I could offer up plenty of reasons why Disney’s $250 million dollar Martian sci-fi desert spectacle John Carter will likely be listed as the number one box office flop of 2012. There is the film’s leading star Taylor Kitcsh in the title role, for example, that begs the question, “Who’s he and what’s he been in?” Not everyone has watched Kitsch’s football series Friday Night Lights (2006-2011), which ended its NBC to cable run last year, least of all me.
John Carter certainly had plenty of computer generated visual effects, creatures and set designs (hence the $250 million price tag) despite the fact the ships the humans (I guess I should call them Martians) flew in battle looked like giant prehistoric mechanical insects. The film made me wish there was actually such a creature as a “Woola”, a cute but ugly Martian rendition of a faithful pet dog with sharp teeth and a big mouth that runs just as fast as the Yorkie I got. The thing would be the perfect home security system for my house much like the black rescue panther the married couple adopts in that Geico commercial.
I believe the number one reason why John Carter, however, failed to connect with audiences younger than myself (and NO I don’t listen to the film critics many of whom have given the movie mixed reviews) is because the story is based on a 100-year-old sci-fi series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I am willing to bet most of them never heard or read those books. My one fear if I had taken my five-year-old nephew, Jake, to see John Carter would have been, despite it being in the 3D Imax format, that within an hour he would have asked me if he can go and play the arcade games in the lobby, which would mean I’d have to go with him. That’s $30 bucks plus I’d have never seen again if that happened.
The ones I have found who liked John Carter are those my age who read Burroughs’ series. There is already a fan driven petition set up called “Take me back to Barsoom! I want John Carter to have a sequel!” on Facebook that as of this writing has 3,942 members.
I don’t blame director Andrew Stanton much the way I don’t blame directors Zack Snyder for the box office failures of his comic book superhero epic Watchmen (2009) and Steven Spielberg for last year’s animated The Adventures of Tintin, which was based on a popular comic series in Europe but not in America. In the case of John Carter, as was with Watchmen and “Tintin” all three filmmakers wanted to be the most faithful to the material.
“I tried to be as faithful as I could, because I’m the biggest fan,” director Stanton said in an article about John Carter in SciFiNow. “I think in the best adaptations, you should be able to watch the film and not be able to sense what’s changed. Most important of all is that it carries the spirit of how you felt reading the book. Feeling, for me, is the huge thing about adapting a book that must be protected at all costs.”
That’s the real disappointment behind the box office failures of Watchmen, The Adventures of Tintin and John Carter because although I have never read them, I am certain the printed adaptations are just as good as the Harry Potter and Twilight books, if not better.
Even more depressing is the fact audiences will only be able to identify John Carter star Taylor Kitsch after seeing this summer’s Battleship, which is based on a Milton Bradley game and whose budget is reportedly at $200 million.
If Battleship manages to gross twice its price tag for distributor Universal Pictures, I’ll find that far more disturbing than the number of studio executives at Disney whose heads will roll as a result of John Carter’s less than successful box office run.