Book Review by L.L. Soares

Last year, one of the movies that made my “Best of 2012” list was Andrew Stanton’s JOHN CARTER (it was Number 3), a rousing adventure movie based on the classic novel “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And yet, the movie was considered the biggest flop of 2012, and one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. I certainly wasn’t the only critic who praised the movie; so what happened to make it such a historical failure? One thing I (and friends of mine) noticed early on was that the advertising campaign for the movie was pretty dismal, failing to mention at all that it was based on a book by “The Creator of Tarzan.” That seemed pretty silly to me, since Burroughs’ Tarzan is one of the most famous fictional characters ever created (and his John Carter deserves equal renown). Also disheartening was the fact that Burroughs’ book, which came out in 1912, influenced some of the biggest science-fiction epics in the history of movies, and yet, because John Carter’s story itself had never been filmed before, many people would assume that JOHN CARTER was derivative, rather than being the true “original” that everyone else had stolen from for decades.

Another big blunder was that the word “Mars” was nowhere in the movie’s title. The whole point of the story is that John Carter, an Earth man, goes to Mars and becomes a masterful warrior. If you just call the movie JOHN CARTER, no one is going to have a clue what it’s about!

For fans of Burroughs and the John Carter books, the handling of Stanton’s film, or rather the mishandling, has been a huge source of frustration.

Obviously, I wasn’t alone in noticing these things. Writer and filmmaker Michael D. Sellers, who also created The John Carter Files website, was watching all of this unfold very closely, and even interacting with some of the key players, and he has written a terrific book explaining, in great detail, what went wrong, and why a well-made, entertaining film got such an undeserved bad rap. Sellers’ book about this debacle, JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD, follows the project from its inception (how directors had been trying to get a John Carter movie made for decades, and how Andrew Stanton, fresh off the success of FINDING NEMO, was finally the one man with the clout to make it a reality) to its dismal treatment at the hands of Disney executives, to its embarrassingly bad advertising campaign featuring trailers that left viewers confused and scratching their heads, to its final release and financial failure (and Disney’s washing its hands of a film they failed to adequately support from Day 1).

Despite the fact that the movie earned back at least 2/3 of its budget (and we’re talking a $200 million price tag, not including marketing costs) over time, it is considered a huge monetary failure, and pretty much had to pull off an impossible miracle to be considered a success (which obviously didn’t happen). The constant media harping on the price of the film and the studio’s neglect of it before its release certainly gave a negative impression before the movie even hit theaters, which doomed it before it got a fair chance. All of this doesn’t bode well for the character appearing in another movie anytime soon (although Sellers does describe ways that sequels could be done, and could make money).

One of the saddest film-related stories of 2012, I found this book to be a riveting account of the many hows and whys of what went wrong. Sellers doesn’t leave a stone unturned, and gives a thorough explanation of everything that went awrythroughout the process, revealing that the movie really had no chance of being a box-office hit, despite its quality production and high entertainment value.

If you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll especially enjoy this accounting of all the missteps and pitfalls along the way that could have been avoided. Well-researched and well-written, Sellers’ book is a real-life tragedy about a film that doesn’t deserve its bad reputation, and which already seems destined to become a cult favorite, even if it wasn’t a box-office giant.

Highly recommended for fans of JOHN CARTER, and for anyone curious about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the film business. JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD is a fascinating read.

 © Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Check out the original Cinema Knife Fight review of JOHN CARTER when it was first released here)




  1. I grew up reading the “Mars” books and my friends and I still count John Carter among our top 10 favorite movies of 2012. We’re all hoping someone can keep this great series alive in Hollywood!

  2. Patrick J. Says:

    Once again, the studio heads find a book or series that they want to make a movie. They horribly butcher the film to dumb down to the audience. They did it to Conan as well and wondered why it failed. How can you present items from two or three books in without disrupting the flow. Carter was not brought into service. There was no blue weapon. The Therns could not change shape nor did they go to earth. Deja Thoris was a debutaunt not a scientist or a warrior. Woola was not Scooby Doo. They failed to mention the atmosphere plant and how he saves the planet. John Carter was the first Sci-fi book that I ever read and if they choose to use Artistic Liscense for the next movie, I hope they do not make a second one. If they stick to the book more rigidly, they might fix the problems.

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