Willem Dafoe Still Baffled By Failure Of 'John Carter'; New Pixar Stamps Introduced

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by Drew Taylor
June 5, 2012 10:43 AM
17 Comments
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Today "John Carter" will be released on DVD and Blu-ray and, presumably, will be seen by a much larger audience than what turned up it when it was released theatrically this past spring. (The Blu-ray is a handsome, features-packed affair well worth picking up if you feel any love for the movie.) The film, which Disney recently admitted would cost the studio $200 million in lost profit, quickly became a cautionary fable about what happens when you try to launch a franchise based on a century-old property that no one much remembers anymore. One of the film's stars, Willem Dafoe, who played a Martian warrior named Tars Tarkas, is still baffled by the critical and commercial indifference the film received.

“You don’t like to publicly lament disappointments too much, but I’m still kind of scratching my head over it,” Dafoe told IFC during a recent interview. “For me, I thought ‘John Carter’ really captured something. It was very pure in its approach. It was classical. It wasn’t hip and cool. It was really from the source, and I appreciate that.”

Dafoe says that the negative publicity affected the movie in untoward ways. “In my experience, sometimes a movie just hits at the wrong time, gets the wrong press, or gets the wrong representation, and it gets misunderstood.” He continued: “Sometimes it’s hard for people to really decide, too. There’s so much reporting about the business and that other stuff, that they really get distracted by some of those things, and then it influences some of the weaker-willed people to not have their own opinion.”

The actor, whose performance was turned into the animated, multi-limbed Tarkas via motion capture (it's one of the best things about the movie), is also disappointed because he won't get to explore the character in further "John Carter" sequels (an improbability at this point, barring some massive explosion in DVD and Blu-ray sales). "It sure doesn’t seem like [there will be a sequel], which is a shame,” Dafoe lamented. “This was the set-up for what could be a great series of movies. . . I was looking forward to doing a sequel, though, because I know something of where the story goes and the character of Tars Tarkas. He’s big, and the relationship with John gets more intense.”

Oh well.

It will be interesting to see what the creative principles from "John Carter" do next, particularly Pixar director/founding brain trust member Andrew Stanton, who made his live action debut on the movie. ("John Carter," as we've reiterated over and over again, is a Pixar movie in everything but its corporate branding – and at one point it was loudly being touted as "Pixar's first live action film!").

If you want some Pixar stuff connected to movies people actually love, the US Postal Service recently unveiled a new line of Pixar-themed stamps, centered around characters from "Toy Story 2," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "A Bug's Life," and "Monsters, Inc." (You can buy the stamps here.) The stamps complement a similar Pixar series from last year that included characters from "Cars," "Ratatouille," "Toy Story," "Up," and "WALL-E." You can get both sets of stamps now. Just don't hold your breath for a Tars Tarkas stamp.

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More: Pixar, Willem Dafoe, John Carter Of Mars

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17 Comments

  • Rodney Davis | December 21, 2013 11:47 PMReply

    This was an AWESOME movie...I read the book as a child and the movie did NOT disappoint. What's sad is the HORRIBLE marketing the film received. It did not connect to the fans on egg they should see this picture. They SHOULD have focused on the message such as "Come see the film based on the book that inspired the creation of Superman and inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars" Even pay Lucas himself to endorse it..it would have been a success

  • Hikky UK | March 6, 2013 10:07 AMReply

    I loved the film, I guess its just the economic climate that we are in at the moment. I will buy it as soon as I have the cash. So refreshing years after Stargate. I didn't even know anything about the film or books when I sat down to watch it. Even though I had seen it painted by my favourite fantasy artist duo Boris and Julie. I really thought recent movie peeps had run out of ideas or something and this spiced movies up again for me alongside Avatar. Looking forward to the next one which is how I bumped into this page. I agree with David R, the superhero thing is too much, yeah OK bish bash bosh for the kids, maybe (Except that blue guy and his junk what was that nonsense even called?)

  • Juan | January 5, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    The movie is fantastic. The critiques about it being a century-old property is ridiculous. If people didn't like the film because it was "out-dated" for a sci-fi movie, then they have no imagination and are limited to the mundane. It's a shame it didn't do well. The story was great and different than the normal average sci-fi film of late. I think it was bad timing for the release and it didn't have the advertisement push it deserved.

  • Sarky | December 23, 2012 5:22 PMReply

    i really enjoyed this moive. but all the advertising posters over here in the UK were calling it J.C and did not tell you anything about it. Also never saw any ads on T.V if I had not stumbled upon the news that it was coming out on the internet and therefore known that it was John Carter that the movie was about I probably would not have gone to see it thinking it was some religious film :D

  • George | December 18, 2012 1:06 AMReply

    Great movie. From the graphics to the story overall. I loved how it gave you something to think about outside of the norm how one man could be "john carter" of earth as well as John carter of mars. It's a damn shame that there won't be a sequel because the movies leaves you wanting more. I guess it's like he said maby just bad timing. Scarf ace didnt do so good at first but is one of the most memorable movies today.

  • David R | November 23, 2012 11:15 PMReply

    I am right there with Dafoe on this one. Personally, I felt that John Carter was one of the best movies in the last few years. Avengers exploded at the box office and I thought it was pretty boring, seemed like same old superhero movie. I have been a big fan of the John Carter books since childhood and actually avoided the film for quite some time. When my family did watch it, we were all stunned. The acting was good, the script was good, the battle tactics were good and the effects were stunning. The one thing I did notice is that the movie is paced slower than the movies (like Avengers) that just seem to be on a Red-bull, coffee and cocaine overdose. I felt the story had time to sink in and I actually cared about the characters, something uncommon in today's films. Glad I am not a film producer nowadays because apparently I have no idea what the general public is looking for...

  • calin | July 29, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    "John Carter" is an excellent adventure movie, with romance and humor too. The special effects (especially the Tharks) are far above average for today's action movies. There is a good narrative and story, which is lacking in some other hit movies with good special effects (such as Avatar). And Lynn Collins did an excellent job as Dejah Thoris -- I'm still hoping for a sequel with the same creative team.

  • Frank | July 16, 2012 1:53 AMReply

    I really enjoyed John Carter. It did much better internationally then domestically. With DVD and Blu-ray sales combined with box office, you would think that a sequal could be made.
    I would rather see a sequel to John Carter, then Prometheus (highly rated, but poorly executed)

  • mage?! | June 22, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    I remember these books and other things that Burroughs had written, I am right there with Defoe. I found that the film captured the imagination of Barsoom rather well, it is bad that it has been tomb raided for content so many times. I would love to see a sequel, I would go and see it. I will own John Carter, and add it to my collection of films that I would love to see more of, like Buckaroo Banzai. Maybe I am the only one that really remembers. Sad really.

  • tsuru | June 7, 2012 2:01 PMReply

    Stanton said he loved the books as a kid. I find that very hard to understand. I had the same thought when the Cosmos series came out and Sagan was going on about Barsoom. I read the first one when I was 10 and found the themes, subtext, and scanty clothing weird, lurid, and kind of repellant (and I was a ravenous consumer of sci-fi at the time.) In my opinion, the John Carter books aren't of interest to most kids and they are too lame and badly written to be of interest to most adults. I think sticking closely to those stories is exactly why the film didn't find an audience. Too bad Stanton's parents didn't get him something like Tom Swift.

  • Lou | June 7, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    'John Carter' is as good as any movie released in the past several years. Watching it is like reading the fine works of a great storyteller, namely, Edgar Rice Burroughs. However, in only its first week in release, it's already "selling like hotcakes"; so there seems little doubt that Disney will make a nice profit (because the total box office has already exceeded the budget, and that's only going to increase--don't forget it's still showing beyond the U.S. borders). Disney should have called it "Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars" ...then it would have gotten some name-recognition.

  • Bobby | June 6, 2012 7:24 PMReply

    I didn't go to the theaters to watch this but I rented it. For my taste, I like it better than Avatar. I think they should have re-marketed the book along with the movie. Because after I watched John Carter I went out and bought the books and I'm an enjoying them very much. I think had Disney reprinted the book the public would have been more interested in the Movie. After I watched the movie I was like "this can't be the ending". Then upon googling I found that it was a book series. Now I'm into book three and I can't put it down. Immediately it gave me a appreciation for the movie knowing there was more that was supposed to come. Now because of poor performance there will probably be no theatrical sequel. In my opinion this was just bad marketing. It wasn't a BAD movie.

