To say that the development of Disney's "John Carter" has been scrutinzed would be an understatement. The project itself has been in the works for years with a handful of directors (Jon Favreau and Robert Rodriguez among them) working on it, but never quite cracking the sci-fi space epic. However, it was Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton ("Wall-E," "Finding Nemo") who finally got the ball rolling and for his live action debut, he couldn't have asked for a bigger challenge. And indeed he's been closely watched every step of the way, with rumors growing loud as the film shifted release dates, dropped "Of Mars" from its initial title and slowly started earning concerned buzz, with reports showing up in the trades suggesting that his inexperience led to reshoots that pushed the budget to a staggering $300 million (a figure most recently tossed around in The Hollywood Reporter), but Stanton is now fighting back.
This week, a massive press get-together for "John Carter" was held in Arizona and Movieline was there and found Stanton in a fighting spirt. Calling reports about the rumored $300 million budget “a complete and utter lie” Stanton insisted the studio was fully behind him: “I want to go completely on record that I literally was on budget and on time the entire shoot. Disney is so completely psyched that I stayed on budget and on time that they let me have a longer reshoot because I was such a good citizen, so I find it ironic that we’re getting accused of the opposite.”
And indeed, the studio was with the filmmaker every step of the way. As the New Yorker noted in their profile of the film last fall (recapped here) as long ago as December 2010, Stanton showed the Pixar braintrust a rough cut that ran nearly three hours. Known for being brutally honest in their critiques (hence their high quailty standard of output), they suggested the director make some key changes and the result was an added 18 day reshoot last spring. So what changed? A new opening was created, one that launches viewers immediately into a battle between Zodangans and Therns, before cutting to earth where we first meet John Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch. He also re-edited and re-shaped scenes to give the characters a better presence (which is nothing new to filmmaking in general).
The movie test-screened with an audience (and executives) last July to see if they were on the right track, and the 'Carter' came back with a hearty 75% approval. And while THR says that concerns about the (rumored) ballooning budget made Disney cool on their plans to turn this into a trilogy, Movieline reveals that a 25 page out script for "John Carter: The God Of Mars" has already been handed in with reports coming in yesterday that both Stanton and writer Michael Chabon are back and working on it.
So what does all this mean? Did "John Carter" go "over budget"? It's probably a matter of semantics, but our guess is that it probably cost Disney more than they thought it would, but they knew what they were paying for with 18 days of additional shooting, and if Stanton says he met their guidelines, he likely did, though the number at the start and at the end of the production likely changed as the movie was retooled. As for the rumors of "soft tracking," we'll remind you that the press gauntlet for the film is only just starting (with the Arizona junket last week) and those concerns were hurled previously at both "Tron: Legacy" and "Tangled" with both going on to earn $400 million and $590 million worldwide (with the former showing longer legs than anyone expected).
That said, does the film need to make a ton of money to be successful? No doubt. The number $700 million has been mentioned more than once as the target to make it a "success" for Disney and that means this one will have to be a "Pirates Of The Caribbean" sized phenomenon (which is probably what the franchise-centric studio has been gunning for anyway). And with the release looming in a few short weeks, it doesn't quite feel like it's there yet. But we're sure there is going to be a massive push as we move closer and Disney won't be going down without a fight to make sure they sell as many tickets as possible.
We'll see how it all plays out when the film hits theaters on March 9th.