Reading John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood Or Lions and Igers and Bears, oh my.
Before we get into this, I have another title – John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood OR Re-living the Agony.
Oh god it hurts, it hurts so bad – mommy ?
I started barsoomia.org in 2008 when John Favreau had John Carter of Mars. Favs was on MySpace and very communicative. We all went through a few ups and downs through script reviews , budgets – the fact that head of Paramount hated it canned it. Favreau went on to Iron Man which I really liked and Paramount went to Star Trek which I really liked but at the time was furious because ‘who needs another Star Trek ?!”
Previously I had upped and downed ( and not in a good way ) through Disney’s Tom Cruise John Carter project, eventually James Jacks farmed it around, landing Robert Rodriguez, loosing Rodriguez, Kerry Conran – and we’re back to Favreau.
Around the time that Conran was the project Mike Carambat ( not to be confused with Michael ) started up his fan site www.johncartermovie.com. I spent a delirious late afternoon in my kitchen making supper while conversing through Mike’s chat stream with Harry Knowles about thoats, tharks and Helium CG models and motion tests. Then of course it crashed back to heartbreak hotel. Jon Favreau stepped in for the final act at Paramount.
When Disney picked up the project Tron Legacy was being heavily pimped with fun live events, huge comic-con presentations involving helicopters and sky diving, and eventually the Flynn’s Arcade and the Tron music party which was a huge immersive experience. So Disney does things BIG. At least that was what was in my head at the time.
I was actually having a Tron-tini at Disney a couple days after seeing John Carter at a special screening. It was a good place to be, but it wasn’t without trepidation.
JOHN CARTER ( of Mars ) was going to open in a few days and I had been riding the hell-coaster with everyone else over the last few months. Michael has chronicled these horrors in blood chilling chronology in John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.
During the long road, Mike Carambet, myself and all of my Barsoomian buddies knew nothing of Disney machinations, we just scoured the intertoobs with google searched for news, gossip, anything. Some of our experiences in the ‘trenches of the unknowing’ are clear to us now. Between the decision to not properly promote JC and not merchandise ( I may never get over that, I’m not kidding ) and the lack of a dedicated marketing team/plan, our few, but always strange interactions with Disney ( Mike really, but they often included me ) make a sort of sense now.
I was actually away on vacation on April 1st when an anonymous poster appeared on Johncartermovie.com and informed us in great detail about the sets and costumes designs, most of which he soundly hated, particularly the architecture. It was wildly exciting and then, that same day, Mike and I were offered a set visit in Utah. Pogo ! Pogo ! Pogo ! My wife and I drove home in rabid bliss and never heard another word about it. Now we know why. We had many of these exciting letdowns throughout the production.
The real meat of our quest often came in the way of spy photos of sets and eventually of the full sized Thark maquettes. We shared only a fraction, not wanting draw the wrath of the mouse.
By the time that the teaser trailer was due, we were pretty used to not really knowing anything. I had tiny quotes from the cast, MTV seemed really interested it. This was something I pursed daily. So summer 2011 we finally saw the teaser, I watched it over and over and posted screen captures. Now we waited for posters, I searched the Toy Fair announcements, eager to start my early shopping list. But nothing happened. I searched for announcements from toy or games companies ( I wanted my wii JC game ) but there was nothing. I learned that Pirates of the Caribbean had little merchandise until a year after the movie was released. I wondered if JC was going to follow that pattern as opposed to Tron Legacy’s early and heavy exposure. It sure seemed like something Stanton was leaning towards.
I killed time brawling on IMDB.
I did make inroads not with Disney, but around them. I started connecting with extras from the movie on facebook, and eventually twitter. I also spoke to locals in Utah and during the D23, I had direct feed from 3 journalists on site. None of them even managed to get into the event is was so packed….
So now I’ve learned that all this time, all of this time, no one was really on the promotion of the movie. What there was would be minimal. By the time we finally had the full trailer and a website I was expecting merchandise news, heavy media exposure, and that the love light of Barsoom would bathe us in her heavenly glow… Then there was the Superbowl. I was glued to the keyboard that night. I wasn’t watching the game, I couldn’t care less. I use Netflix and Apple tv. But it got bad. Real bad. It was vile in seconds. The simplest version was #johncartersucks. I have to give them credit for creativity, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was moshpit of John Carter hate fueled by beer, nachos and the feral scent of white ape pheromones. I cried, I ranted, I banged my head on the desk. I ran away.
Then there was Nicky Finke. I knew we were screwed then. Why why why ? Why did the universe have to conspire to frack up the ONLY movie I really really really wanted my entire life ? It had been so long, there had been so many crash and burns, and now the biggest possible version was made by an A list director from a massive studio that made you go see their movies whether you wanted to or not – and it was turning into John Carter of Ishtar/Waterworld/Heaven’s Gate….. What the frack ? Why ?
Well now I know how, I really don’t know ‘why’ it had to be this movie. But it hurt and was stressful for a long time. You’d think I’d made it. I can’t imagine what Andrew Stanton has experienced.
There was some good out of this. I went to the John Carter ECOF convention in LA and met Mike Carambat in person finally, Michael Sellers, and many online ERB friends. I met some of the ERB family ( I really wish I’d been at that house party though ) and the fine folk of ERBinc. I hopped on a bus with all of the above ( my family too ) and went to the Disney studios where were saw a 10 minute in house promo reel for the film. Then we watched the movie and by god I was watching JOHN CARTER OF MARS at a special studio screening ! I was emotionally overwhelmed. I had no idea what I’d just seen. Outside were tables full of studio goodies ( posters, promotional packages ) oh – and we got cool JC lanyards. I feel truly fortunate to have been there and experienced this wonderful evening.
Michael has spelled out the horrors and their source in detail that in one way gives me a sort of peace. Now I know what happened. It gives me closure. It was hard for me to read, it brought back years of ups and downs and the final drag of dread those last few weeks.
I don’t believe that this has to be the last word for John Carter on screen. Movie makers always want to make a buck, and I’m sure that somewhere some filmmaker is saying ” Disney really fraked that up, I know how to do it right”. Whether that means a continuation or a reboot I don’t know. I like what Michael is saying about international financing. Hell, they made Tron Legacy a lifetime later and then 2 years later another has been green-lit. I don’t think we’ll see John Carter at Disney again, but if we did, I’m sure they’ll have their Woola’s in a row to at least give it a fair shake. If they only make Gods of Mars and I get my stuffed Woola, I’ll good with that.
So thank you Michael for finding out what I couldn’t, for putting all the pieces together, as harrowing as it is. And thank you for the little bit of hope at the end. I’ll just consider this the ‘everything is lost’ moment before the final redeeming act. – Jeff