Six months after the release of Disney’s John Carter, director Andrew Stanton has come to terms with the critical and commercial failure of the sci-fi adventure. But was John Carter a complete fiasco? Although the film did poorly in theaters, the movie has bounced back with new life on Blu-ray/DVD.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Stanton — who found success with the Pixar films Finding Nemo and Wall-E — speaks quite candidly about being handed $200 million to make a movie with no experience making a live-action film. “In the very beginning I assumed it would be like that, ’cause who’s gonna give me the keys to a Ferrari if I’ve never driven before?,” said Stanton. “But studios are not set up like that. They’re like, ‘Go and drive the car and don’t drive it off a bridge.'”
From the very beginning, it seemed that Disney had no idea what to do with the property based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work. At one point, Disney marketed the film as the first live-action film from Pixar, and then eventually changed the title from John Carter of Mars to simply John Carter. But was this just a case of the inability to market to the right audience, or was there something more at work?
Just this year, actor Taylor Kitsch has been in three box office bombs, including the would-be summer blockbuster Battleship and Oliver Stone’s hyperactive crime film Savages. And while he’d gotten attention for his role as Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, as well as smaller roles such as playing Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he certainly wasn’t the household name you would hope to have when trying to launch a new potential franchise.
Stanton is taking everything in stride as he tries to figure out what went wrong with John Carter. “We didn’t always agree on which direction to take every step of the way, but there was never serious contention,” Stanton said of Disney’s marketing. “The truth was everyone tried their very best to crack how to sell what we had, but the answer proved elusive.”
But what can be made of John Carter? The film wasn’t that bad; it was very enjoyable in an old-fashioned sort of way. Disney had high hopes for the franchise that included sequel films, an animated series, and Disney theme park attractions, but with its commercial failure, it’s very doubtful these plans will come to fruition. But Stanton and the film’s co-director, Mark Andrews, are staying positive with the idea that John Carter might find an audience later in life. “What was immediately on the list was writing a second ‘Carter’ movie,” Stanton said. “When that went away, everything slid up. I know I’ll be accused by more sarcastic people that it’s a reaction to ‘Carter’ not doing well, but only in its timing, but not in its conceit.”
Hopefully, John Carter will find a new audience on home video. The film has a pulse and personality, which is a rarity in today’s summer blockbuster landscape. It didn’t deserve to get beaten up as much as it did when it was released this past March. Maybe Disney should’ve kept the original title of the film, John Carter of Mars, just to tell people what this film had in store for them. As it stands, John Carter is now the most pirated movie of all-time. That has to say something about its quality, right?