Saturday, March 03, 2012

Thought on the whole John Carter ad campaign debacle

Last night I watched The Killer Elite, which was not remotely the movie it was purported to be. It was not a bad movie, but it wasn't that movie in the previews, which was about Jason Statham and Robert DeNiro kicking ass together. Yeah they didn't kick that much ass together. Most of the movie was about Jason Statham kicking ass with Dominic Purcell in a very British kind of way. This film was much more British in style than American, so I guess the marketing department didn't really know how to market it to us.

And it bombed.

I hate when that happens. It happened with Bridge to Terabithia, and It's happening right now with John Carter.

This film is based on a novel called Princess of Mars. You can't have a movie called Princess of Mars if you want to attract boys, so out goes the princess. You can't have a movie about Mars if you want to attract girls, so out goes the Mars. And now we have a movie named after some frat guy I dated in college.

That's okay, because the trailer that features all the awesome special effects will reel them in. Look! We have gigantic monsters! We have cool battle scenes between vague enemies! A hot girl with interesting posture!

I asked my kids if they want to see it. They think it looks stupid, and these are kids who think Saw sequels and Transformers are the best films ever made.

If you haven't seen it, here's the original trailer:

What the hell is that movie about? Did he travel in time? Is he in some crazy fantasy land? Is he in Victorian England? What movie are we watching here? My first thought on seeing this trailer: "That looks expensive, whatever that is."

Unless you're Transformers, you can't just throw pretty pictures in a trailer and expect people to flock to it. As much as we bitch about modern audiences not having any taste, they still want to watch a good story unfold.

So take Project X. My students all want to see it. "But there's no plot!" you say. Ah, but they know exactly what that movie is. The trailer shows debauchery, and they'll go into the theater expecting exactly that. But John Carter looks like it wants to be about something. No kid wants to go see a movie that tries and fails at being a story.

And have you seen the billboard?

From the distance of my car it looks like a movie about two gorillas. I almost crashed trying to figure out what was that tiny thing in front of them. Oh, it's the protagonist.

What the hell is this movie about?

And then I saw the fan-made trailer. Have you seen it? Take a look:

Oh, this movie has a plot! And it looks kind of like Star Wars! I might like it!

I know I'm not alone in this, obviously, but it's really bugging me. If people don't know what movie they're going to watch, they will hate it. If you try to trick them, it will backfire. This film is getting high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (77% as of this posting) and it's directed by the great Andrew Stanton. After seeing this fan trailer, I actually want to see it. But they're shooting themselves in the foot with the ad campaign. Instead of trying to hide bits that might alienate certain demographics, hence alienating ALL demographics, let the movie speak for itself. People are not as stupid as we make them out to be. If a movie looks good, they will flock to see it.

I'm not an ad person, but I am a person who will go to see movies based on an awesome trailer, and I do have my own little market research pod in my classroom. And my research in this capacity has proven time and time again that a good, solid trailer will bring the kids in every time, but only if they know what they're getting.


  1. Amen.

    I'm happy to see the movie getting good reviews and the recent spat of trailers seems to have fixed the problem that you along with others have brought up.

    I realize the CGI takes a while to render but I honestly hope the 3rd party Disney used on the earlier trailers were fired.

    I'm still planning on seeing it.

    I find it funny, they've printed up a novelization of the movie, half the book is the novelization, the other half is the original. Makes no sense...

  2. Princess of Mars would have been better. At least you know what it's about in that title. A hot princess and something about a battle in Mars.... boys would see that.... But, "John Carter"? Might as well call it Chuck Miller.... Most people outside the demographic that have read that comic even know who John Carter is...and you couldn't have a more generic name. I generally rush out to every kind of comic book/graphic novel movie...but never heard of this particular title. Killer Elite was just terrible...that thing would have sank like a rock regardless. Great cast...but then they pile on every action cliche in the book. I think audiences are getting tired of seeing the same old mish mash.

  3. The trailers I saw focused on the monster fighting in the desert so I thought the movie was in the same vein as "Clash of the Titans" or "300"...neither of which I saw.

    The title "John Carter" confused me with the supposed ancient Greek/Roman time frame, but then my English major training kicked in and I realized John Carter = JC = Jesus the grand literary tradition of making everything symbolic and Meaningful.

    From these clips, at least my second guess was right.

    I vastly prefer the fan clip...I get what it's about and it looks much more interesting.

    So, long, rambling post short, you're right. Trailers are terrible.

  4. Disney has screwed the pooch in several ways when it comes to JC:

    1. This movie is based on the book by Edhgar Rice Burroughs, the guy who gave us TARZAN (and one of the biggest box office successes for Disney ever).

    2. The book, A PRINCESS OF MARS, inspired a wealth of other creators who went on to create very big action-adventure franchises: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Ray Harryhausen, etc....

    If you want to know the origins, the inspiration of these movies then this is it.

    3. The movie should be named JOHN CARTER: WARLORD OF MARS... It's a space fantasy epic that deserves an epic sounding title.

    4. I think the tech, at least as described by Burroughs in his books ( I think 11 total) would really appeal to the steampunk generation, but in a new way.

    5. The folks who created the Disney trailers should be taken out back and "Old Yellered" ...

  5. I actually agree with everything except the billboards. The trailers are so dumb, cliche, and make the film look formulaic (which it may be).

    The billboards on the other hand -- the fact they caught your eye to the point you nearly crashed is very effective advertising.

    Look at the other billboards -- When every other larger than life billboard is just A-list actors face, does that really tell you anything about the story?

    The MI4 one they still have up that is 4 full body shots of stars you can't identify posing in front of a cluttered background.

    At least from the John Carter billboards I get the sense that it is going to be a big epic action movie. And the red color helps reinforce Mars (although, it is vague at best). And I don't have to look at it for more than a few seconds to realize that.

    They are also very visual distinct from the other ads, with sparse text and a simple action shot.

    Billboard advertising has been pathetic the last couple years. They all look exactly the same. When I first saw the John carter billboard, I didn't know what they were for or the movie was about, but I saw them. I knew what street they were on. I knew what they looked like. I wanted to know more.

    Beats the hell out of Tom Cruise on a teal and orange background with text plastered across his face.

    The worst thing going for the film is the title imo.

  6. It might be getting good reviews, but I saw the ads and I think it looks dumb and kind of generic. It's about a Civil War soldier who somehow ends up defending the Earth, right? Is that true? If so, how the f would I know that from the ads?
    You make an excellent point, as always. I'm a busy teacher with a kid. My time is limited to the point that I have to choose between seeing a movie or using that time to write a movie. In that situation, John Carter is NOT going to get my eleven bucks.

  7. James, you make a good point about the billboard, because you can see the name of the film very clearly, but I still found it so difficult to tell what was going on with that billboard that I'm not sure it achieved its purpose.

    Everybody else, excellent points all around.

    It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend.


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.