Reel Lessons

Reel Lessons: John Carter

Everyone lives happily ever after in this inter-planetary romance (except for the cast and crew).


Nasa's Curiosity Rover has yet to discover evidence of these white apes (Disney Entertainment)

This doesn't look like an ER spinoff.
Different John Carter. This one is “John Carter of Mars”, a character from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp classic A Princess of Mars, which predates NBC’s hospital drama by about 70 years.

Does Noah Wyle at least make a cameo?

Am I the only one who thinks it’s a stupid title?
Noah Wyle probably agrees with you, but a Disney marketing exec thought it was better than the original effort: John Carter of Mars.

What was wrong with that?
Disney wanted to appeal to a broader audience.

People who don’t like movies about Mars?
Yes. Disney kind of banned the word “Mars” after its 2011 flop Mars Needs Moms, according to Hollywood Reporter. The studio also noted that Mars Attacks and Mission to Mars were commercial failures, so it chose to steer clear of the subject.

But Mars features quite prominently in this movie, right?
Oh, sure. John Carter gets transported to the red planet (known locally as Barsoom) from civil-war Arizona, only to find himself in the middle of a thousand-year war between the Red Martian cities of Helium and Zodanga.

So how did this don’t-mention-the-Martians marketing strategy work out?
Brilliant. It topped US box office numbers on opening night back in March and was in the number-one spot worldwide for the opening weekend.

Why haven’t I heard of it?
No idea. It broke box office records in Russia and was extremely popular in China.

Can we expect a franchise?
That was the original plan; and there’s certainly no shortage of source material. The Barsoom novels cover almost 80 years of Martian history through 11 books, starting with A Princess of Mars and including such classics as Thuvia, Maid of Mars and Skeleton Men of Jupiter.

That’s four more books than Harry Potter...
Yes! And, even better, the US copyright on the first handful of novels has already expired.

Ka-ching! Perhaps a John Carter ride at Hong Kong Disneyland?
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The movie was big in Russia, to be sure, but the vagaries of Hollywood accounting are sometimes hard to understand.

Do you mean it bombed?
Disney is blaming the film’s excellent performance for a $161 million hole in its studio division’s operating income during the first quarter of 2012.

You said it topped the box office...
For one day. It lost out to The Lorax over the full opening weekend and some estimate that the movie cost close to $300 million to make. The upside is that it’s already available in video stores and for considerably less than your run-of-the-mill blockbuster.

You’re saying it’s a bargain?
Yes, I am. The movie was a marketing disaster, but really isn’t quite as bad as its box office  performance suggests. If you like Martians.


This article was first published in the August issue of FinanceAsia magazine

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