For better or worse, John Carter will go down as one of the most talked-about films of 2012. The sci-fi epic was an ambitious undertaking in its conceit—a feature film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 novel has eluded a multitude of filmmakers over the years—but the $250 million film served as the live-action directorial debut of Pixar’s Andrew Stanton. The co-writer/director had plenty of clout in the animation world with smashing box office and critical successes like Finding Nemo and Wall-E under his belt, but John Carter was an absolutely massive live-action undertaking to cut his teeth on.
As we well know, the film was not the franchise-starter that Disney was hoping for. Reviews were mixed, but the pic opened to a dismal $30 million and went on to nab a domestic total of just $73 million through its entire U.S. run. With some distance from the pic’s opening and reception, Stanton recently sat down to candidly reflect on the experience and talk about returning to Pixar for a Finding Nemo sequel. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
Though John Carter’s opening weekend was indeed bad, many had written the film off before seeing even a second of footage. Stanton was given an immense amount of creative freedom for his first live-action feature, and he came from the Pixar school of thought where the instinct is to rewrite, redo, and rework the film until it’s exactly right. Stanton requested multiple reshoots for the pic early on, but when word got out that John Carter was going through “extensive reshoots,” many assumed there was something seriously wrong (per the LA Times):
“There was this weird air the summer before of schadenfreude, of doomed to fail. It isn’t a nice atmosphere to be in, but what can you do about it?”
More problems arose with the film’s abysmal marketing campaign. Stanton wrote and shot the film under the title John Carter of Mars, but Disney decided to drop the “of Mars” in order to bring in a wider audience, even though the movie takes place on Mars. The result was a batch of confusing trailers and TV spots that didn’t really tell the audience anything about the film. Stanton seems to have kept a cool head throughout, though, as he says he never got into any major arguments with the marketing department:
“We didn’t always agree on which direction to take every step of the way, but there was never serious contention. The truth was everyone tried their very best to crack how to sell what we had, but the answer proved elusive.”
The plan with John Carter all along was to set up the first film in a trilogy, with Stanton already outlining the other two sequels before the first film hit theaters. Sadly, the pic’s box office performance has pretty much killed any prospect of seeing further films in the series. It was recently announced that Stanton will be directing a Finding Nemo sequel at Pixar as his next project, but some felt that the decision was a “let’s go back to the well” reaction to John Carter’s performance:
“What was immediately on the list was writing a second Carter movie. When that went away, everything slid up. I know I’ll be accused by more sarcastic people that [Finding Nemo 2 is] a reaction to Carter not doing well, but only in its timing, but not in its conceit.”
Though the film didn’t take off as he had hoped, Stanton says that the same “empty nest” ennui that surfaces when a film does well hit him in the wake of John Carter’s failure.
Personally, I thought John Carter was a damn swell adventure film and I was sad to see it not catch on with audiences. Stanton transported viewers to a completely different world with lush visuals and rich characters, and I would’ve loved to see him expand the universe in the subsequent sequels. He’s an immensely talented guy and when he returns to the live-action world, I’ve no doubt that we’ll be in for another treat.
Head on over to the LA Times to read the full interview, which includes thoughts from Stanton’s Pixar colleagues John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich.