Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On John Carter, Marketing, and Dropping the Ball

Last weekend, the husband and I took the kids to see John Carter. With its huge budget and marketing costs, studio executives are expecting the movie to lose $200 million. (I won't get into the fact that the numbers don't add up but, yeah, it's looking like a big loss for Disney.) Now, granted, it's only been out a couple weeks, but with Hunger Games coming out this weekend, I don't think John Carter is going to have a long life at theaters.

Which is sad because it's not a bad movie. For an afternoon of popcorn and fun with the kids, you could do a lot worse. Yes, the acting could have been better (and they could have made Taylor Kitsch hit a dialect coach so he actually sounded southern), but it was fun. And FAR better than episodes 1-3 of Star Wars. (Sorry, I'm a fan of the series as a whole, but those three films almost destroyed my love for 4-6.)

What I want to know is...

What the hell was Disney thinking?

First, that budget... $250,000,000? There were no huge stars in John Carter, so unlike a lot of sci-fi adventure movies, the cast cost was minimal. Taylor Kitsch isn't a horrible actor, but even comparing it to the 2009 re-boot of Star Trek which had Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, and Leonard Nimoy. No, none of them individually was pulling down huge numbers at that time, but together? That's a big chunk of change. Like John Carter, it was a special effects heavy movie, but its budget was only $150 million. Why did they spend that much money on John Carter? Special effects rarely sell movie tickets.

Plus, John Carter had strikes against it going in.

  1. Timing. WHY would the studio put it out only two weeks before one of the most anticipated movies of the year? Honestly, Hunger Games doesn't even need much of a marketing budget. Love of that book and word of mouth will drive ticket sales. (Unless the movie sucks, in which case...) John Carter should have either been moved up a couple weeks or pushed back until the lull right before the summer blockbusters. (I'm pretty sure that's the reason Mirror, Mirror was pushed back from March 16 to March 30. It might not get a lot of screens, but at least it won't be shoved out by Hunger Games.)
  2. Marketing. Supposedly the studio spent $100 million on marketing. Other than seeing the preview a couple times at the movies, I hardly ever saw it. Not on TV, not anywhere, and I watch a lot of TV that would hit the target demographic. You know where else I didn't see much of anything about it? At Disney World--over New Year's. This is the biggest budget movie Disney probably has coming out this year and there was no push AT FREAKING DISNEY WORLD. WTFBBQ? Where is the Twitter push? Where is the facebook page? Where is the viral marketing that's so important these days? (I've heard more on Twitter about the Star Trek sequel than I have about John Carter.)
  3. Cast. Don't get me wrong, I like Taylor Kitsch just fine. He's easy on the eyes and not a bad actor. But John Carter didn't have any leads that by their name alone would draw a crowd. Look at Star Trek again. Hell, look at Hunger Games. With the budget John Carter had, there should have been a star *somewhere.* (The only names I recognized from the cast list were faces hidden behind CGI.)
  4. Story. Star Trek had the push of the original movies and the TV series. Hunger Games has a huge push from the books. But the books John Carter is based on are old (published in 1917). Most people (even sci-fi fans) have never heard of these books. That's problem number one. There's no push from a fan-base. Plus, the books are based on antiquated ideas about Mars. Truly, I was able to get past that to enjoy the film, but without some discussion of it beforehand by the people involved, it was more than a lot of people could swallow (especially those in the sci-fi world). 

I really hope all the predictions are wrong and the movie ends up making money, but it started at a horrible disadvantage. And the studio didn't allow enough time for word-of-mouth to spread before the film would be shoved aside by others with more buzz. If John Carter fails, it's not because it's a horrible movie (which it really isn't). It's because Disney dropped the ball.

*Note: Star Trek and Hunger Games were chosen for comparison because they were the first films I thought of. However, last year's Thor also had a budget of $150 million and included stars (and minor stars) in Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Chris Hemsworth, and Natalie Portman as well as fairly equivalent levels of special effects with regards to Asgard and Jotunheim along with the Frost Giants themselves.

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