Disney usually knows how to sell a megamillion effects tentpole, but with John Carter, the studio seems positively stumped. Last year, a confident Disney promoted the living hell out of the $200 million Tron Legacy, cutting great trailers, seeding interest in hipsters with its Daft Punk soundtrack, courting the Comic-Con audience with expensive stunts, and employing a full-scale marketing blitz to push the movie as far as it would go (which turned to be juuuuust far enough to maybe, possibly justify a sequel). This time, though, the marketing hands dealing with the incredibly expensive, $300 million sci-fi flick John Carter have indicated with every move that they’re … well, a little bit freaked out. Can this new trailer turn things around?
The first teaser that debuted several months ago didn’t quite know what to tout: Without any major stars in recognizable roles (the leads are Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins, with Willem Dafoe in green-skinned motion-capture mode) and with some of its most significant special-effects work still to be finished, the trailer was a jumble, evoking Cowboys & Aliens while incorporating the author of its source material, Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a confusingly meta stroke. Was this a period drama set in America or a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure tale set in a Mars desert that resembled the Middle East? The teaser didn’t seem to know, and the decision to lop the title down from the more explanatory John Carter of Mars didn’t bespeak confidence in its product.
This past summer, Disney showed off further footage at its fanboy convention D23, but those new scenes didn’t quite convince the movie’s doubters, and in October, John Carter’s talented director Andrew Stanton (who made Wall-E) was the subject of a New Yorker profile where even he didn’t seem to have the movie quite figured out yet. For a Pixar alum like Stanton, this sort of thing is par for the course — Pixar often liberally reconceives its $200 million movies in the middle of making them — but unlike those animated films, John Carter was a risky live-action movie with a firm release date fast approaching.
Which takes us to the new, full trailer, which Disney stripped on its ABC properties Good Morning America and Jimmy Kimmel yesterday. It’s clear now that the studio has decided to sell the movie’s scale above all else, and this trailer has plenty of it: Buff, shirtless protagonist John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) jumps hundreds of feet into the Mars air, gets thrown into a gladiator arena filled with giant alien beasts, and shoots giant cannons at even more giant spaceships. Who exactly is John Carter? Well, that remains unclear. (Admittedly, the wild backstory that comes from the source material, which posits that Carter is a Confederate Civil War captain who perishes but is transported to Mars and revived via astral projection, is a little bit of a tough sell in a two-minute trailer.)
But can the movie break out on scale alone? Its March 2012 release date is congested with other big-budget fantasy efforts like The Hunger Games, Mirror Mirror, and Wrath of the Titans, and the Burroughs adventure themes that made John Carter of Mars a pulpy paperback success decades ago have since been picked clean by big-screen efforts like Star Wars and Avatar. “When I saw you, I believed that something new can come into this world,” Dafoe’s character tells Carter in the new trailer. But can Disney convince audiences that John Carter is something new as well?