Monday, April 23, 2012

Reel Facts & Opinions: The JOHN CARTER Fallout

FACT: Rich Ross, the chairman of Walt Disney Co.’s film unit, has resigned following the company’s $200 million dollar loss on their recent sci-fi movie, JOHN CARTER. The loss is believed to be the biggest ever for a major motion picture.

OPINION: You know the universe is in a sad state when an adaptation of a classic science fiction story is an outright financial disaster, and watered-down tweeny-bopper films like TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES make billions. Ross has officially resigned, but the writing was on the wall for the man who was responsible for another flop (MARS NEEDS MOMS), and failed miserably at making ol’ JC the next Luke Skywalker.

So how did he do it?

1. Bad Marketing

From as far back as January (if not sooner), general audiences were confused over what this JOHN CARTER film was all about. The marketing was cryptic and showed little to no reference to the classic books the character came from. The shortening of the title, while a decent idea in theory (audiences seem to be reacting better to shorter titles, damn YouTube generation), seemed to backfire as people were given little to nothing to go on. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if your movie is good or not as long as you get people to buy tickets.

2. Money not spent wisely.

In watching JOHN CARTER, you have to wonder where that big budget ($250 million) went to. Granted, nearly every shot in the film involved a CGI character or some sort of CGI enhancement, but there was never really anything that pushed the limits of what the world has been seeing out of CGI for the past 15 years. Take for example the sci-fi film DISTRICT 9 (2009), which was made with a teeny-weeny budget of $30 million. The film had eye-popping visual effects and was eventually nominated for Oscars. While DISTRICT 9 had a small, independent-film vibe (the cast was virtually unknown to American audiences), it made back its budget and is well-regarded among sci-fi fans. JOHN CARTER was shooting too high; maybe trying to become the next AVATAR when they should have been trying to become the next DISTRICT 9.

3. Release Date

As dense as general audiences may sometimes be, give them some credit; they know that movies released in the first quarter of the year are usually bantha-fodder, even though some of them aren’t. The general consensus is that the real movie-year doesn’t begin until the first week of May; the official start of the summer-blockbuster season. In Disney’s defense, they probably didn’t want their new (and virtually unknown) property going up against the established heavyweights over the summer months (AVENGERS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES), but they could have made a decent run in the month of August, when the coast is usually a little more clear.


Ross likely deserves to be sent packing because of the mess he made, and the effects will be long-lasting. Studio execs will be veering away from new projects out of the fear of another JOHN CARTER money-loser, which means even more re-makes and re-boots of already established properties. Stand by for Tim Burton’s live-action re-make of THE LITTLE MERMAID.

What say you?

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