Andrew Stanton Reflects on JOHN CARTER’s Reception and Explains Why He’s Next Directing FINDING NEMO 2

     September 8, 2012


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.

john-carter-movie-image-andrew-stantonThough 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.”

john-carter-movie-image-25The 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.


Around The Web
  • Lance

    Prometheus was a way better science fiction film than John Carter. But even if you like John Carter, you have to admit it was convoluted and messy a lot of the time. So I’m puzzled that a lot of the same people who criticize Prometheus try to prop up John Carter as a classic that was overlooked by the masses.

    • Scullibundo

      Prometheus wasn’t convoluted and messy?

    • Alan

      You know Lance is desperate to sell Prometheus when all he can say is, ‘well, at least it was better than John Carter.’ Way to reach for the stars, Lance.

    • spongefist

      Prometheus was an utter joke, truly one of the worst cinema experiences of all time, second only to Avatar.
      John Carter was not bad at all, at solid ‘B’ effort. The adverts made it look like a poor copy of Star Wars.

      The ad campaign should have been, (In a Big Deep Yank Voice):

      “Not as shit as Avatar, definitely not as shit as Star Wars 1, 2 and 3, but not nearly as good as Star Wars 4,5,6 but still better than Krull and far better than the upcoming shitefest that will be Prometheus.

      Now that advert would have got me in…. twice.

      • excpired

        Is everything that you do ranked on a ladder?

        I like Yogurt, but not as much as I like peanut butter. Which isn’t nearly as great as bananas, which will never outshine burritos!

        Can’t you just sit down and enjoy something and judge it on its own merits instead of comparing it to something else? Your girlfriend must love being compared to every other girl you have ever dated, if she hasn’t walked out on you already.

      • spongefist

        I actually prefer peanut butter to yogurt, but do agree that burritos are better than bananas.

        I really enjoyed sitting down and expressing my contempt for Prometheus and Avatar, just as I’m sure you enjoyed giving me your profound insight into my psychological makeup.

        I love judging things on their own merits, like you: no comparisons required – your simply a total twat.

    • si

      pro-homo-meatius was a stupid movie with gay looking aliens that were suppose to be the space jockeys.

      Prometheus or pro-homo-meatius ain’t and alien film. First of all, the space jockey seen in ‘Alien’ was an exoskeleton, that is what it looked like, not some dumb gay faced shit. Even AVP 2 got that right, by having a space jockey skull from ‘Alien’ in the Predator’s trophy room.

      There are only 4 alien movies, only 10 star trek movies.

    • terry

      prometheus was ok clever but same old story ,go their get in trouble try to get away ,say old thing but with glorified visual affects ,john carter has excitement and fun and entertainment ,i watch many dvd and 99% has a good review and is a load of rubbish i waste my money ,john carter one of the best ,let down by bad marketing and people that don’t watch the film that comment on it ,reviewers that should not be reviewers

    • terry

      prometheus was ok clever but same old story ,go their get in trouble try to get away ,say old thing but with glorified visual affects ,john carter has excitement and fun and entertainment ,i watch many dvd and 99% has a good review and is a load of rubbish i waste my money ,john carter one of the best ,let down by bad marketing and people that don’t watch the film that comment on it ,reviewers that should not be reviewers

  • MJ

    Yeah, I’m equally baffled by the amount of love JC has gotten. Barsoom was utterly dull as a setting for a film and the film felt Prequel-esque at times. Just about the only interesting character was the alien mo-capped by Willem Dafoe.

  • Ray

    I Absolutley loved John Carter. Mark my words, this one is gonna be a cult classic.

    • ChrisVC

      Hopefully so, but I still want a proper sequel – and not have to wait over twenty years like with Tron.

  • Tyler

    Its a shame that movie didn’t do well. Now we’ll never get a sequel for it, unless Disney feels absolutely compelled to do so, which they won’t. Too bad, it was one of the better surprises of 2012.

  • Dan Geer

    I loved John Carter. Terrible marketing, but a completely satisfying sci-fi adventure film that deserved far more than it received. I agree that it might become a cult classic, and perhaps it may even spawn a sequel after all, if it gains more popularity in the next several years.

  • Luke

    I just saw John Carter last night on DVD. I was quite surprised at how good it was. I was aslo shocked at how high the production values were. This film looked as good as any of the LOTR films or AVATAR. The surface story is quite good but it’s the message that’s really most important. It’s not really about a guy who goes to Mars to save a princess. It’s about an elite group of intergalactic entities that “don’t participate in the wars on planets. We just instigate and manage them.” They play groups within a civilization against each other to bring their people into power and control an entire planet until it’s sucked dry of everything it has to offer. VERY interesting message for all of us on Earth at this time in history, I’d say. It’s too bad the inept marketing of this film and the hating by critics will keep most from seeing this film and getting this essential message. This film deserved a sequel and an audience.

    • Abraham Sherman

      Ironically, the message in the book was very different. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original novel, there are no interplanetary manipulators and the planet of Barsoom is not dying because of human activity. It’s dying of natural causes. Instead of humanity being the problem, humanity offers a solution, in the form of the atmosphere factory, which (barely) sustains all life on the planet.

