John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood - free Kindle edition

For a limited time (until midnight Thursday PST), Michael D. Sellers' book about the making of the giant flop John Carter is free in the Kindle format. I can't wait to read it. I hope it's as fun as Julie Salamon's The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco, about the disastrous story of making Bonfire of the Vanities into a movie.

It took 100 years to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars to the big screen. It took Disney Studios just ten days to declare the film a flop and lock it away in the Disney vaults. How did this project, despite its quarter-billion dollar budget, the brilliance of director Andrew Stanton, and the creative talents of legendary Pixar Studios, become a calamity of historic proportions?

Michael Sellers, a filmmaker and Hollywood insider himself, saw the disaster approaching and fought to save the project – but without success. In John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, Sellers details every blunder and betrayal that led to the doom of the motion picture – and that left countless Hollywood careers in the wreckage.

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood examines every aspect of Andrew Stanton's adaptation and Disney's marketing campaign and seeks to answer the question: What went wrong? it includes a history of Hollywood's 100 year effort to bring the film to the screen, and examines the global fan movement spawned by the film.

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

(Thanks, Sparky Santos on BB G+!)


  1. I suspect if you weren’t familiar with the book the movie seemed like a hot mess.  If you are familiar with the books, you know the that the hot mess quality is just being true to the source material.

    1. Being true to the source material isn’t always advisable if it makes for a less watchable movie. Stephen King might have been peeved by the changes Kubrick made to The Shining, but Kubrick’s on-screen adaptation was a much better movie than King’s own attempt years later.

      Besides, if you read the books you were probably disappointed not by the hot mess of the storyline, but by the absence of hot naked people.

    2. Nope. I didn’t read the books until after seeing the movie. I liked it, and saw it twice in the theater.

  2. *shrug* I liked the movie. (Disclaimer: never read the books.) I thought the faithful companion slugdog was a bit much, but otherwise the missuz and I thought it was pretty good.

  3. I like the film alot as well.  I thought it was much better than many other “fantasy” movies that end up being blockbusters.

  4. If you are in to swashbuckling sci-fi adventure movies with likeable heroes (and heroines), epic battles, great special effects and a twist ending that I didn’t see coming, you could do a whole lot worse watching a different title. If you’re in to that sort of thing.

  5. I thought they did a decent job of making a movie out of that. Sure they used magical plot devices to speed up the pacing and added in some things to make it more appealing to a modern audience. But yeah the previews if you were not familiar with the books were very very misleading. In all it wasn’t awful and I was happily entertained enough that I thought the $18 ticket for IMAX 3D was worth it. I liked it more than that cgi eye candy tripe from James Cameron anyway.

  6. Far-fetched hypothesis: dazzling VFX require simple story lines, and vice versa. Loading a film with too much visual and narrative complexity maxes out viewer attention.

    1.  Yeah. The box of the BluRay continued this horrible campaign with 3 or 4 instances of the White Apes. A minor and flawed part of the movie that for some reason they hoisted to all as an example of what to expect. They shot themselves in the marketing foot.

      Aren’t we all sick of giant CG monsters yet? Star Trek had one, for some reason. Star Wars was lousy with them. Prometheus had a couple. LotR had just enough and I haven’t seen the Hobbit yet, but one’s in there too.

    2. They rejected A Princess of Mars for the title because men wouldn’t want to a princess film.  Then they rejected John Carter of Mars because women wouldn’t want to see a film about Mars.  So they ended up just calling it John Carter, which is pretty close to calling it Generic Film Title.

      1. I thought they should have called it Jimmy Carter of Mars.  Who wouldn’t want to see that?  Most modern films sound way more interesting if you add “Of Mars” to the titles (“The Iron Lady Of Mars,” “Steel Magnolias Of Mars,” “The Lady Wears Prada Of Mars”), so it only made sense to put it on a film that is actually set on Mars.

  7. The movie was badly constructed and poorly written. It was a compendium of action-movie cliches. The latter criticism wasn’t really the movie’s fault; its source material pretty much invented many of those cliches. But the fact remains that forging ahead and re-creating what we have all seen countless times wasn’t exactly innovative.

    Andy Stanton had never directed a live-action film, and it showed — especially in the dub work on the CG Martians, all of whom sound like they’re in a Pixar movie. (Try listening to it without watching and you’ll know every time it’s a CG martian talking.)

    The ad campaign was one of the worst Disney ever conducted. They had just lost a pile on Mars Needs Moms, and some genius figured that the word “Mars” was poison in a title. Setting the trailer to a Peter Gabriel song was inspired, but hugely misleading.

    But looking for blame outside the production seems like a huge rationalization. It was just a bad movie. Move along, folks, nothing more to see here.

    1. The movie was badly constructed and poorly written. It was a compendium of action-movie cliches.

      But you’re still going to watch parts 2 and 3 to see what Smaug looks like, right?

  8. In reading the Amazon reviews, the book isn’t really about ‘John Carter’. It’s about ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ and they simply added a touch of content & renamed the book. It still got good reviews. The book I mean. Both movies apparently stunk up the place.

    1.  I think you might’ve clicked the wrong link. The one for “The Devil’s Candy” is about “Bonfire of the Vanities.” The link at the bottom of the article is the one about “John Carter.”

  9. yeah, what gives?  my roommate saw it with his daughter in the theater, loved it, and then we watched it at home.  John Carter is a cool movie if you ask me

  10. This is not like Devil’s Candy at all.  This is an excuse for “why John Carter wasn’t really that bad of a movie and it was all the studio’s fault and they should totally make a sequel to this bomb”.  Good history of the Carter franchise to start though.

    1. I’ll read it anyway.  I like all those books about epic Hollywood flameouts.  Final Cut, the book about how Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate just about destroyed United Artists, might be my favorite, but Monster (John Gregory Dunne’s memoir about his and his wife Joan Didion’s experiences getting Up Close and Personal made) is almost as much fun.  Hit & Run, about the way Jon Peters and Peter Guber ran Columbia Pictures into the ground and made a mint off of Sony in the process, is a hoot and a half too.

  11. Like many other commenters here, I saw the movie, thought it was entertaining and was really surprised when it bombed like it did. And I’ve never read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books.

  12. They could have simply named the film better. The title only appeals immediately to readers of an obscure sci-fi book*. Just put “Mars” somewhere in the title, anywhere, and you’ve driven up the appeal.

    * Yes, it’s actually extremely obscure.

    1. Per wikipedia, the working title of the movie was “A Princess of Mars”, then renamed to “John Carter of Mars” (supposedly so the “Princess” part wouldn’t scare boys away), before becoming just “John Carter” (supposedly either so the “Mars” part wouldn’t scare girls away or that because “Mars” was a non-starter after the “Mars Needs Moms” movie failed).

    2. Cleo Disney originally planned to release it as John Carter of Mars, which was the title the Paramount had intended to use when they had it (from 2000-2006) and which Disney had planned to use when they had the rights from 1986-2000 — but then the new head of marketing MT Carney decided to change it to John Carter in May 2011.  That was the beginning of all the negativity about the movie — in retrospect, not a good decision.

    3. Yes, it’s actually extremely obscure

      One of the things Sellers mentions in the preface of this book is this:

      Burroughs… at the time of his death in 1950 was the best-selling author of the 20th century, with his books translated into 58 languages and outselling his contemporaries Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald combined.

      I don’t think that’s entirely Tarzan’s fault.  The John Carter books are old, but far from “extremely obscure.”  If nothing else, even casual Heinlein fans who’ve read Number of the Beast are at least aware of Barsoom.

      But you’re right about the title. If they were so afraid of A Princess of Mars scaring away the boys, they could have gone with the original serial title of Under the Moons of Mars and sold a few dozen more tickets.

      Weird. Disney’s marketers are not usually quite so dumb.

      1. Sorry, I was being a bit snarky there. My intent really was to say that any book other than a well-known “classic” (Narnia…) or recent phenomenon (Harry Potter, Hunger Games…) is extremely obscure *to average moviegoers*. A film with a budget that large has to be aimed squarely at the masses who have never read any Burroughs.

        This includes me, by the way. :-)

  13. I read the book, listened to the LibreVox reading several times during late shifts at work and I as well throughly enjoyed the film even with the tweaking they did.  Though I do so hope that at some point someone does a 2-2.5hr fully animated version that is at least in the upper end of what’ll pass for PG13.

    Side note, I’d piss myself in delight if I could have one of the small flyers. Ooooh damn those things strike me as pure wicked fun to go racing around on..

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