It’s coming up on the one-year anniversary of my rant about the marketing for the Thor movie, and how I felt the poster campaigns, at least, were falling short of the mark. It seemed like the studio just really had no idea how to market their property to a mainstream audience. And no, I’m not talking about the cookie-cutter sameness that permeates the movie poster industry to such an extent these days that a rather damning parody was made of it. Once upon a time, wasn’t it possible to make a movie poster that was both artistic and intriguing, while still selling the correct sense of what the paying audience would be in for?
But here I am with déjà vu all over again.
This is actually one of the better posters (though that’s not saying much), but the tagline is still crap. “LOST IN OUR WORLD. FOUND IN ANOTHER.” This makes me think of a set of keys, not a kick-ass protagonist. And that’s exactly what John Carter should have been marketed as, right? I admit, I’ve never read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, but J.C. by all reports is one of the original archetypes of pulp fiction badassery. This is a character from the same author who created Tarzan, cut from the same mold of heroes that gave Frank Frazzetta wet dreams.
John Carter was a former Captain of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War who is mysteriously transported to Mars upon his dying on Earth. How much of this backstory will the movie preserve? I don’t know. In the rather awful Jonah Hex film they left in that Hex was a confederate but had to give him a poignant scene with a black friend where the friend clunkily declares for the benefit of the audience that Jonah never believed in all that slavery stuff. I’m not sure where they will find such a convenient black friend on Mars… I know that a lot of the ad materials I’ve seen fail to so much as mention that Carter is an Earthman, much less a Confederate. I don’t honestly know how big a deal that omission would be, or even if it is omitted, so I’m not going to carp on it further. I’d rather talk about the other bit the studio is going out of its way to conceal–
“Lost in our world. Found in another.”
This production is already infamous for changing the title “John Carter of Mars” to just “John Carter”. No one wants to say the “M” word. Basically Disney’s idea seems to be that they’ll just make the movie seem like Conan meets Avatar to the casual viewer, carefully hiding any hint of the actual setting, because… and it’s hard to really state this in any way that doesn’t sound stupid…the casual viewer hates Mars.
The scuttlebutt is that Disney was so spooked by the failure of the movie Mars Needs Moms that they decided just mentioning the red planet by name was box office anathema.
This is logic akin to saying that because Battlefield Earth was a bomb, we had better not produce any movies with “Earth” in the title. Is the story true? Well, I don’t know any less crazy reason for them to haul “of Mars” off the title and leave it as just “John Carter”, which for mainstream audience purposes is a title just slightly more exciting than naming your movie “Jennifer Smith”. For most people of the modern age, this person is someone they never heard of. Why should they get excited about their adventures?
Indiana Jones, after all, was someone whose first movie didn’t have his name on it (it was added in later collections, but the original theatrical offering was just “Raiders of the Lost Ark”). John Carter’s first adventure, published in 1912, bore the title “Under the Moons of Mars”. You’ve got to tell us why we should pay attention in the first place, then you can run off the name brand of a certain character. Right now, even a lot of nerds (myself included) have only the vaguest idea of what this guy’s about.
Dropping the mention of Mars is probably one of the worst decisions they could have done. Let’s put it simply. You’re in the market for a bit of action-adventure. I’ll leave off poor Jennifer Smith since she’s a woman and on the whole we’re still convinced, rightly or wrongly, that women can’t headline successful action films. So let’s say we have some dude named Eric Anderson. Which of these movie titles intrigues you the most?
- Eric Anderson
- Eric Anderson of Mars
- Eric Anderson, Warlord of Mars
Or maybe just “(small print) Eric Anderson is (BIG PRINT) The Warlord of Mars”? That way you satisfy the nerds with the name they already know, and still make the action-adventure crowd sit up and take notice.
Instead we get nothing to go on but an everyday common name, and commuting.
This literally looks like the cover to one of the half-assed knockoff DVDs you’d find at the video store trying to pretend to be a Disney/Pixar film, not a poster for the actual film. And whatever the opposite meaning of “dynamic” is, this image embodies it.
This is the end result of a reputed $250 million dollar budget?
Yeah, $250 million, and seemingly on its way to recouping a tiny fraction of that because the marketers can’t figure out what the fuck they’re doing. This could be because the person who was supposed to have their hand on the tiller quit last month.
You can also view a couple of the official trailers so far at that link. They’re a lot better than the posters, but the first is sort of esoteric and disjointed, and the second has the writer/director having to explain to us beforehand why all this matters– likely because there’s that niggling issue that we’ve been watching alien landscapes and armies clashing in CGI for many years now, not to mention dudes in loincloths fighting in deserts. Right now it just seems like some weird, derivative knock-off of Jonah Hex, Conan, and Avatar, particularly in the shorter trailers. It took a fan trailer to cut right to the heart of the matter:
“…the story that inspired 100 years of film-making…”
I watch that trailer and suddenly I’m much more inclined to shell out for movie theater prices. It wears its heart on its sleeve and commits to what its trying to share with us, rather than trying to hide the story away like it’s ashamed of itself.
Should the movie be ashamed of itself? That remains to be seen. But if it does succeed, it will have to succeed in spite of a studio that seems to have all but given up on it as a quarter million dollar write-off. It took 100 years for John Carter to make it to the big screen, but John Carter without Mars is just, well… John Carter. The movie may still deliver the Mars. The marketing didn’t.