I liked the film adaptation of John Carter. I really, really liked it, but that was when I eventually got around to seeing it, late in its theatrical run when it had already been deemed a failure. I would love to see more adventures of the Virginia cavalry man on the alien world of Barsoom, but after reputedly costing $250 million to make and an additional $100 million to market, the bar for success for Carter’s modern cinematic debut was set too high for the film to be considered any sort of success and for sequels to be green lit.
In his analysis of the film Michael D. Sellers, ex-CIA officer, writer, filmmaker, and film distribution executive, examines the phenomenon of John Carter, a character that has lasted over 100 years; the life of his author, Edgar Rice Burroughs; the history of the numerous adaptations attempted over the years, and the many factors and missteps that most likely resulted in the 2012 film joining the ranks of Heaven’s Gate and Waterworld on the list of biggest Hollywood blunders.
Sellers, operator of the John Carter Files fansite and creator of a well received fan trailer for the film,(one that even caught the eye of the director Andrew Stanton), is obviously a fan of the books, and his book charts the rise and fall of his hopes for the franchise throughout production. While his love for the source material shines through, some of the early sections relating to Edgar Rice Burroughs life, his “genius” in creating John Carter of Mars and the “genius” of the character himself, border slightly on hero worship. These sections don’t overstay their welcome however, and the later description and analysis of how the marketing campaign unfurled, (or rather unravelled), are a compelling study of how to chart the effectiveness of a marketing spend in the digital age. Unfortunately for John Carter, everything that could go wrong in the digital age, did go wrong, with confusing name changes, botched Super Bowl and TV trailer debut’s, boring posters and lackadaisical engagement of social media, all contributing to the toxic word of mouth the film generated prior to release.
Sellers evaluates each step in John Carter’s marketing campaign by how many posts and articles it generated on Facebook and twitter, the reaction to those on the best known movie related sites and how its “MovieMeter” ranking and number of discussions generated on IMDB, compared with similarly budgeted contemporaries such as The Hunger Games, and provides a guide to spotting if your movie is in trouble for execs of any upcoming blockbusters. The inclusion of website comments to bolster some of his arguments may be a mistake, however. If you look hard enough, you can find website comments supporting pretty much anything on the internet these days, no matter how heinous.
Sellers finishes up by examining the role of each of the main players in the production, Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company; Dick Cook, former Disney Studios head; Rich Ross, Dick Cook’s successor; MT Carney, President of Marketing for Walt Disney Studios Worldwide; and director Andrew Stanton, as looking at the official statements they made. After producing his own fan trailer in reaction to the lacklustre official debut trailer, Sellers even had meetings with Disney execs, although not quite in the capacity he would have hoped.
As this contact came at a low level and near the end of the campaign his insight into the thoughts “at the top” may be limited to conjecture, although Sellers does acknowledge anonymous contributions from the film studio and Film crew, so there may be much more to the tale than Sellers can tell in this book, however we’ll probably have to wait until all the major players are out of the industry to hear that saga.
Until then John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a read if you’re wondering where it all went wrong for John Carter, or interested in the internal workings of the “Hollywood machine”.