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Well here’s someone who puts up a good fight to restore the honour of John Carter

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Two years ago I gave John Carter a two star rating. Compared to other reviewers I was kind – many gave it a 1/5. It had been appointed to be the laughing stock of the year and there was an ongoing competition in who could write the most scathing post about it.

I hate mob mentality for many good reasons. As much as I can I try to stay away from the crowd when I do my movie writing. I don’t want to be infected by other people’s thoughts. I want to think for myself, trust my own judgement.

The question is: did I give John Carter a fair chance when it came out? Would I have been as critical as I was if there had been a thousand headed choir singing its praise instead of bitching about it?

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood
This nagging thought has been with me for a while, but it became even more urgent when I recently read Michael Sellers’ book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

This is not exactly a behind-the-scenes book; Sellers had no personal part in the making of the film. But it’s a book about the making of the 2012 movie, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp stories, going through previous attempts to make film of this franchise, explaining in depth what went wrong with this film, and finally sharing some thoughts about what the future looks like.

It’s written with the perspective of a true fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, but unlike most fans Sellers also works professionally in the film industry. He’s not rich or famous but it’s clear that he knows what he’s talking about. When he criticizes Disney for their missteps, it’s not the clueless rant by some random fan boy. It’s all well-argued and gives a new and much more nuanced picture of Disney’s actions.

JCATGOHBad usage of social media
While some ill-judged decisions were taken during the production, the biggest problem according to Sellers was in the marketing. Compared to other movies there was very little effort put into it.

It was said that social media would be used to great extent and a supposed expert in the field was hired for this purpose. But in reality, the activity level on Facebook and Twitter was a joke. A comparison with The Hunger Games, which came out around the same time and competed for the public attention, makes it very clear. Lionsgate used several Twitter accounts, which were used actively. For instance they tweeted stories, warnings and encouragement in character. This helped to build a cool factor, and The Hunger Games ended up with over 400 000 followers on Twitter, compared to 9 400 for John Carter. Only on the opening day, The Hunger Games account put out over 40 tweets. Three weeks in to its release the John Carter account had managed a total of 240 tweets, all “largely uninspiring”, such as “John Carter is now in theatres; are you going?” And it hardly retweeted anything at all, which Sellers points out is essential to generate buzz.

The Facebook marketing was, if possible, even worse. All the updates consisted of canned “spam” announcements that could have been written months earlier. Examples of lacklustre updates are given: “In the film, Edgar Rice Burroughs is the nephew of John Carter. He inherits his uncle’s journal, which details Carter’s journey to a strange, new world”. “Bring Barsoom home with these John Carter items from the Disney Store.”

Meanwhile The Hunger Games had “daily updates with all kind of special offers, free downloaded games that were actually fun and inside activities with plenty of “cool factor”” For example there were 13 Facebook pages for the film, representing each of the districts. Fans could become virtual citizens of each district, and since there was a large novel fan base, familiar with the context, it worked. The John Carter books don’t have that size of audience nowadays, but there is a fan base that could have helped out to build a community and spread the word. However Disney didn’t bother to reach out and cooperate with them. And the social media marketing ended up being close to non-existent.

I go into a lot of detail here as I refer the part about this particular aspect, but it’s because I find it so interesting. Anyone who is interested in PR can learn from it; you don’t need to be a John Carter fan.

The alternative trailer
I also loved to read about the efforts that the fan community made to “save” the film when they realized that the marketing was poor and that Disney had given up on it even before it opened. The official trailer was so bad that Sellers put together an alternative trailer by material he found online, cut and presented in a different manner, which made more sense and caught the essence of John Carter to an audience that wasn’t familiar with the franchise. He put it on YouTube and within short the link had spread all over the net, through forums, blog posts and tweets. It was an instant success. If this had been a Hollywood film, it would have been the turning point that ultimately saved the doomed film, but alas that didn’t happen. It was far too late at that point to turn the ship. It was a nice try though.

Campaign for a sequel
In the final chapter the author argues why it’s totally doable to make a sequel to John Carter and why this even could be profitable. There is a way forward, he says, and reminds us that the literary property is good (or actually “exceptional” – yes, I told you, he’s a true fan) and that there is a substantial fan base in place and ready to support future films. He also points out that John Carter didn’t do quite as bad in the box office as the rumours have led us to believe. It did far better outside of US, particularly in Russia and China, yielding close to 300 million dollars in global sales. There is no reason to believe that a sequel has to be a loss, says Sellers, and explains how it could be done way cheaper than the first movie.

The Burroughs fan community is campaigning for a continuation of the John Carter franchise on the movie screen. They know that it may take some time before this can happen.

