By Anne Thompson and Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood February 15, 2012 at 6:44PM
Disney is battling a tsunami of bad buzz--or worse, disinterest, due to ineffective marketing and a lousy Super Bowl spot-- in Andrew Stanton's $250 million sci-fi epic "John Carter." The Mars adventure crammed with performance capture aliens doesn't hit the ground until March 9, but following a massive billboard campaign, the studio has released two new clips from the upcoming would-be franchise. It will be tough for incoming marketing chief Ricky Strauss to turn around this behemoth in time.
This inability to tap into an exotic fantasy world with fantastical creatures (unfortunately, some resemble Jar Jar Binks) reminds me of two past scenarios. Disney had better pray that "Avatar" is the model here, and not "Stardust." Audiences resisted early looks at the performance capture aliens in "Avatar" until they could properly see them within their Pandora environments. Needless to say the movie went on to gross $2.7 billion worldwide.
In the case of Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel "Stardust," Paramount never got a handle on the sweetly fantastical storytelling--Michelle Pfeiffer played a witch, Robert De Niro a scene-chewing villain-- and moviegoers stayed away in droves. At Disney's D23 convention last August, attendees were cool towards "John Carter," which is not familiar or branded (again, like "Avatar").
After a recent early screening. AICN's Harry Knowles was permitted to tweet his approval: "JOHN CARTER is spectacular. From the second that Edgar sits to begin reading Uncle Jack's diary... pure magic til end." Disney had better screen the hell out of this to turn this baby around.
Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel "A Princess of Mars," the film follows a Civil War soldier who is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he is unexpectedly caught up in an inter-species battle beyond his comprehension. Disney has had a "Mars" adaptation in the works since the 1980s, but the project was originally scrapped due to the sheer complexity of filming such an effects-heavy movie. In 2007, Disney re-acquired the rights to Burroughs's novel after Paramount ditched Kerry Conran's iteration, enlisting Pixar star Stanton to co-write and direct the new adaptation, with a whopping $250 million budget (without marketing costs).
Stanton has proven himself an accomplished and varied director in the world of animation, helming the excellent Pixar comedy "Finding Nemo" as well as the studio's more tender space odyssey "WALL-E." "John Carter" is his first foray into live action, and the film's going to need to bring in some serious box office coin with such a big budget.
Check out the new clips below, in which Stanton and the film's cast talk about the impact Burroughs's stories have had on the science fiction genre.