  • calvincrack

    John Carter. Good not great. Exciting at times, boring at others. Awful marketing, i think all agree there. Title change was foolish. Since when is “Mars” not appealing or marketable? Little boys love the idea of space. These studio cats were f”king mental on this one.

  • Sanette

    John Carter really is a great adventure film and I’m sad that audiances can’t appreciate it. I would love to see a sequel.

  • Phil

    I was always a big fan of John Carters, it is a must read for sci fi. Burroughs is a classic author from the turn of the century one of the best, calling a movie messy when it followed the original story as well as it did is ludicrous. It is Heroic fantasy, Spiderman, or Burroughs other hero, Tarzan. so comparing it to movies like Prometheus just means you might like like Heroic fantasy as well as other forms of Sci Fi. The movie was extremely well done, with attention to detail and costume that only Disney can deliver. the marketing was poor but the movie is like the book, EPIC

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  • Turner

    I thought “John Carter” was pretty good. Enjoyed the characters, but the script needed work. The minute the movie opened with a “Dune”-heavy narration, I knew it was in deep trouble. Barsoom was indeed a pretty dull looking world (and looked way too similar to the Arizona world that Carter just left). Audiences want to be transported to an exciting, fantastical place. Say what you will about “Avatar,” but it delivered big time when it came to delivering that “special world.” The list could go on, but I actually would have liked to have seen a sequel. I liked Carter and thought the woman who played the princess was terrific.

    • Abraham Sherman

      Ironically, the message in the book was very different. In Edgar Rice Burroughs\’ original novel, there are no interplanetary manipulators and the planet of Barsoom is not dying because of human activity. It\’s dying of natural causes. Instead of humanity being the problem, humanity offers a solution, in the form of the atmosphere factory, which (barely) sustains all life on the planet.

      • Abraham Sherman

        Sorry, that message somehow double-posted from a response to someone else’s comments.

        The Barsoom of the film is considerably toned down in comparison to the world of ERB’s novels. In the books, Mars is entirely covered by the moss that the John Carter of the movie sees when he first wakes up on Barsoom. Also, the canals are still full of water in the books, and are lined on either side with cultivated farming districts and trees that stand thousands of feet tall. In some corners of the planet there are lush forests full of exotic creatures, as well as several rich underground regions. All that to say, Barsoom in general is much more fantasy-oriented and visually interesting than the “realistic” desert look they featured in this film.

    • terry

      i love avatar but i only watched it 2x ,john carter i watched 6x

    • terry

      i love avatar but i only watched it 2x ,john carter i watched 6x

  • TheSargonTimes

    I honestly thought the movie was very mediocre. The marketing was terrible, but the movie itself wasnt all that much better, very lifeless and joyless

  • Aaronsullivan

    I could point to at least two significant flaws that made this movie fail to reach greatness and fail to connect with some, but it is WAY better than the numbers tell. Marketing was a big issue, but movies that really connect with people can overcome that. Personally, I had a great time with it and own it.

  • Klock

    I loved this movie regardless of minor flaws here and there. The bottom line is to be entertained and I left the theater thoroughly entertained. Too bad there won’t be any sequels as planned. Hopefully it will become a “cult classic” and create a demand for the remainder of the trilogy.

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  • Drake

    John Carter was an excellent film and one of the best of the year. People who are slagging it off sound just like all the people who believed the bad press before even seeing the film. There will be people who didn’t like it but on this scale Bollocks. As said above John Carter will become a cult classic.

  • Dobby

    Interesting that the then head of marketing at Disney is no longer there.

  • David

    It actually told a compelling though somewhat complex story, but the beginning 30 minutes jumped around too much for the average moviegoer’s attention span.

  • Charlie

    I like JC, didn’t love it though. I agree with the criticism of Kitch’s casting – no presence or charisma. I also had some problems with the script and the pacing. The ending especially felt rushed and devoid of emotion or drama. Still a fun day at the movies, but it could have been so much more.

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  • Strong Enough

    I have a feeling it is going to be become a cult classic like Blade Runner…………….nah i’m f*cking around bwawawawawa

    it was a great movie though. Mr. Stanton is one of my favorite director/writers. have no idea why he is doing finding nemo 2 though.

  • Brian

    While the debate will rage on for years, I will say that I paid to see John Carter and I was glad I did. I was also glad to spend a little more for the movie on blu-ray (steelbook version).

    I had gotten into the books just a few months before the movie and absolutely love the story in the books. I will bet you John Carter would have turned out differently if Avatar hadn’t been made. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy Avatar exists, I love it and I love James Cameron. However, some key elements in the story of A Princess of Mars were similar to what we had just seen on screen in Avatar. I do believe there was too much deviation from the source material and that might be why John Carter didn’t do as fantastic as the story demands. But again with seeing it on screen just a couple of years before would probably give a lot of people an even worse taste for John Carter. Key points such as his way of getting to Mars, the learning of the language and their ways, it’s all fantastic in the book but again, Avatar did those things so well it’s hard to compete.

