Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This Writer's Perspective: Why John Carter Bombed

Latest news on the movie John Carter is that it's a complete flop. Despite millions spent on making it and advertising, it bombed at the box office. So what happened?

I can tell you one thing - the marketing did them no favors.

Granted, I'm not considered the prime audience for this kind of film. I would have gone, though, if I'd been persuaded there was an exciting story about an interesting character in a strange situation where there is something serious at stake.

Instead, here's what I got from the ads for John Carter:

A guy wearing some kind of leather bits jumps around a lot, apparently like Superman (able to leap tall rock formations at a single bound), trying to get away from a lot of CGI guys who look something like Jar-Jar Binks. Oh, there seems to be a bald guy in league with the Jar-Jars, possibly their leader. And it's set on Mars, which looks exactly like a desert on Earth.

Only through other sources did I learn John Carter is a Civil War soldier who (somehow) gets transported to Mars, where the gravity is different (which explains his ability to leap tall rock formations at a single bound).

The Civil War angle? Completely overlooked in the ads, yet it would have made me far more interested in the main character. One quick clip of the poor sod in the middle of a Civil War battlefield, then finding himself on Mars where he's suddenly Superman would have gotten me curious. Instead, all I see is a guy in what I assume is martial Martian wear jumping around with a spear.

Which brings me to the Martians. Jar-Jar Binks was not scary. John Carter's Martians didn't seem at all scary, either, just numerous. So I'm not going to be worried he's in any real jeopardy, especially if he can leap over them in a single bound. Why should I go see a movie when the outcome seems so assured? And if there's just John Carter, there aren't even going to be any redshirts to get picked off, so there goes that chance for suspense, as well.

Speaking of tension or lack thereof, the travel-between-worlds seems to be totally unimportant, when there could have been the tension between going home or staying. Maybe there was in the movie, but there was no hint of that kind of tension in the ads.

And then there's the bald guy. Granted, this was the one and only thing that even remotely got me curious, but we just get a brief glimpse of him standing on a ridge. That's not enough to make me think he's going to be an awesome foil to the hero. In fact, I think I was curious more because I was trying to figure out if it was Stanley Tucci or not. It's Mark Strong - and holy actors, Batman! I just now looked up the cast list. I had NO idea that the following amazing actors are in this movie: Polly Walker, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe and Thomas Hayden Church. Okay, so teenage boys might not know who some of these people are, but plenty of other people do! What a waste of a marketing opportunity!

Another example of opportunity wasted: I thought I saw a brief glimpse of a young woman in one of the ads. Was there supposed to be a - gasp! - romantic subplot in the movie?

Dear Movie Marketers: Romance sells and sells a lot. So why downplay something that might get women into the theater? Our tickets cost the same.

I shake my head.

So let's recap.

Over all, I got no sense that anything is at stake for John Carter - not his life, not his future, not his happiness, not love. So there was no reason for me to care about John Carter or his fate. At all.

Instead, the impression I got from the ads was that character and story were much less important than the technical effects.

That ain't gonna get me to the theater, and obviously, I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

Even before the reviews.

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