John Carter Totally Not of Mars

Somebody explain to me, in simple words and using a slow speaking voice, why John Carter of Mars became just John Carter.

Martian? What Martian?

Actually, I already know why. Director Andrew Stanton defended not one but two title changes last year, stating all males would avoid a movie called Princess of Mars while all females would dodge something named John Carter of Mars. (Stanton’s full quote can be found here.) This, of course, is the same sort of lamebrained gender stereotyping we’d expect from the studio that assumed The Frog Princess and Rapunzel needed a title facelift before anyone male and/or over the age of eight would see them.

However! Disney’s entire marketing campaign is built around a single concept, which is: John Carter is totally on Mars and he meets Martians and oh wow pew pew science fiction! The first words we hear in the latest TV spot are “Good God, I’m on Mars!” The latest poster features not human actor Taylor Kitsch but a four-armed extra-terrestrial.

Disney’s marketing department is out to make this the inescapable movie event of the season; they want everybody in the nation to know about John Carter – and its other-world premise – before the film opens. I think it’s safe to say the whole “people won’t see it if they know it’s science fiction” excuse was bunk.

And if somebody does manage to wander into the multiplex without knowing a single thing about it? It’s highly unlikely they’d buy a ticket based on the title alone. “Hmm… I’d like two for… John Carter, is it? Didn’t I go to high school with that guy?” At least with the …of Mars title, Mr. John Q.Random Clueless Moviegoer would have a chance.

(The same generic-izing struck Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar nominee, with the whimsical, wondrous The Invention of Hugo Cabret becoming the bland, nondescript Hugo, which, when you add in the “wacky” logo of the poster, allows audiences to think the film could be about, I dunno, a talking gorilla or something?)

(And while I’m parenthetically complaining about dumbed-down titles, what’s the deal with The Pirates! Band of Misfits? The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists is one of the great titles of all time. Why mess with perfection?)

What Disney ultimately seems to be attempting here is a complete reversal of their strategy with the title Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Both films were/are designed to set up a franchise, but where Pirates went for length and superfluous subtitling, John Carter goes for minimalism: this is the name of our movie, and the name of our hero, and the name of our franchise, all in one. I’m not sure the gamble works, since John Carter isn’t a household name on par with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other creation.

And now it seems their plan has backfired, with recent rumors swirling about how Disney’s own expectations have steadily dropped, especially in terms of the very audience the title change was supposed to attract. Granted, it’s quite likely such apathy has nothing to do with the title itself, but it’s also quite likely the generic name isn’t helping, either.

Updated: Critic Robert Vaux made an excellent point over on the Facebooks, in which he commented:

The John Carter issue is simple. Mars Needs Moms bombed like the Enola Gay last year and Disney figured that the word “Mars” was sufficiently toxic to avoid using it in any future projects. John Carter was already in the pipeline, so… “of Mars” gets tossed onto the ash-heap. I don’t like it, but it at least follows something resembling logic.

Makes sense to me.

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2 thoughts on “John Carter Totally Not of Mars

  1. Jay Seaver says:

    A cynical and angry part of me thinks a lot of American parents would much rather expose their kids to thieving, raping murderers than scientists – especially since one of the featured scientists is _Charles_Darwin_!

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