Step 1: Adapt a century-old science fiction story as an epic Hollywood blockbuster.
Step 2: Cast the movie with a completely untested boxoffice non-entity in the lead.
Step 3: Hand the project to a director with impressive animation credentials, but no live-action experience.
Step 4: Throw $350,000,000 at it.
Step 5: Change the title from the one that’s been generating buzz for months to the most generic sounding title imaginable.
Step 6: Profit? Apparently not.
Disney seems surprised, after following the formula above, that their John Carter is shaping up to be a financial flop of historic proportions. (The “John Carter and the Giant Peach” poster can’t be helping.) Their expectations were that the film would be a smash hit and launch another “franchise” (when did a series become a franchise?) money machine along the lines of Harry Potter and the LOTRilogy.
A lot of the steps outlined above seemed like good ideas at the time. Director Andrew Stanton has had some previous success, but only with animation. Lead Taylor Kitsch has a television following, but transferring small-screen star power to the big screen has often been an elusive goal. The solid and evocative title (John Carter of Mars) was changed to a bland and meaningless one (John Carter) in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible.
But in order to show a profit on this misguided behemoth of a movie, the worldwide profits would have to approach $800,000,000. That’s right: the producers of John Carter laid down a $350,000,000 bet that this untested material would become one of the highest grossing films of all time.
The critics haven’t helped the situation. The consensus is that John Carter is bloated and confusing. We’ve learned before that when talk of a film’s budget overshadows all talk of its content, the results are likely to be disappointing. It’s unfortunate that the blockbuster imperative that drives much of Hollywood’s output doomed what could have been an entertaining—and even successful—moviegoing experience: what could be more fun than a sword-and-sandal epic with aliens?