When a studio spends upwards of $ 100 million on a film, they do so as a carefully calculated risk. Whether it be a video-game, television show or breakfast cereal, these films are almost always based on previously existing properties. Brand and name recognition is a way to guarantee at least some interest in these gargantuan-budgeted films. By that token, Disney’s upcoming tent-pole film John Carter should be a guaranteed success…had the film been released in 1931.
The film is based on a series of novels from famed Tarzan writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, and has inspired countless sci-fi films, comics and television shows. And yet, as much as it has influenced other much more popular works of fiction, it still remains a largely unknown property among mainstream audiences.
Disney has made a dangerous bet making this $ 300 million epic. One of the biggest gambles in cinematic history, and if they don’t have a masterful marketing strategy up their sleeve, John Carter could be one of the biggest flops ever.
With the budget coming close to what Avatar cost to produce, Disney has on its hands a film that could easily flop. Of course many speculated that Avatar would flop before it was released, and those skeptics were left with egg on their faces.
Avatar, however, had the James Cameron name and brand behind it, and even more importantly a marketing strategy that made it an absolute must see film. The marketing for Avatar centred on the revolutionary new technology and depiction of a fantastic fictional world. John Carter, no matter how expensive it was to produce, will be unable to label itself in the same fashion.
The marketing for John Carter has yet to go full force, as we have only a teaser and a bland poster. At the moment, the film is either unknown to audiences or believed to be “an Avatar rip-off”. And while the original novels clearly inspired Avatar, audiences do not know this, making Disney’s job all the harder in convincing audiences to see their film.
Directed by Wall-E‘s Andrew Stanton and written by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, the film is no hack job. It has a simple yet wonderful story that should translate beautifully to the screen. If the teaser is any indication of what is to come, it looks as if Stanton has done his job. However, the film being great or not, does not guarantee box office success. In fact, if terrible films like Transformers have taught us anything, it is that quality does not factor too heavily into box-office returns. This is why Disney must kick the marketing machine into full gear and begin selling John Carter to audiences now.
John Carter comes from a different time, when a story this simple could sell, and it did. The first novel, A Princess of Mars, was published in 1912, and has had filmmakers trying to make it ever since. As audiences will see it as just another adventure film, Disney must make it clear that this is a film 100 years in the making. It isn’t just another adventure sci-fi story, it is an adaptation of the very first adventure sci-fi story.
Some may argue that in a time of great economic uncertainty 3D blockbuster filmmaking is a dangerous market to place bets this big on. However, John Carter may just be the perfect film for a time of economic instability. It is a simple story of good vs evil, one where the good guys are clearly defined and heroism always wins. This is what made these books so popular during the Great Depression.
People need escapism, in fact they crave it. If Disney is able to sell the fact this film is a grand story of adventure and fantasy, maybe they can tap into people’s need for a little respite from their worries and recapture some of the magic of the original books.