Return to Mars with John Carter
Disney doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to science fiction movies, especially not in recent years. In 2000, Mission to Mars suffered middling critical reviews and made a scanty $110 million worldwide on a $100 million budget. By 2002, the Disney Renaissance had come to an end, and the animated Treasure Planet was a total flop, grossing only $110 million on a $140 million budget. And this year’s Mars Needs Moms was an even bigger disaster, grossing only $38 million on a $150 million budget.
With so many sci-fi failures in so few years, it’s surprising that the upcoming John Carter (2012) got made at all, but perhaps Disney thinks that the fourth time will be a charm. Unlike Treasure Planet and Mars Needs Moms, John Carter is a live action adventure film based on A Princess of Mars (1912), the first novel in the 11-book Barsoom series by author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs is best known for creating the character Tarzan, but it is his century-old Barsoom series that inspired countless science fiction writers to write in the genre and encouraged scientists to focus on space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life.
In Disney’s film, John Carter is a war-weary American Civil War veteran who is inexplicably transported to the planet Mars (known to locals as Barsoom) where he encounters 12-feet tall green-skinned warriors and other fascinating alien creatures. He learns that over the millennia, the planet’s atmosphere and climate have become less hospitable, and the inhabitants have devolved into clans of barbarian warriors who constantly fight each other for survival on the harsh planet. After rescuing a humanoid Martian princess, John Carter becomes embroiled in the planet’s epic conflicts, and he discovers that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.
Although the series that inspired the film is wildly popular in the sci-fi genre, it’s hard to say whether John Carter will appeal to a broad enough audience to be deemed a success by Disney’s standards. Universal’s Cowboys & Aliens underperformed this year, despite stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig and producer Steven Spielberg, and it may be a sign that audiences have lost interest in aliens, at least for now. We’ll have to wait until March 9th, 2012 to find out if John Carter will exceed expectations or become another nail in Disney’s sci-fi coffin.