Forget what critics are saying. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and adventure then “John Carter” is right up your alley. Flash Gordon… Buck Rogers….Luke Skywalker….John Carter. I’m sure the first three names are recognizable to most, having been science fiction icons for years, but the truth is that John Carter predates all of them.
You might be saying “What do you mean Mike? This is the first I’ve heard of John Carter.” Well let me drop a knowledge bomb on you before we get to the actual review.
John Carter was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan, and first appeared in pulp magazine stories entitled “Under the Moons of Mars” in 1912. So the 2012 release of this movie marks the 100 year anniversary of the character. This character and this concept have been around for a long time and inspired many of science fiction’s best stories, including “Star Wars”. So the reason John Carter hasn’t been made into a major motion picture before this is that studios had the tendency to look at the script and think “Oh this has been done before.” The really funny thing is that Disney has had the legal rights to John Carter since before they even made Snow White and are just now getting around to making a movie about it. So with all that being said, John Carter should be a more well known character and we owe him and Edgar Rice Burroughs a debt of gratitude for inspiring and paving the way for some of the greatest Science Fiction stories in history. Okay, so knowledge sufficiently dropped, on to the review.
Like so many other “popcorn” movies, this film has not been getting great reviews, but like so many times before I ignored the critics, went to see it and really, really enjoyed it. John Carter tells the story of a Civil War veteran who finds a magic amulet and is transported to Mars. While on Mars he has super strength and other powers due to the change in gravity. He meets and falls in love with the Princess of Mars and together they help lead a rebellion against the ruling warlords. Altogether, pretty standard science fiction, but still very enjoyable.
So let me reiterate that I liked this movie, but I also understand why it was a huge flop. In fact, recent reports are stating that it's one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. So if it's actually a pretty good sci-fi flick then why did it do so poorly? Rather than me examining what made the movie good, allow me to deconstruct the movie by pointing out a few of the reasons I think it tanked.
1.) Title: The character that this movie is based on is normally referred to as "John Carter of Mars" in the titles of his books. Even if you know nothing but the title, you realize that this story is going to be some kind of science fiction just by adding "of Mars" to the title. You immediately know what genre you're dealing with. Now Disney made a movie of a property that has been around for 100 years, but has never gotten much exposure. So their brilliant idea is "lets just name it "John Carter." Not just that, but the main poster that was promoting the movie only had the initials "J C M" in some weird font with just Taylor Kitsch's face on it (more on that later.) So the name of the film and the poster did nothing to grab people's attention. With just then name "John Carter" now you could be in any genre out there. This could be a drama, or a comedy, or a cooking show for all we know. Why change a perfectly good name to make it more ambiguous. The character isn't so famous that people would know what the movie is just by his name alone. It's not like they were releasing a film called "Bruce Wayne." Then we'd all be like "Oh, that's a Batman movie. I'm sorry honey, I can't pick up the kids because I'll be standing in line for the next 48 hours to get tickets to see this movie. Don't wait up" Heck, Christopher Nolan named the second film "The Dark Knight" and people still weren't fooled by that crap, and that's just his nick name. HIS NICK NAME! So what I'm trying to get at is the name change was unnecessary and detrimental to the films success.
The “teaser” poster that was used for a year leading up to the movie. Not much of a tease when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be excited for.
2.)The Stars: So on top of having an unknown character, with a nondescript title, they go ahead and get two unknown actors to be the main characters. Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter and Lynn Collins plays Princess Dajah. Both were very good in their roles, but that doesn't change the fact that no one knows who they are, and lets face it, Americans like seeing actors they already know they like in their movies. You've got to play the small roles to gain enough notoriety before people will accept you as the leading man/woman. Unfortunately, Taylor Kitsch's claims to fame so far have been his role on the football drama "Friday Night Lights" and his brief appearances as Gambit in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." As for Lynn Collins, her only major role she has had was as Wolverine's girlfriend in the same movie. So unless you're a geek like me, you wouldn’t know who either of these people were going into "John Carter." You have to imagine that if the movie had starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie it would have done better then what it did, although the film would have most likely suffered for it. Actually, the biggest name in the whole movie was Willem Dafoe and he wasn't even actually "in" the thing, he was just the voice of a CGI character.
“Lynn, no one knows who we are”
“Do you mean our characters or us as actors Taylor?”
3.) Lastly, The Release Date: Have you seen the trailers for this movie? This thing is filled with awesome special effects and CGI, epic battle sequences, aliens, princesses, and monsters. Good versus Evil in a battle for an entire planet. This flick has "Big Summer Blockbuster" written all over it. Instead it got released the first week in March. Now I can't blame Disney. I understand the hesitancy to release an unproven, unknown property in the middle of a summer where they would have to compete with "The Avengers", "Spider-Man", and "The Dark Knight Rises." Plus, they got burned last summer by the lack luster returns from the release of a similar unproven property in "The Prince of Persia." A film that did have a known actor, Jake Gyllenhaal, starring in a semi-popular video game adaptation backed by mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer. So they were playing it safe with the release date for "John Carter." Too safe, perhaps. They released a movie that cost them $250 Million to make in a month where people still aren't going out to the movies that often. It's a well known fact that January and February are pretty slow movie months. That’s why the studios release a lot of the smaller, drama type movies at that time. March and April pick up a little, but just a little. It's not till you hit May that you start the summer movie season and people start coming out in droves. So why would you release a movie that cost so much to make in a month that is known for seeing low returns? They may not have stood a chance during the core summer months of May, June, or July, but they could have had a strong showing in the beginning of August when the Summer movie season is starting to wind down and all the major releases are already out. I'm not a movie executive, and I'm definitely not a number cruncher, but it seems to me like that would have been a safer bet than March.
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to compete with these guys either.
So in closing, there were many mistakes made by the people behind "John Carter" but not many of them were in the actual film. The movie is a fun, action packed, sci-fi epic, which had a lot of franchise potential and it's a shame that we'll never see another one because they definitely left it open for a sequel. Here's hoping it finds some new life on DVD and starts to recoup some of its losses, but at a price tag of $250 million I'm guessing the chances of that are slim.