With Disney's expensive, years-in-the-making adaptation of "John Carter" finally hitting theaters next week, the buzz has both been very loud, and not all positive either. Fanboys were miffed when Disney, in a bid to make the sci-fi movie more broadly appealing, changed the title from the original "John Carter of Mars" to simply "John Carter." Rumors swirled of a massive $300 million budget, reshoots, and in recent weeks, soft tracking indicating the film may not be the blockbuster the studio is hoping for. But the filmmakers are starting to fight back. Director Andrew Stanton addressed the budget rumors calling them a "complete and utter lie" and today, the helmer's Pixar pal Brad Bird (likely part of the braintrust who served as advisers on the film) hit Twitter to lash out at the media, and what he perceives as a tar and feather campaign against the picture.
"The showbiz press complains about big-budget sequels & remakes, but when a big NEW film like JOHN CARTER arrives, support is nonexistent," he tweeted. Clarifying, he added, "I dont mean the 'press'press…I mean the industry prognosticators who bagged on 'Ratatouille,' 'Wall-E' & 'Up' before they came out." He also said, "The loudest complainers about JC haven't seen it!"
Is there merit to Bird's asessment? Perhaps, but he surely can't be that naive about the way the blogosphere or movie marketing works in general? Disney has been pressing this movie hard since last July when the first teaser landed, with the film being further rolled out at D23 in August followed by an extensive New Yorker profile in October (recapped here, which outlined the details of the extensive reshoots and reshaping the film underwent since a rough cut was assembled and shown to Pixar in December 2010). The entire point of that early press? To get people talking about the film, and if that talk has been unimpressed, it speaks to the quality of the campaign, not necessarily that of the film.
In fact, one follower commented on this, and here's Bird's response: "@tombrazelton: Disney's done a poor job communicating what the film is.' Epic sci-fi fantasy from the creators of TARZAN and FINDING NEMO." But again, that really does not say much about the film, and Bird tries to position the film in another tweet: "It's the first big movie adaptation of a classic series of novels. Many filmmakers have tried." But again, whether it has succeeded in that regard remains to be seen. People decide what movies to go see based on trailers, stills or other marketing material, and if they don't like what they see, or they aren't moved by it, they "complain" or instead, just don't go.
" '@CoreyAtad: The press loves failure. It's why they go super negative before every new [James] Cameron film.' Yet we never see them eat super crow," Bird responded to another follower. The overall tone of the tweets suggets that some (not all) sections of press or blogosphere or whatever are cynical enough to root for a movie to bomb. And that's just not accurate. Most (reputable) movie writers do it because they love the medium and always want to see good work, however, no movie — big or small — gets a pass based on good intent or simply on the merits of not being a sequel or remake. And yes, early opinions are formed based on what is advertised (sorry, "Battleship" still looks terrible).
The ultimate success of "John Carter" will have little to do with the numerous chatter about the flim beforehand (most of which, the general moviegoing public generally ignores or does not take part in) but in the results on the screen. Reviews will start coming in next week and advance word has been mixed, with some (mostly geek centered) quarters trumpeting the film. But what audiences think, and when they go to Mars on March 9th, how they feel when the lights go up, will be all that matters.