    Secondary to the point, when reading the book you really feel a sense of emotional impact, I think again with changes to the source material, that took some of it away. That’s fine though, all that means is Stanton had a different interpretation and felt different about what was important and what needed to be told in the movie. Again that’s fine, different interpretation, it’s not a bad thing.

    Now it’s a real shame that there likely won’t be sequels because the second book, man it reads just like a movie. You could put it on screen word for word and it would be a fantastic film.

    Chin up Stanton, you’re still a great filmmaker and I’ll still come see your movies!

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  • Drew

    I too paid money to see John Carter on the “big screen” & was glad I did. Rented DVD & watched it many times . . . It plays well and should be a classic. What MANY people forget is that this was the “motherlode” that inspired: Avatar, Star Wars,Superman & others . . . it was way ahead of its time creatively and unfortunately too much bad marketing and “social buzzkill” on the Internet probably killed a huge hunk of business. Hopefully DVD rentals & sales will restore some business to John Carter & Disney will rethink this decision. More & More DVD sales save sequels these days. Holy smokes – if a terrible movie like Green Lantern can be green lighted for a sequel . . . there is STILL hope!

  • getya

    too late plants!! (refering to 20 ‘oh it was excellent’ fake comments )

    I’m hoping fo more of crappy blockbusters to burn n crash this way

  • Dan

    John Carter could have still done well at the box office.

    Just look at Green Lantern, it managed to make 55 million on its opening weekend despite awful reviews, thanks to its marketing.

    Anyway John Carter was great, one of 2012’s most underrated gems.

  • Mike

    I thought John Carter was great. Marketing was terrible, and I didn’t see it in the theater. Only watched it because I had nothing else to watch. I was surprised how much I liked it. If they made a sequel I’d definetly go see it in the theater, regardless of marketing.

  • Davy

    I just finished the 3rd (of many!) John Carter books when my son-in-law told me the movie was coming out. I was pumped. Saw it twice in theatres and completely enjoyed it. Not crazy about Kitch as John Carter except in the early going when he’s all BA but all the other characters rang true.

    The plot departures (from the books) are bothersome but the essence of the stories is there. I would love to see a sequel. This series by ERB is definitely core stuff for most science fiction we adore.

  • Joel

    Here to join the pro-John carter side. IMO, possibly the greatest scifi ever. And I don’t say things like that lightly. Definitely better than Avatar and way less messy than the Avengers. I believe Tk’s delivery of the dialogue was intended to reach little kids and grown ups, so some it might sound “dumb” to certain people, but did not bother me at all. His rally speech after killing the white apes practically made me want to jump up and follow him into the battle against Zodanga! Lynn Carter was mesmerizing, and Willem Dafoe’s performance was so compelling, after a while I forgot he was green and nine feet tall. Sola was another very sympathetic character.

    The special effects were amazing, but the true strength of the movie was it,s emotional impact, brought about by a combination of acting, directing, story, and music. All crucial elements of classic filmmaking.

  • Jay

    I really loved this film. I agree it should have been marketed better but surely it has a culyt following by now. I sure hate to think that I may have to wait several years to see a sequel, lets hope not.

  • VMassie

    I myself was presently surprized by this movie. It is a favorite among the 10-13 yrs crowd. My 11yr old son asks to watch it everyday! He asks when the sequel is coming out and I haven’t the heart to tell him it might never. Hope I will have the chance to bring him to the sequel one day!

  • Charlie

    I just ran into this site as I googled “will there be a second sequel to JC”.
    The biggest problem with the marketing of this movie was the tittle. I mean really? John Carter?.
    It sounds like a tittle for a drama, not a Sci Fi, now John Carter Mars would have done it IMO, but it desperately needed to include “MARS”.
    Can’t believe the marketing heads for this movie could not see such an obvious thing.
    Anyways, did purchased the blu ray and I’m hoping for a sequel.

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  • Adam

    I just saw this today for the first time. I really enjoyed it. And like Charlie above, just found this article.

    I hope there will be the 2 sequels they were originally planning.

    Disney did the same thing to The Chronicles Of Narnia, when they released Prince Caspian (which was a stellar film). They released it against some big films (Harry Potter was one if I remember correctly) and after a week at the Box Office washed their hands of it. Thankfully we got Dawntreader from another film company, and possibly a fourth film.

    Also, Avatar: The Last Airbender … I loved that film, but saw it before I saw the cartoon (so it opened that door for me). After seeing the cartoon, there really was no way to fit ALL of book 1 into a 90 minute movie and still be great, which killed it before it really started. Now, we’ll probably never see Book 2 or 3 as films.

    John Carter was a strong film. Completely blows away most of what’s coming out today. All the criticism prior to the film’s release, the poor advertising, Disney’s response … I bet is because they knew they were getting the Star Wars franchise and want to pour all their efforts into SW rather than building a new franchise. Let’s face it, George Lucas laid the foundation work and it is much easier to build on that than to create more for the JC universe. We’re already getting Episode 7 AND a Boba Fett film.

    Hopefully another studio will step up (like one did with Narnia) and get the sequels to us.

  • terry

    a great film better than prometheus easily .prometheus was clever but not an out of ur arm chair adventure like john carter