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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
John Carter (2012)
John Carter was released into theaters to mixed-to-positive reviews in March of 2012. Anemic box office grosses followed, leading Disney to write the film off as a 200 million dollar loss. Directed by Andrew Stanton and starring bland pretty-boy Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), John Carter is a film adaptation of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure novel. Stanton had previously been box office gold as a part of Pixar, having directed the hit films Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Despite the credentials behind the film (as well as a mega-budget from producing company Disney), John Carter flopped in the domestic box office, grossing barely 60 million dollars total. So what exactly went wrong? How did John Carter fail?
Many other works of literature, television shows, feature films, and video games borrow elements of the original John Carter, including 2002’s Star Wars prequel Attack of the Clones and 2009’s James Cameron epic Avatar. This became a huge problem for John Carter, as in the mind of the audience, many had assumed it was a rip-off the very properties it inspired. It didn’t matter than Burroughs wrote the novel nearly a century ago. Most people saw the red sand environments and strange CGI creatures and assumed that John Carter was derivative of the many, many blockbuster films that came before it.
Two other factors also played into the failure of John Carter at the box office. The first was the awful marketing behind the film. Original titles proposed for the movie included names like A Princess of Mars and John Carter of Mars. Not wanting to be associated with the planet Mars after the widely publicized Mars Needs Moms fiasco, Disney pressured the filmmakers into dropping the “of Mars” completely, leaving the marketing department with the unenviable task of hyping a movie with a title as bland as John Carter. Additionally, Andrew Stanton’s unflinching, unwavering desire to stay true to the source material was reported on heavily as well, leading to trouble behind the scenes (and reportedly giving Stanton a reputation of being “difficult”).
The failure of John Carter will be widely remembered in Hollywood. The repercussions will be great as well. After a high profile science fiction stink bomb like Carter, fewer movie studios will be willing to take chances on other science fictions pictures. The recent nosedive Battleship took (also starring Taylor Kitsch!) also hasn’t helped this. If Prometheus tanks, it may be a long while before we see any more triple-A sci-fi releases.
King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson’s first project after the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a remake of the 1930s classic film King Kong. Featuring Naomi Watts, a red-hot Adrien Brody (fresh off his Oscar win), and a miscast Jack Black, King Kong was a mega-budgeted production that failed to deliver the box office heights and critical acclaim of Jackson’s previous productions. Though it ultimately grossed over two hundred million dollars in American theaters, King Kong was widely seen as a disappointment and an out-of-control production after its budget rose to well over two hundred million dollars alone. Pre-release anticipation was high, and the number of tie-in products (including video games, toys, and fast food promotions) were numerous. So what exactly went wrong?
There were several problems with Jackson’s King Kong. Running at a bloated 187 minutes, the film was certainly far too long (the 1933 original ran a light 100 minutes). Contributing to the epic feature length were several unnecessary subplots, including a ridiculous father/son-style relationship between shipmate Jamie Bell and an older crew member, an Errol Flynn-type movie star (Kyle Chandler) trying to overcome his cowardly behavior, and a never-ending string of dead film crew members and production assistants that Jack Black promises to remember and honor with the completion of his guerilla-style (see what I did there?) film. There are also many gratuitous CGI sequences in the jungle featuring giant insects, dinosaurs, and superfluous chase scenes that just go on and on.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie (yes even worse than a butt-numbing three hour running length) is the cast. Jack Black is a gifted comic actor, but is in no way right for the role he plays. Adrien Brody, clearly hired because of his post-Oscar glow, is not convincing as a leading man. Kyle Chandler, playing the aforementioned star of the film-within-a-film, would have been a much better choice for the role. Jamie Bell is far too unbelievable as some kind of orphan/street urchin. The bloated cast also includes Thomas Kretschmann, who is fine but underused, and Colin Hanks, who looks distractingly like his father. Naomi Watts is the bright spot, and is quite charming in the role. Of course Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as Kong is inspiring, but the bulk of the cast just isn’t right for the film.
Even though King Kong went on to become something of a financial success (it grossed $140 million on DVD alone), the film was still seen as a disappointment overall. Critical reaction was positive, but audiences tolerated the film less so. Additionally, Universal executives expressed disappointment with the results of the film. Jackson’s career and reputation seemed to take a minor hit as well (he allegedly feuded with the studio over the choice of composer). He wouldn’t direct another film until The Lovely Bones disappointed in late 2009. His most recent endeavor, 2011’s The Adventure’s of Tintin (which he produced) also sparked rumors of behind-the-scenes feuding, this time with Steven Spielberg. Even his newest directorial outing, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (due to be released Holidays 2012) has met with criticism online.