinctive lack of interest in marketing John Carter (of Mars) by Disney, either before or after the release date. Not having a plush Woola available is just plain stupid.

We saw it on opening weekend and liked it so much we saw it again this Friday. Neither theater had more than 20 people in it; last Friday there were 6. I'd say that Disney figured lots of
sci-fi junkies would naturally know who "John Carter" was and go see the movie, thinking it would sell itself.

#85 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 11:39 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @73: I suspect this may have contributed to what you saw.

Sit down with me sometime and I'll show you which scenes I suspect of being post-processed. I'm pretty confident of my evaluation, because it's just as obvious (to me) where the live-action stuff was shot in 3D.

There is no chance whatever, of course, that I'm, like, ya know, wrong. ;-)

#86 ::: Melissa Singer suspects spam? ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:11 PM:

moving on . . . .

#87 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 12:31 PM:

I enjoyed it, and even enjoyed some of the updating. (and mind you, my grandmother's first-few-pages-missing hardback of The Gods of Mars was pretty much the first grownup book I ever read.) Meanwhile, the 7-year-old sat still and didn't talk pretty much through the whole thing, which is amazing.

But what I noticed about the CNN story was that the claim was about what losses would be booked for the movie this quarter. If all of your production and marketing costs get booked against the first month of release, well, geez. And of course it makes it way easier to get out of paying off everyone who isn't a direct member of Team Rat...

#88 ::: Brian McGuinness ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 08:11 PM:

I went to the 10:50 p.m. showing last Tuesday and was the only person in the theater. So I got a great seat right in the center. I saw it in 2D, which didn't bother me as 3D isn't worth the extra money. If the film is good, you get involved in it regardless of the format.

Whenever Hollywood comes out with a film version of a book I like, my first thought is "oh, God, I hope they don't screw it up too badly." I have been disappointed many times in the past. But I was quite pleased with John Carter. It is a good, solid sword and planet film. Though it departs substantially from the original novel, A Princess of Mars, the changes don't harm the story. It feels like a genuine Burroughs story. The plot holds together much better than any of the last few Star Trek films. The characters are interesting, the acting is good, and the effects are well done. The green Martians and great white apes are quite convincing.

It saddens me that the film wasn't received better. Many people have suggested reasons, such as the fact that John Carter isn't a well known name outside of science fiction fandom, or that the trailer doesn't give a clear idea of what the film is about, or that Disney is associated with tame kiddie films. Perhaps this may eventually become a cult classic. I definitely plan to get the DVD when it comes out.

I guess Dejah Thoris is now a Disney princess. This amuses me.

--- Brian

#89 ::: Brian McGuinness ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 09:29 PM:

By the way, the walking city in John Carter reminded me of the anime series Chrome Shelled Regios, which features mobile cities roaming a post-apocalyptic Earth.

--- Brian

#90 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 11:00 PM:

I saw John Carter on Saturday. I agree with much of what's been said here: it was a watchable divertissement, certainly no masterpiece but a fun enough way to spend an afternoon.

It had flaws. The long succession of prologues at the beginning probably just confused people who, because of the marketing, didn't already have a clear idea what the movie was about. There were moments when I thought the movie was what the De Laurentiis Flash Gordon would have been had it taken itself seriously (which would probably not have been a good idea).

The Barsoomian scenery seemed visually understated compared to what it might have been, almost as if they felt a need to nod toward the real Mars. I think I would have actually liked it to be more garish and obviously fantastic.

The Tharks and Woola were wonderful; the movie lit up whenever they were onscreen. Dejah Thoris was the one really interesting human character, visually and otherwise; one of my party remarked that Lynn Collins reminded him of a young Catherine Zeta-Jones. The movie really should have kept Burroughs' title, because she's a way more engaging character than John Carter, or at least his movie version.

#91 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 11:19 PM:

Marc Mielke @83: I think the Brian de Palma "Mission to Mars" was actually one of the series of movies Disney was doing around that time that were loosely inspired by theme-park attractions ("The Haunted Mansion", "The Country Bears"; of course, the only one of the lot that anyone remembers is "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl," the surprise breakout smash.)

Since I'm not familiar with Disneyland, I didn't realize that until many years later.

#92 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 01:12 AM:

Oh! Hey Brian!

