Thank goodness John Carter director Andrew Stanton says it’s not about the money, as his latest venture has taken a surprisingly bad turn, with the Mars-set film looking like it will make a loss of $200 million.
While the story is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom series of novels, the film started out as a project of love in the mind of director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo, the Toy Story trilogy). In an interview with the BBC’s Mark Kermode, Stanton spoke about how big a fan he is of the novels, and how he had always wanted to see them adapted for the big screen. He has now had the chance to do this himself, and will no doubt have been assuming that many other people would have shared his sentiments. Not so, apparently, as the big flurry of attention that was expected to meet its release, didn’t quite reach more than a minor flutter.
This write down of $200 million is the biggest loss that any film has racked-up to date, tipping the $147 million shortfall of the 1995 flop Cutthroat Island off the bottom spot.
There are many possible reasons for this box-office bashing, one of the most significant being the title. Instead of going for the widely preferred John Carter of Mars, he simply opted for the name of the hero, which those not familiar with the novels may end up mistaking for the lead character in a rom-com, perhaps reminiscent of John Tucker Must Die.
However, in his interview with Kermode, Stanton commented on his decision to give no indication in the title that the film will be set on another planet. He said that, “there is a large group of people that think they don’t like what they would consider sci-fi” – he didn’t want to label the film and close it off to a narrower audience. By doing this, though, you run the risk of another The Artist debacle, where uninformed audience members complain that the film was not what they expected. You also anger fans of the novels, for whom John Carter of Mars is a far grander and more appropriate title. Simon Mayo also points out that it looks like the film was originally going to have Mars attached, as its logo is the letters JCM.
However, one thing that could give fans, and above all Disney, slight comfort is that this negative number is a prediction, one that could possibly be turned around by DVD sales. That is providing it goes the same way of ‘sleeper hit’ The Shawshank Redemption (which barely covered its budget at the box office, before making it big on DVD, VHS, Blu-Ray and cable television).
Whatever the reason, and whatever we hope will happen, the stark figures are not looking good for the US Civil War veteran who fights aliens on Mars, but seems unable to conquer the box office here on Earth.