Disneys John Carter: Why did it fail?By now, the arguments seeking to explain Disneys "John Carter" debacle have flown sofast theyve almost contradicted themselves.The Taylor Kitsch-starring science-fiction epic, which grossed just $30.6 million thisweekend on a budget of more than $250 million, should have played more heavily to thesci-fi crowd, one argument went (the film didnt go to Comic-con and dropped "Mars"from its title). Or maybe it was the opposite -- Disney should have made the film look andfeel more accessible. Those indecipherable creatures in its billboards and its televisionspots emphasizing the arcana of Barsoom battles didnt exactly scream an all-agesmust-see.The truth is that both sides are a little right. Disney could have played harder to the baseand potentially made the film work -- presuming, of course, that the budget andexpectations were commensurately modest from the outset.Or, having made an absurdly expensive movie, it could have tried to figure out betterways to bring everyone along. As it was, viewership came in at ratio of 3:2 in favor ofthose over the age of 25 -- not exactly the youthful audience a studio wants in this and-the-teenagers-shall-lead-them era of movie consumption.Needless to say, Disney marketers were also working with a film that didnt exactly blowanyone away. Directed by Andrew Stanton, "John Carter" was panned on many fanblogs and garnered a measly 48% positive on Movie Review Intelligence, drawing poorreviews even from those who tend to give duds a pass.But although theres plenty of blame to go around on both the creative and marketingsides, theres another factor: the source material itself. Disney could have made a better
movie and sold it more persuasively to a skeptical public. But it was dealing with astacked deck from the start."John Carter" is based primarily on "A Princess of Mars," the first in Edgar RiceBurroughs early 20th century 11-volume series of Barsoom novels. Its a touchstonework of science fiction -- so touchstone that many viewers dont know what it is.More to the point, its an epic, which can be a tough sell no matter the studio ormarketing strategy. In todays climate, big action-adventure movies work, but theyre notusually epics -- more like movies based on a very simple concept (like, cars that turn intorobots that fight each other).Actually, "John Carter" is even tougher material than a typical epic, because its thebeginning of an epic -- not a film conceived as a stand-alone, self-contained piece, a la"Avatar."The irony in all this is that "John Carter" follows in the tradition (and indeed, its sourcematerial helped inspire) the most successful science-fiction epic in the history of cinema,"Star Wars," with both movies featuring interplanetary combat and sprawling fictionaluniverses, and also marrying spectacle with identifiable heroes.Disney and Stanton didnt come within a galaxy of fashioning "Star Wars" fromBurroughs work. But its not clear that todays "Transformers"-ready multiplex audiencewould have been hugely open to it even if they had.