* * *

Bob Clampett's talks about his trial animation for "John Carter: War Lord of Mars"

* * *
I started reading A Princess of Mars last night. Thank you, Project Gutenberg!

#93 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 01:13 AM:

My last post was help for review. I believe because I used a "shortened" link.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 03:22 AM:

On the title: There was a movie called Princess of Mars released a couple of years ago. Since the original book pre-dates Disney, it isn't in copyright. Since this cheap movie cast Traci Lords as Dejah Thoris, I would suspect Disney wouldn't want to confuse the audience.

#95 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 04:09 AM:

Stefan Jones:
I believe because I used a "shortened" link.

Yep. Please don't do this. We're not Twitter; you can use as many characters as you like to get your point across*. And people should be allowed to see where they're going before they go there.

* Suddenly I am thinking of blog comments as Cast of Thousands major epic films, as opposed to the sparse storytelling of a two-actor stage play tweet.

#96 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 11:28 AM:

Dan Kimmel's review

He gets it, but then he also goes to Arisia, Boskone, Worldcon, etc.

#97 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 08:31 PM:

I've been seeing previews recently, which is nice because I don't have to worry about what other people think. Having said that, my views on John Carter were as others have said; it was entertaining and enjoyable enough, but had various things wrong with it and rather suffered from an assumption that the audience would be familiar with the source material. Apparently many people don't realise it's on Mars at all. See it in 2D if you can, it's a *terrible* conversion. Not only is it bad and cheap, but Stanton doesn't have a particularly depth-focused eye, so the film lacks the sort of shots that work well in 3D.

And speaking of conversions... I'm a big 3D fan and I don't like conversions much in general. But Bruce @73, you will be unsurprised to hear that after a year of Cameron's attention, Titanic 3D is just fine. There are some shots that fail (notably the crowd scenes in Southampton) because 3D doesn't much like differential focus, and there are some others where odd bits of rigging or deckchairs in the foreground pop in 3D where they wouldn't in 2D. And amusingly, the Heart of the Ocean, which always looked like a silly paste gem and not a diamond (despite being quite a serious necklace for a prop) looks even more rubbish in 3D, like something you might get in a Happy Meal. But in general, Cameron made good use of depth in his original choices and it transfers really well. And the closeups are good too; some of them are really impressive. Disclosure, I got free tickets to that one too, to a screening at the Empire Leicester Square, so I think we can safely say the projection and sound were top notch.

#98 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 10:24 AM:

One of the reasons the "Heart of the Ocean" is not convincing as a blue diamond on screen is that it lacks the coldness of color that most true diamonds possess.

Diamonds are not warm stones -- the blues seem to have an almost metallic appearance, whether the deep blue of the Hope and Empress Eugenie's ring (both in the Smithsonian) to the lighter blues available in some jewelry stores.

Natural Blue Diamonds

"Heart" looks like a copy of a REALLY nice sapphire and in some shots the stone looks to be matte black instead of blue. It lacks the fire I'd expect a diamond to have...

#99 ::: Lori Coulson has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 10:31 AM:

Help -- the gnomes have taken my post hostage.

#100 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2012, 10:21 PM:

Saw John Carter this afternoon in 2D (3D gives me splitting headaches) and loved it. The Tharks were completely convincing and fully present--no sense of being 'pasted in'. I adored Woola also.

I had just re-read A Princess of Mars, but my husband and daughter, neither of whom had ever read any John Carter books, also enjoyed the movie a great deal.

I think my favorite bit, though, was Carter's final acquisition of the medallion. Beautiful.

#101 ::: Robert ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2012, 01:12 PM:

I was disapointed by the reviews as both I and my 21 year old son enjoyed it. Considering the lack of advertising or marketing, (re-released books and action toys should have been a natural) that such an "expensive" movie should have expected leads me to believe that it was meant to flop. As an aside I thought it far outshone Avatar, which I did find to be quite overblown after all the media hype.

#102 ::: dome ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2012, 03:04 AM:

smelt like AVATAR-ENVY to me!!!

#103 ::: OtterB see possible spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2012, 10:43 AM:

inactive thread, first time poster ... dome, are you real?

#104 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2012, 03:15 PM:

Fairly silly comment too, since the novel was published in 1917.

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