Wow, wow, wow. I can’t imagine how the suits at Disney are feeling right about now but it can’t be good. After a huge last minute push that included the studio offering up not one but two large chunks of the film on-line for free, John Carter still got beat by the second week of the Seuss cartoon The Lorax at the domestic box office. On the other hand, the film set records in some of the biggest overseas markets so the news wasn’t as bad as someindustry naysayers were predicting.
Still, I have to think Disney could have done things better and if they had, John Carter might have had a fighting chance. For that reason I am offering five unsolicited suggestions for what Disney could have done to put fannies in the seats for this audacious film.
PUT PIXAR’S NAME ON THE FILM
To me this was a no brainer. From everything I ever heard about this film it was shepherded in and green lit because of director Andrew Stanton’s Pixar connections. He also used a lot of his Pixar contacts to provide the CGI work on the film. So why not call a spade a spade and slap that very salable Pixar name above the title. That would have certainly helped opening weekend dollars and had the audience responded favorably — it earned a B+ CinemaScore — it could have helped over the following weeks.
I think a lot of people in Hollywood and the blogosphere assumed Stanton’s name alone would allow audiences to make the Pixar connection but that was a pipe dream. Sometimes film people get stuck in their own bubbles and miss the big picture. General audiences know the Pixar name, not Andrew Stanton.
CHANGE OUT THAT HORRIBLE POSTER!
Graphic Design 101. Avoid using red backgrounds when trying to draw an audience. It is a negative color. Yes, I know the action takes place on “the Red Planet” but that doesn’t mean you make a poster that basically tells audiences to stay away. If you were so concerned about people knowing that the action takes place on the red planet maybe you should have left “Mars” in the title. As it is, it looks like it could be an outtake from 10,000 BC. How a group of studio suits and marketing execs sit in a room and approve that poster is beyond me.
Plus a picture of a lone man walking along might work if the lone man is, say, Brad Pitt, r even Tom Cruise. But Taylor Kitsch? Who?
Once again this is a case of insiders living in a bubble. Memo to Hollywood, I know everyone in the industry Tivo’d “Friday Night Lights” and know who this kid is, but the other 7 billion people on the planet have no idea. Seriously take a trip out to Pomona once in a while and get a clue. To most people that poster is a young man they’ve never heard of, playing a character they’ve never heard of. You could have told the audience John Carter was playing Taylor Kitsch and no one would have been the wiser.
SPEND LESS ENERGY TRYING TO TELL EVERYONE WHAT JOHN CARTER ISN’T
The original title of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first John Carter book was A Princess From Mars. Rumor has it that Disney didn’t want to use that title because they were afraid it would cause confusion with their very profitable Disney Princess franchise. That was part of the reason they decided to call the film John Carter of Mars in the first place. Besides, John Carter was already set to be the main character in Andrew Stanton’s adaptation.
This was followed by the insane decision last year to remove “Mars” from the title after Mars Needs Moms bombed badly at the box office. People understood that Disney was gun-shy, but you can’t just cut it down to John Carter. A name so plain and nondescript that no one even knew what to think of it. Heck, the Untitled Andrew Stanton Project would have been better than that. At least there would have been curiosity factor.
Then there was the reluctance to let the audience know that John Carter was originally from earth. Again, I get it. Cowboys and Aliens bombed. So did Jonah Hex. You don’t want to let people know that John Carter is a Confederate soldier who travels to Mars. You don’t want the audience comparing it to two failed movies that came out recently.
These decisions might have been okay if the main character was say, Superman, Spider-Man or even the Green Lantern. John Carter is just too obscure. Which brings be to my next suggestion.
SPEND MORE ENERGY TELLING EVERYONE WHAT JOHN CARTER IS
I don’t want to rain on the parade of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans, but the fact is very few people know who ERB is in this day and age. If you say something like “he was the guy who wrote the Tarzan books” then maybe there is a hint of recognition. A hint. He just isn’t well known to today’s filmgoing audiences. He does have a legion of fans among sci-fi aficionados and writers, however. That’s why I would have been out there with teaser trailers that showed his fans telling us who ERB was and why we should be excited about a new film adaptation of his work. Even Stanton geeking out and then showing a clip would have been nice.
Tell us why we should care. You say he was an inspiration for Superman. Tell us how. Star Wars, too? Please explain.
Then tell us what the story is about because the trailers certainly didn’t. Who is John Carter and why is he on Mars? When does this take place? Why doesn’t the Mars rover catch any of this action. Can we go get John if he’s living up there? Wouldn’t he be the perfect man to manage Newt Gingrich’s moon station? Just watch the teaser trailer above and tell me if you can figure out what’s going on.
I have to say I was stunned when I heard Stanton was scheduled to talk to the TED Conference last week. Talk about tone deaf. Talk about playing to the band. I want people to see my film so I’m going to speak at a conference for silicon valley suits. Yeah, that’ll bring in the kids. When your film is tracking as soft as John Carter is, Stanton should be out tap dancing in front of theaters. Showing up at screenings instead of starting work on a sequel that probably won’t ever happen. A lot more Tarantino and lot less Steve Jobs was needed to sell this film.
Which brings me to my last suggestion.
LIFT THE REVIEW EMBARGOES
Press embargoes are generally one of the worst ideas ever. Most film companies use them to control what is being written and when. Which makes sense to a degree. Who wants a film review out a year before the film hits theaters. The problem is that a lot of film companies ask you to hold the review until right before the film comes out and I’m not sure if an article that comes out the day and date really helps much these days.
Earlier this year David Fincher and Scott Rudinwent off on David Denby of the New Yorker for running a positive review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a week early. What did it get them? Not much other than a little negative press and a stupid debate amongst bloggers and critics about who was correct. I don’t think it affected the film’s performance one way or another. The film did okay although probably not as well as Sony wanted. Still I doubt Denby’s review changed a single mind regarding who went to see the film.
Disney should have lifted the review embargo as soon as they saw the soft tracking numbers three weeks before the film was scheduled to come out. John Carter needed press and awareness. Any press and awareness. The embargo was ultimately lifted the Friday night before the film was released. Yeah, because Friday night is when people are ready to read a review of a movie they haven’t even heard of, starring an actor they hadn’t heard of, with a title and a trailer that doesn’t tell them anything.
I had a friend who used to work for Madonna. One time they did a big fashion show and the press reactions were very mixed when they came out the following day. My friend then called the pop diva mentioned that she was disappointed the reviews weren’t better, to which my friend told me Madonna replied, “There was a full color picture on the front page of the New York Times. Who cares what they said.” That’s why Madonna is global.
Those are my suggestions and that’s without even examining the film itself. Do you have any additional suggestions as to what could have been done to help John Carter, or was the film doomed from the start? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
via Five Things Disney Could Have Done to Save ‘John Carter’ | Rope of Silicon.