06 March 2012

It Is Up to Us: We Must Make John Carter [of Mars] a Hit

Update: Yes, I have seen it now! Read the review.

Update II: We tried, we tried . . . but the film did not hit like we hoped. But here are some reasons to feel better.

Friends, Heliumites, Martians. . . .

I am here before you now with possibly distressing news. This Friday, John Carter [of Mars] premieres in theaters nationwide. (Read about the novel!) This is the first “event film” of 2012. Early reviews and reports from viewers who saw sneaks of it are enthusiastic: “good” to “great” is the word from almost everyone. Yet tracking shows the film on its way toward a soft opening: $25–$30 million. The marketing machine from Disney has mishandled this film, and it may very well founder at the box-office despite the positive reviews and word-of-mouth.

Readers, we cannot allow this to happen. We must make this movie a hit. It has taken a hundred years to get to this point, the realization of one of the foundational science-fiction works from one of the genre’s towering authors. We must not only see the film (this weekend, if possible) but we must convince friends, relatives, co-workers, casual acquaintances, Starbucks baristas, and the other person standing at the crosswalk that they should see this film. We must become evangelicals for Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom.

Normally, I would never push people to see a movie that I haven’t seen myself. I won’t see John Carter [of Mars] until it opens on Friday morning. In the past, I haven’t pushed for people to go see movies like Tron: Legacy despite my hopes for a hit. In the case of Tron: Legacy, it was getting poor reviews and I couldn’t in good conscience advise people to see something they probably wouldn’t like. Besides, I had the original Tron, whatever else might happen.

This is different, however. Not only have I heard only positive news on John Carter [of Mars], but the talent behind it is terrific. Director Andrew Stanton gave me WALL-E, so he has my confidence. And this isn’t a re-make or a sequel to a movie I love; it’s the first movie version of one of the foundational works of my entire literary life, and one that has taken a hundred years to reach the screen. A huge imaginative franchise is in the balance. Pulp literature is standing before the world and asking audiences to experience it. I am obligated to send people its way.

Disney has made some major mistakes in trying to promote this movie, so to help us sell the movie to others, here are some points to make to listeners about why they should go see it:

The movie takes place on Mars. Disney backed off on the title John Carter of Mars because of the bizarre fear that the failure of the movie Mars Needs Moms was because people don’t like Mars. Ludicrous. Mars is awesome. This movie gives us the ultimate fantasy Mars—the Mars of your dreams.

This is not an Avatar rip-off. Dammit, it’s the reverse! Avatar borrowed from A Princess of Mars. This is the original—for nearly everything!

This is not Attack of the Clones. All that arena-fighting action with the big multi-armed apes? Lucas ripped that off for his movie. This is where it all came from, and will give you what you wanted from the Star Wars prequels and didn’t get.

The Pixar factor. Much of the great talent behind Pixar’s classics got involved with this. That means CGI characters with real personality, not the usual pixel-sludge. I promise that Woola, John Carter’s calot (Martian “dog”), will win you over without stupid comedy!

This is from the mind of the creator of Tarzan. Why does Disney think that hiding the legendary status of author Edgar Rice Burroughs is a winning marketing strategy? Burroughs altered genre forever. He influenced all science-fiction authors to come. Tarzan is one of the most famous fictional characters ever.

People already like it. I’ll bet your friends haven’t seen a fun adventure or fantasy movie recently. The word on this makes it sound like a guarantee that 90% of viewers will enjoy it. Maybe not love it. But enjoy it. We’re aren’t getting many of those films any more.

So take this small toolkit for a grass-roots marketing campaign, go forth, and proselytize!

Update: Thanks to The John Carter Files for promoting this post!