“Publicity is essential to success. With all of the thousands of books on display in a book shop I had to spend every effort to have my covers not only artistic, but at the same time demanding the attention of the passerby.” - Edgar Rice Burroughs
Sadly, those words spoken by author Edgar Rice Burroughs were not heeded by Disney Studio’s marketing department when they adapted one of Burroughs most influential characters to the big screen. The movie John Carter, came and went from theaters with barely a whisper of the usual advertising and merchandising hype associated with a movie boasting a 250 million dollar production budget. As a result the movie was a commercial failure just barely making back it’s production expense with a world wide box office total of nearly 283 million.
With proper marketing even horribly made movies such as the Twilight Saga can strike cinematic gold. There are never any real guarantees of success; however if Disney hadn’t changed the intended title of John Carter of Mars, to simply John Carter, and if they had done an adequate job of advertising, the movie might have been a blockbuster.
Domestically in the U.S. practically nobody went to see it, primarily because nobody knew it was even in theaters let alone what the story was about. Word of it’s financial misfortunes then fueled it’s negative reputation and status as a bomb. Critically it is almost evenly divided with negative and positive reviews, with those singing praises slightly outnumbering the Nay-Sayers. This review is another hash mark for the positive column, that will hopefully bring a new audience to John Carter now that it has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray.
So who is John Carter? He’s a fictional character that first appeared in print in 1912, and over the past century has severed as an inspiration to many pop culture icons such as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and even Superman. Many of the accepted ideologies of modern sci-fi fantasy stories, resonate with roots that can be traced back to Burroughs’ John Carter novels.
Fictionally Captain John Carter is a civil war veteran who lost his wife and child, and has become obsessed with finding Gold in the hills of Virginia. While searching for his glittering treasure, he stumbles across an alien device that transports him to the planet Mars. On our dying sister planet, known as “Barsoom” to it’s inhabitants, Captain Carter is thrust into an alien civil war between the “red” humanoid martian cities of Zodanga and Helium, as well as their common enemy the insect like green martians called Tharks.
John Carter becomes a pivotal player in the war. On Mars he possess superpowers that makes him more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Princess Dejah Thoris, of Helium, persuades Carter to fight for what he believes is right; she helps him realize his potential as a true hero as opposed to just being some rouge scoundrel interested only in himself.
The movie features a dazzling display of modern special effects, but it feels more like an older 1950’s or 1960’s sci-fi fantasy flick that would have been the perfect vessel for stop motion master Ray Harryhausen. John Carter has the flavor of movies like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad seasoned with a space opera setting. Some have accused the movie of being derivative, but this being where science fiction cliches began is closer to the truth.
My primary complaint is there are some unanswered questions about a race of beings called Therns. The movie seems to indicate the Therns are aliens from outside of our solar system, which is different from the original novels but I felt it was a compelling premise. They are essentially scavengers that that feed off the slow destruction of dying worlds. As they were the true antagonists of the story, their motives were in need of further exploration than what we are given, and the ending clearly begs for a sequel. Given the right spark to get people’s attention, John Carter may yet provide Disney with a viable new franchise. In the meantime check out the movie, and enjoy this fan trailer which is better than the official trailers released by Disney.