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5 Reasons Disney’s John Carter Failed At The Box Office

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This weekend Disney debuted their adaptation of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic series of sci-fi novels, titled for their purposes as John Carter. It’s a special effects bonanza and as a result, one of the most expensive to make movies of the year. They spent more than $250 million dollars bringing the world of Barsoom to life and, unfortunately, no one showed up to see it. John Carter only took in a meager $30 million its opening weekend, not even enough to earn it first place on the box office charts. It was beaten instead by the two-week old Seuss’ adaptation The Lorax.

For the record, I liked this movie; but it’s not hard to figure out what went wrong. John Carter has been a marketing disaster since the beginning. The trailers never really captured anyone and the premise never made a lot of sense to audiences. Worse critical response to the film was, to put it gently, pretty mediocre. But to dismiss John Carter’s failure that way is, perhaps painting with too broad a brush. Why was the marketing such a disaster? Why didn’t critics like it more? Here’s the answer to those questions, broken down into five, very simple bullet points.

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John Carter Movie Review: Go For The Spectacle, Don’t Expect Any Heart

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John Carter movieWhen Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars back in 1912, there was nothing like it. That book and the ones that followed in the John Carter series went on to inspire the imaginations of hundreds of science fiction writers and there’s little doubt that we have the mind of Burroughs to thank for everything from Star Wars to Tron. But that doesn’t mean the books or the movie based on them are really as good as those things they inspired.

I’m not sure how well Burroughs’ sci-fi books have aged. Read now they feel a little thin on explanation. While Burroughs put a lot of thought into some parts of his stories, developing the different races of Barsoom or coming up with a great scientific explanation for John Carter’s increased strength and leaping ability, in other areas he just sort of glosses over key elements. It’s never entirely clear, for instance, how a Civil War cavalry officer actually gets from Earth to Mars in the first place. Bringing the story of John Carter into the modern era means filling in a lot of those gaps and while the movie comes up with some very good ideas which do just that, it also means we’re left with a film that’s far longer than it should be and far less impactful than it might have been.

That doesn’t mean, however, that as a movie John Carter isn’t good. It’s at least as good as Avatar which, by the way, wasn’t just inspired by Burroughs’ Barsoom books but basically rips them off. Both movies suffer from story problems though and both movies are overlong. The emotion which should be there isn’t and while John Carter does a brilliant job of developing supporting characters it feels clumsy when it comes to its hero, John Carter.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Family Fighting To Help Disney Censor John Carter

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Warlord of MarsOne thing you won’t see in Disney’s movie version of John Carter when it’s released this weekend is Dejah Thoris, or at least not Dejah Thoris as the original book’s author intended her. Here’s how Edgar Rice Burroughs described the series’ strong-willed, take-charge female character in the book Princess of Mars

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life… Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.

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John Carter Leaps Into Theaters This Week in Science Fiction

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John Carter
In theaters Friday 3/9

I went back and forth between choosing this or Mass Effect 3 as our GFR pick of the week. Both properties have me itching to experience them. Both are things I’ve been waiting years for. In the end, however, Mass Effect 3 is a surefire hit, the concluding chapter of one of the most acclaimed game series of its generation. John Carter, however, is a much bigger gamble. The marketing has been hit-or-miss at best at making the movie look appealing. On the other hand, I love Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, and have faith in Pixar director Andrew Stanton’s ability to pull it off. Early reviews are mostly positive, but I still wonder how many of the general moviegoing public have this movie on their radar at all. That’s why it’s all the more important that fans hit up the opening weekend showings if they can, so that John Carter can build up positive word of mouth — assuming it deserves it. And if it’s disappointing, well, hell, I’d still rather spend my ticket money on a mediocre but ambitious John Carter movie than anything else currently in theaters. People have tossed around plenty of negative comparisons between the early JC footage and the Star Wars prequels, but if John Carter succeeds in the ways I hope it will, it could very well be the movie those films should have been: a big, bold, old-fashioned adventure that transports you back to your childhood and leaves you with a goofy grin on your face.

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Watch The First 10 Wild West Minutes Of John Carter

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John Carter arrives in theaters this Friday and carries with it the expectations of long time fans of Burroughs’ groundbreaking sci-fi novels. Early reviews have been decidedly mixed and, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to see it, maybe this will help make up your mind.

Disney has given us the first ten minutes of John Carter to show you. Watch as Carter fights his way through the wild west, shortly before being whisked off to the alien planet of Barsoom…


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Final John Carter Trailer Has Lots Of Action, Still Not Good Enough

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It’s no secret that we here at Giant Freakin’ Robot are critical of how Disney’s marketing department has handled all the John Carter advertising. At best, the commercials have been pretty but confusing, and at worse they look like somebody left a video of the Geonosis sequence from Attack of the Clones playing. This is not to suggest that I think that John Carter will be a bad movie. On the contrary, given the director involved (Pixar’s Andrew Stanton), I’m looking forward to it putting a giant smile on my face…inside a mostly empty theater. And that’s a damn shame, because if Stanton does nail the material, there’s a good chance we’ll never see a sequel, at least not until they decide to remake it in six months.

So now we’re just over a week away from John Carter‘s release. This is the last chance to win over those moviegoers who don’t know who John Carter is, the vast majority of average joes whose ticket purchases will be crucial to John Carter actually making its budget back, to say nothing of making a profit. With a lot riding on that opening weekend box office, Disney has unleashed their final John Carter trailer on the world. Does it work? Have they finally gotten it right? Should we prepare to arrive early so we won’t have to fight the crowd to find a seat for premiere night?

Sigh. At least we’ve still got that kickass fan trailer