Thursday, July 31, 2014

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

I was on vacation last week, which left little time for blogging. But I did have time to finish a wonderful book by Michael D. Sellers titled John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood. The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ landmark John Carter of Mars series or the internal workings of a Hollywood studio that, in Sellers’ view, led to the failure of Disney’s John Carter.

I reviewed John Carter (of Mars) two years ago. At the time I was a bit critical of the film, unhappy with the ways it deviated from Burroughs’ first novel A Princess of Mars. Since then, I’ve watched the film several more times with my daughter and, especially after seeing her wide-eyed reaction, my feelings for the movie have warmed considerably. Still, the movie was deemed a disaster for Disney, resulting in a $200 million write-down by the studio. So what happened? How did this admittedly good film fare so badly? Michael Sellers, a filmmaker and former CIA officer, offers a compelling explanation in John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

The book begins with several chapters about Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess of Mars published in 1912, as well as the storied writer’s life and the various attempts to bring his John Carter of Mars series to the big screen. The rest of the book focuses on the film and what went wrong, including the unfortunate decision to drop the words “of Mars” from the title (resulting in the dull and confusing “John Carter”) and what Sellers’ calls the studio’s “tragically inept marketing” of the film. The story of the film’s marketing failure is fascinating and should make this book a must-read for any JCM fan disappointed in the movie’s promotion and perception among critics.

Interestingly, Sellers led an effort to help save the film in spite of its “clueless marketing” (in his view). He started a website called The John Carter Files and created two fan trailers for the film that, in the view of many, were far better than anything put out by the studio. You can compare trailers below and decide for yourself:

Studio Trailer

Sellers' First Fan Trailer
Sellers' Second Fan Trailer

Sellers is also leading an effort to convince the studio that John Carter is worthy of a sequel—a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. You can read his post about this here.

Ultimately, I found John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood to be a quick and convincing read. I’m also planning on following Sellers’ efforts to encourage Disney to continue the John Carter franchise. Burroughs’ novels were such inspirational masterpieces it would be a shame if we couldn’t see more of them on the silver screen.

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