John Carter (2012)
Dir: Andrew Stanton
Well, it’s not hard to see why that flopped!
‘John Carter’ (of Mars) is a sci-fi adventure set around the time of the American civil war, Captain Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has left the confederate army and is looking for his fortune in gold, however being a skilled soldier he is pressured into rejoining the army to help fight native Americans. However Carter escapes, ends up in a cave, where by fateful timing he bumps into a materializing Thern (Martian religious figure with clever tech), and ends up transported to the barren surface of Mars, known to locals as Barsoom. Captured and then invited into a tribe of Tharks (tall stick insect-like green Martians led by a motion captured Willem Dafoe), he fights himself fighting for the affections of a human-looking Martian princess (Lynn Collins) and trying to unite warring factions against a common enemy (Dominic West) who is being helped by leader of the advanced Therns (Mark Strong).
That’s the plot very much simplified, there’s an awful lot more than that.
When released, it very quickly ended up looking like this might be the biggest box office flop in history. Eventually it wasn’t, just one of the biggest. There are a few reasons for this, primarily the huge costs involved in making a film so heavy on CGI, and then the massive promotional budget that went along with that but which failed to attract a lot in the way of serious tie-ins, possibly as there were bigger and better films just about to be released such as ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.
The director was Andrew Stanton, known best for his work at Pixar, including directing ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Wall-E’ as well as writing ‘Monsters Inc’ and the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy. Based on those credentials, it’s not difficult to see why Disney granted him a $250 million budget, however he dropped the ball on this one.
My view on that, based on listening to interviews with him about this, reading many articles, and now having seen the film is this… he was far too reverential of the source material, and determined to adapt that fully. ‘John Carter’ was intended as the first part of a trilogy, right from the beginning, and Stanton adapted so many aspects from the original novels, written by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. There may have been good reason why in the 100 years since the books were published, nobody had successfully brought this to the big screen.
So many elements from the novels however have been referenced in films already. James Cameron has said it was a major influence in his writing of ‘Avatar’ (coincidentally the biggest grossing film of all time) and its planned sequels. There are also small elements and nods to be found in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, as well as original versions of ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Buck Rogers’. On top of those, so much of this has since been done in some form. It’s no surprise now to see very well generated aliens on screen, surfaces of other planets, or people with super-human abilities (as Carter can jump very well due to the atmosphere and his bone density). So in a way of its own doing and simultaneously no fault of its own, this feels in no way original as it’s late to the boat that the source texts helped create. Trying to put all these things in just over complicates the story, and though it may be loyal to the original books, it makes the film hard to follow and would lose so many viewers especially children.
There’s very little chance of the suggested sequels making it to the big screen, Disney suffered huge losses financially because of this (which were later recouped by ‘Marvel’s Avengers’) and people were fired. Sadly the blame must go to the writers who couldn’t pull themselves away from the books enough to simplify the story enough to make it more enjoyable, it felt like a chore watching it, and that shouldn’t be the case about a film with such an adventurous premise as a soldier beamed to Mars who can jump like Superman!