John Carter Marketers: You’re Doing It Wrong!

Yesterday, Deadline.com’s Nikki Finke reported that early tracking numbers on John Carter are pointing toward a box-office flop of mammoth proportions. “The tracking for John Carter is shocking for a film that costs over $250 million,” Finke claims a rival studio executive wrote. “This could be the biggest writeoff of all time,” possibly as much as $100 million.

That’s bad news for those of us who have already tossed our swords at John Carter‘s feet, hoping for a film trilogy. Especially because the news gets worse: Finke further reports that studio exec claimed, “Women of all ages have flat-out rejected the film.”

With the March 9 release date getting closer every day, what can Disney do to salvage a fumbled blockbuster tent-pole event movie? Do what John Carter himself would do: Go on the offensive!

Get out in front of the problem, starting with the bad buzz from the Internet. Admittedly, much of the problem comes from trolls, but the general web population cannot always spot a troll post, and on the surface, some of what they are saying claiming might seem true to a layman. If I see one more comment that calls John Carter “derivative” or “a poor man’s Avatar/Star Wars/anything else,” I may exile myself to Barsoom!

Disney should take the gloves off and confront all the ill-formed people who think John Carter is ripping off Attack of the Clones or any other crappy movie. Tell the world that George Lucas stole borrowed from Edgar Rice Burroughs – and not very well, either. Loads of stuff, like the names sith and banth and padwar, was taken and twisted for use in Lucas’ patchwork universe.

It would take too long to itemize everything that was…er, “homaged” by Lucas (cough Jabba’s barge cough), but somebody has to make the point that ERB got there first. Lucas even tried to adopt ERB’s naming convention, but he failed miserably. I mean, a planet called “Naboo”? That sounds a bit similar, but is worlds away from “Barsoom,” which is forceful and evocative. And Lucas never came close to anything that rolls off the tongue as delightfully as “Dejah Thoris.”

I’d love to see ad campaigns like, “Where did George Lucas steal get his ideas for the Star Wars universe? Right here!” or, “The novel that launched a billion imitators.” But something like, “The story that inspired the makers of Star Wars, Avatar and countless other movies and books” would probably as nasty as the corporate flaks would be willing to get.

But even before that, shift the focus of the ad campaign away from the great white ape scene. The creature in the clip does not even remotely resemble an ape, so that’s confusing audiences right off the bat. Secondly, the scene is dismissed as ripping off Attack of the Clones – and, as wrong as that point of view is, it’s difficult to fight. The scene wasn’t even in the original story, so it’s tough to defend on artistic merits. That scene is a weak flank, so why keep exposing it?

As for John Carter‘s…er, female problem, director Andrew Stanton said the reason “of Mars” was dropped from the movie’s title was because the-powers-that-be believed that no girls would go see a movie called “John Carter of Mars.” So why is there no commercial targeting that female audience? Where is the epic Carter/Dejah Thoris romance? What about the Carter/Tars Tarkas bromance? The sad tale of Tars Tarkas and his daughter Sola? Where is the relationship angle, which the only hope of bringing in teenage girls? In the TV spots, Dejah Thoris is depicted as a tough-talking warrior woman; that’s not gonna bring in female viewers who see her Red Sonja act as a male fantasy. Making Dejah Thoris a clingy girlfriend or stripping her naked would probably be the only thing that would make her appeal to the female audience less.

Play up past credits. Focusing on Taylor Kitsch and his FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS history would instantly triple female awareness – especially among those all-important teen girls. Imagine if they could be persuaded to see this movie as many times as that vampire dreck they pushed to the top of the box-office charts? Isn’t John Carter more of a romantic hero than that depraved stalker, Edward the Sparkly Vampire? (Ladies? Help me out here…) Plus, he isn’t wearing a shirt. Or pants.

Which brings us to Lynn Collins, who plays Dejah Thoris. Who is she to the average movie-goer? Most people probably only remember her from the lousy X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Collins is barely seen in the trailers, and even then it’s difficult to tell that Dejah Thoris is tattooed rather than suffering from a skin condition. She needs to be pushed front-and-center, in TV spots and offscreen, to generate some interest. She needs to show up at premieres wearing something really daring and get pics in all the gossip magazines and online, where women can see them. And while plenty of female fans are going on and on (and on) about the shirtless Taylor Kitsch as an audience draw, why aren’t Ms. Collins’ ample charms being actively flaunted?

Also, pump up the Woola angle. Personally, I don’t think the movie Woola is that cute, but apparently I’m in the minority, so if the filmmakers can get kids pestering their parents to go see the big Martian dog, so much the better.

Alas, I do not expect a lot of help from Disney executives. At the House of Mouse, John Carter is looked at as a relic from the previous Dick Cook regime, and the current Rick Ross administration really wouldn’t mind if it flops because that would prove Cook was “bad” and therefore Ross and pals are “good.” Not that Ross’ team would admit that. “We’re not running away from the movie. Our job is to sell it,” one of his people told Finke.

At this late date, the only options are to recut the commercials and get the talent out there, talking up the flick on every talk show available, especially CONAN, THE DAILY SHOW WITH JOHN STEWART, THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON and LATER WITH JIMMY KIMMEL. Surely something can be arranged with Disney-owned ABC’s Kimmel; a special all-John Carter installment (like he used to do with LOST) that depicts the flick as hip would help enormously.

And the Warlord of Mars needs all the allies he can get right now…

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