Disney's $250 Million Folly

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Lee

'John Carter' may be the next 'Waterworld.'

Around Hollywood, Disney's quarter-billion-dollar 3-D epic John Carter holds a dubious renown: it's the film with Avatar-size ambitions that's being greeted sight-unseen as the next Ishtar.

The sci-fi thriller lands in theaters March 9, and if you've seen the billboards or commercials, you'd be forgiven for wondering what it's all about. A hunk in a leather chest harness (Taylor Kitsch of NBC's canceled sports drama Friday Night Lights) battles aliens in a coliseum, faces down a stampede of four-armed beasties, and seduces a princess who resembles a va-va-voom version of Jasmine from Disney's Aladdin. Is this Gladiator meets Clash of the Titans meets Star Wars?

Early box-office tracking estimates for the film are extremely weak. "The geek generation isn't responding. It's too weird for the family audience. Then it has the Disney brand and PG-13? I'm not sure who it's for," says a rival studio executive who requested anonymity for fear of burning bridges in Hollywood.

Already heads have started to roll right out of the Team Disney building and onto Dopey Drive in Burbank. In January Disney Studios worldwide marketing chief MT Carney, who arrived with much fanfare in 2010 from the New York product-marketing world, was out (she said at the time she was returning to New York to be with her kids). Meanwhile, at studio commissaries around town, the long steak knives are already out for Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross. Neither Carney nor Ross was available to comment.

Fortunately for Ross, John Carter is a problem he inherited from his predecessor, and that has provided him some insulation from the slings of detractors--even though the film needs to make $400 million just to break even. Based on novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, the project had been kicking around Hollywood since the 1980s with various directors and stars attached, including Tom Cruise. …