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How did Disney hire Michael Chabon?

March 7, 2012

I had not paid much attention to forthcoming John Carter movie – I just appreciate Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original Barsoom series too much.

Now some of you – mostly those who have not actually read Burroughs, may question my taste at this point.  But ERB’s A Princess of Mars, upon which the John Carter movie is based, is published in the “Penguin Classics” series.    The Library of America is publishing an edition.  Even Carl Sagan was a fan.

ERB has managed the transition from the pulps to literary classics, just like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  And he is is in finest over-the-top form in A Princess of Mars, his first novel.

Still, how could a movie version of John Carter be worth watching?  It is not as if, for example, there has ever been a good movie version of Tarzan of the Apes (another of ERB’s classic books.)

But then, I espied some shocking information:  Michael Chabon co-wrote the screenplay for John Carter.  (Anyone who has read Michael Chabon’s salutes to Arthur Conan Doyle or the comic books of the 1940s will know that he has a soft spot for popular culture.)  Still, a Pulitzer Prize winner working for Disney adapting a Edgar Rice Burroughs novel?  This has to be the oddest thing since Miramax managed to dragoon Tom Stoppard into rewriting Shakespeare in Love.

So with Michael Chabon’s firepower, maybe John Carter will just be mildly dreadful, instead of downright awful.  (I may skip the theater release though, and for wait for the 3D Blu-ray release, so I can watch it in my isolation headset.)

Postscript: don’t miss the sexist story of how the movie changed its name from A Princess of Mars to John Carter of Mars to John Carter.

Here is how the director/co-writer Andrew Stanton describes how he chose the title:

Here’s the real truth of it. I’d already changed it from A Princess Of Mars to John Carter Of Mars. I don’t like to get fixated on it, but I changed Princess Of Mars because not a single boy would go.

And then the other truth is, no girl would go to see John Carter Of Mars. So I said, “I don’t won’t to do anything out of fear, I hate doing things out of fear, but I can’t ignore that truth.”

All the time we were making this big character story which just so happens to be in this big, spectacular new environment. But it’s not about the spectacle, it’s about the investment. I thought, I’ve really worked hard to make all of this an origin story. It’s about a guy becoming John Carter. So I’m not misrepresenting what this movie is, it’s John Carter.

Mars is going to stick on any other film in the series. But by then, it won’t have a stigma to it.

Jill Pantozzi replies

Starting off by making hackneyed assumptions about your potential audience? Perhaps not the best way to secure a sequel. Just sayin’.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2012 9:16 am

    Talk about getting fixated—all I can think about is whether your Sony 3D isolation headset is wondrous or not, and whether a glasses-wearer like me can use it.

  2. March 7, 2012 11:26 am

    LOL, Craig.

    Will the sequel be entitled “Tara Carter” (instead of “The Chessmen of Mars”)? And will boys and girls then come out to view that one in equal numbers?

    N. B., Mr. Stanton:
    Mr. Burroughs went through at least three titles (“My First Adventure of Mars” and “The Green Martians” and “Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess”) before deciding on “A Princess Of Mars.” And I think enough of us boys read it anyway. Good luck with “John Carter.”

  3. March 7, 2012 12:10 pm

    Craig — I’m still testing it. You can wear glasses under the visor (I do) although you’ll want to make sure that your glasses are super clean (and so are the lenses on the visor) or else the picture will look fuzzy.

    My main problem so far with the visor is that it is putting too much weight on my nose, and after an hour or so, it becomes uncomfortable. I’m still fiddling around many ways to adjust it to see if I can take the weight off my nose.

    The actual OLED display is quite impressive — arguably the best I’ve ever seen

  4. March 8, 2012 1:19 pm

    Michael Chabon talks about his interest in fantasy and science fiction, his reading of ERB, and his work on the screenplay here.

  5. March 9, 2012 8:10 pm

    According to a report in LA Times, Wall Street media analysts predict that Disney will lose $100 million to $150 million.

    The reviews are in, and they are clearly mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gives an average ranking of 51%.

    Mick LaSalle’s review claims that among other failings, the 3D is bad for a pedestrian reason: it is just too dark (showing the problem with polarized film and shutter glass stereoscopic film — here is an area where I would expect the 3D Blu-ray with the Sony isolation headset to be superior):

    Also – it’s early in the review to say it, but it needs to be said right off – “John Carter” had no business being made in 3-D. It’s without visual distinction and gains nothing from the process, but loses a lot. It loses all brightness. It looks as though it were filmed in the dark. Take your 3-D glasses off during any two-person scene, and you’ll feel nothing but relief at being able to see the actors’ faces.

    Oddly enough, Joe Morgenstern’s review starts by reviewing John Carter and then switches to the Israeli film about a family disagreement in a university Talmud department, Footnote

  6. March 12, 2012 1:48 am

    Well, Andrew Stanton managed to alienate both women and young men in the US, and proved to be a box office bomb. The film did strong in Russia, though. Here are the details

    Andrew Stanton’s 3D sci-fi epic John Carter hit $30.6 million in its North American debut thanks to an uptick on Saturday, while the film opened internationally to $70.6 million for a total $101.2 million.

    Disney is under no illusions that it’s out of the woods financially despite a slightly bettter-than-hoped for global performance. John Carter cost $250 million to produce plus a marketing spend that puts the total pricetag well north of $300 million and probably closer to $350 million.

    At those levels, John Carter needs to earn as much as $600 million worldwide, an impossible benchmark to reach based on opening numbers. Box office observers are now comparing John Carter‘s potential to Disney’s Prince of Persia, which earned $90.8 million domestically and $244 million internationally in 2010 (opinion is divided as to whether John Carter will do more than $200 million offshore). […]

    The film played best to older fanboys, but needed an equally strong showing from younger males.[…] Nearly 60 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, according to exit polls conducted by Disney, while 64 percent of those buying tickets were males.[…]

    Internationally, John Carter […] opened particularly strong in Russia, grossing roughly $17 million, and did good business in Asia as well. Its European performance was mixed.

  7. March 12, 2012 4:41 pm

    And now the New York Times has published its own take-down article, entitled “Ishtar Lands on Mars.”

    In recent weeks, as a weak marketing campaign failed to generate audience excitement for John Carter, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, made it clear in conversations with senior managers that he would not tolerate finger-pointing; this may be a colossal miss, he told them, according to people who were present, but it’s the company’s miss and no individuals would be blamed — including Mr. Stanton. Learn from it, was Mr. Iger’s message.

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