  • Calin | June 6, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    John Carter is an incredibly good adventure film with superior special effects and scenery. The story has more facets than most blockbuster style films and it allows the characters to develop and change. There is action and humor, romance and intrigue -- and there is also Lynn Collins in a great performance. The whole crew deserves praise for creating a film that is far above average -- this will become evident in the future as more people actually see it, rather than read about it on the internet.

  • samster10001 | June 5, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    This movie was just lame. Two plus hours of surfer boy wanna be hero douche Taylor Kitsch. This guy can't seem to catch a break. First Carter and now battleship. Plus Stanton didn't bring his A game like his buddy Brad Bird did for MI Ghost Protocol which was a superior film in every way. Let's hope that Kitsch's next film (Savages) does well because honestly its the only one out of three he's had this year that looks interesting.

  • Cribbster | June 5, 2012 11:09 AMReply

    I wouldn't say the movie's failure was a lesson about launching a franchise based on an old story no one remembers anymore. The movie wasn't marketed as if it was based on that book. When I saw the trailer, I just thought it was something someone made up. It can be a little useless to speculate about stuff like this, but here are the reasons I didn't see it: It looked like a B.S. Disney movie (which is, admittedly, prejudiced). It was called "John Carter," which didn't really tell you anything about the movie or evoke any sort of feeling about what kind of movie it might be. Also, to get me to watch a sci-fi/fantasy film, it needs quite a bit of critical/audience support. Like "Prometheus," for instance. That's another movie I had no clue about when I saw the first ads. I knew it was Ridley Scott, so it would probably be interesting at worst. "John Carter" just seemed to come out of nowhere, and it threw a bunch of animation at you and showed all these aliens and some guy from the 1800s in there, but the advertising didn't emphasize any real ideas. "Prometheus" grabs you because it presumes – according to the trailer, at least – that humans were designed by aliens. That's a hell of an idea. "John Carter" didn't have something like that. I don't know. I'll probably check it out on Bluray, regardless.

  • Huffy | June 5, 2012 1:17 PM

    Yeah, the fact that no one remembers John Carter is irrelevant. At worst you could just look at it as a new, fresh IP for most people out there. If it's anything then its a cautionary tale on how important pre-release marketing is. That movie didn't stand a chance; from the second people learned about its budget it was under constant scrutiny and unlike Avatar the trailers were woefully inadequate. I hate to say it (especially considering how much I love New Hollywood) but its also a cautionary tale of a director with too much power. I'm all for filmmakers having more creative control but when the director starts overriding the marketing team because he wants to film presented in a specific way then it's too much. Stanton really let the power go to his head in my opinion. Being a "Fuck everyone my vision comes first" guy is admirable but be smart about it; don't just brush everyone's advice off when you're really green as a live-action guy.

  • Great Scott! | June 5, 2012 11:58 AM

    Actually, John Carter did have "something like that", it just didn't emphasize it much (and not at all in trailers). There are obvious hints throughout the film that the goings-on on Mars are somehow tied to ancient Egyptian religion on Earth. That alone was intriguing enough to me as far as how it might be developed in future installments. When I saw the advertising, I, too, did not care at all. It looked to me like another round of Prince of Persia, which literally put me to sleep in the theater. I didn't even pick up on the fact that it had any relation to 19th century Earth, did any of the TV spots/trailers even mention this? If they had played that up more, it could have pulled in the entire steampunk crowd (and the RDJ/Sherlock audience, if those aren't the same thing). Fortunately I ended up seeing it (by no real motivation of my own) and I really liked it. It was the most fun I've had at the theater in a long time. Part of it might be that, for the first time in ages, I went into a movie with no expectations whatsoever and it was all a complete surprise. Maybe that was even an intentional marketing move in keeping the more interesting details secretive, but in today's world it seems you can only afford to do that when you've earned the audience's trust/loyalty first. I guess we all want to know exactly what to expect before we go to a movie, now that they cost more than a decent meal to see and there is more competition for our attention.

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