“Before there can be continuation, there must be a gradual rehabilitation of the image and reputation of the film and the underlying property it depicts”.[…] “Continue to use your voices; you will be heard”

3D, 2D or b/w?
I hear you loud and clear and once again I’m asking myself what role the mediocre 3D played for my assessment. There’s no way around it; it looked truly horrendous in my theatre, as if I had been watching it through a Viewmaster toy from the 60s, all characters looking like paper dolls, which was so distracting that I hardly could think of anything else. There was no 2D alternative in my city. What if there had been? Would I have liked it more? There is a way to find out. It’s currently available on Netflix. Perhaps I should give it another chance while I’m still under influence of the enthusiasm of a hard core fan?

Still: like I suggested last time, I think it would be very cool to make a black and white silent film based on John Carter, a piece of fan love, similar to the one that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has made of Call of Cthulhu. If the Edgar Rice Burroughs fans ever run out of steam trying to convince Disney to make another film, I hope they consider this as an option.

Written by Jessica

June 24, 2014 at 12:36 am

Posted in John Carter

How John Carter could have been saved

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John Carter. How much didn’t I want to love you?

I watched it in the biggest theatre of my city, the one that is reserved for premier weeks, blockbusters and movies for children. This was the fifth night it was running and the theatre was shockingly empty, reminding me of the deserted restaurants I had seen in Athens in the weekend.

In Greece it was lack of money that kept people from going. Here there were other forces at play. Not many people in Sweden have ever heard of John Carter. And like elsewhere, the reviews have been less than favourable.

But here we were – a handful of enthusiasts who didn’t care. I had had enough of criticism and ridicule.

What did they know anyway? What did they expect? Pulp fiction from a hundred years ago is supposed to be a little bit corny, more imaginative than believable! That’s what makes it so charming. Those people were bashing on John Carter out of ignorance. They probably just didn’t understand. At least that’s what I told myself.

It was time for a reversed backlash for this movie. The tide was going to turn and I was going to stand in the frontline and make it happen.

My heart reached out to the director Andrew Stanton. After listening to two interviews with him, it stood clear to me that he was a true fan, a friend of John Carter’s. He was the geek who talked Disney into doing this. It was a dream coming true. He had spent his childhood making drawings inspired by the book series. Andrew Stanton wasn’t a clueless and greedy schmuck looking for stealing our money; he was one of us. A geek. Or at least that was what his answers in the interviews had led me to believe.

I went to see John Carter with the best possible intentions, a smile on my face, convinced that I was going to see something that all those critics didn’t see; that they were just ignorant and snobbish. I had read and loved the books in my youth. I had seen the light. And now I was going to bring it to the world.

I wanted to love John Carter, but I failed miserably.

The problems
I’m a little bit reluctant to talk about the problems with it, because so many others have done it already. But I guess I should give a few reasons for why I couldn’t take it to my heart.

One major issue is the script, which reminded me a bit of the adaptation of Tintin last year. It’s messy to say the least. There isn’t much of a story to engage in; apart from the parts that take place on Earth, it’s basically a bunch of battle scenes loosely glued together. And for all the action, it’s strangely boring. I caught myself several times being on the verge of falling asleep.

But the biggest problem isn’t the script. It’s the 3D.

When there is an option between 3D and normal, I always go for the normal format. This means that I’ve watched very few movies in 3D. In the case of John Carter there were no options. I had to watch it with glasses or not at all.

I was completely shocked at how bad the 3D was. Is this how it looks? Really?

I always imagined the idea was to make the movie feel more real and believable, but this was exactly the opposite.  The 3D made people look like old-fashioned paper dolls acting in front of a screen in the background.  It looked just as terrible and unrealistic as an inside shot from a car in a movie from the 60s. And it didn’t get better by the subtitles, huge rows of letters that hovered in the air in front of everything.

This made me quite worried, thinking about that the movie I’m looking forward to most this year, The Hobbit, will be shot in 3D. Please, please, tell me there are different 3Ds! If The Hobbit is going to look anything like this, it will break my heart.

There’s a lot more to say about the treatment they’ve given the source material. While the books obviously are dated, I find the efforts to update them quite misguided. I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a sword in the hands of Dejah Thoris to make her appear more like a modern woman. She isn’t anyway. She’s was always there to be desired, admired and rescued from various villains. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring in those aliens who look as if they’ve escaped from a Star Trek recording and to let John Carter do his space travelling with devices instead of with thought power. I’m a huge Star Trek fan but it just doesn’t fit.

90 years too late
I could go on and on but what’s the point of rubbing salt into the wounds?

I think John Carter was made about 90 years too late. But since time travelling isn’t possible, I have another idea.

Imagine if the makers of this movie accidentally had bumped into the makers of The Artist. Imagine if they’d gotten into a conversation and something had clicked.

“We think people are in the mood for nostalgia so we’re making a silent film.”

“We’re on the nostalgic line as well, so we’re making a movie about an action hero from a hundred years ago.”



“Why don’t we make a joint effort?”

“Yeah, why don’t we?”

John Carter in black and white, John Carter as a silent film. Wouldn’t that have been quite something?

John Carter (Andrew Stanton, US 2012) My rating: 2/5

Written by Jessica

March 15, 2012 at 7:53 am