Book Review: John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

I love John Carter, as is well-documented.  I’m also fascinated with inside Hollywood stories, so I had to read John Carter and the Gods of HollywoodThis book by a Hollywood filmmaker examines why this movie did so poorly at the box office.

As I discussed last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie when I finally watched it.  In fact, after seeing it, I was disappointed that it had been written off as such a disaster.  And that meant we probably won’t be getting any sequels.  So, given all that, I had to read Michael Sellers’ book just to find out what the heck happened to my beloved John Carter!

Warrior Man of MarsThe book starts off with some great background on Burroughs himself, along with Hollywood’s interest in his other creation, Tarzan.  Then it goes into the early efforts to put John Carter on the big screen.  While Tarzan worked well on film, trying to replicate Barsoom and its inhabitants wasn’t feasible for most of the 20th Century (although there was some early talk of doing an animated film).

Robert Rodriguez and Jon Favreau were both attached to direct a John Carter movie when Paramount had the film rights a decade ago, which they had purchased from the family company started in 1923 to protect Burroughs’ creations, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. (“ERB”).  Nothing ever came of these efforts, however, and the rights reverted to ERB.  But then Andrew Stanton, of Finding Nemo fame, talked Disney into acquiring the rights and letting him direct the $250 million epic.

Fast forward to the marketing for the movie.  Sellers spends much of his book detailing Disney’s failed efforts – and, more importantly, its general lack of effort – to market the movie.  At times, his book reads like a textbook on social marketing.  He also details his attempts, through his website,, to make up for Disney’s feeble marketing.  He and a friend made a fan trailer that was better than the official trailers.  They even highlighted the fact that everyone from George Lucas to James Cameron has poached Edgar Rice Burroughs’ legacy with a great slogan: The epic tale that inspired 100 years of filmmaking.

Throughout the book runs a theme of hopefulness – the author keeps thinking that he or Disney will do something to turn around the impending disaster, although we all know nothing worked (which makes the constant dreams of a turnaround in the book a bit annoying).  The book even ends with one last wish – that the fans could join together and inspire a sequel.

I’d love a sequel but I don’t hold out much hope that it will happen after what Disney did to the first John Carter movie – a travesty Sellers documents well in his book.  My only complaints about his book have to do with the editing – there were too many typos and the book was far too long.  He could have cut out much of the detail on the social media front, along with multiple pages he included of cut and paste comments from online sources, without hurting his story.

Mars: The Red PlanetOn the legal side, it’s interesting to see that ERB is still effectively using the law to protect John Carter.  Having been written over a hundred years ago, A Princess of Mars is in the public domain.  That’s because, under U.S. copyright law, any works published before 1923 are now in the public domain.  Generally, works published now are protected for 70 years after the death of the author, although there are exceptions.  So Burroughs’ early works are now in the public domain, while the rest of his works are only protected through 2020 (seventy years after his death in 1950).  This only applies to the US, however.  In other countries, such as Great Britain, ERB still has copyright protection for all of Burroughs’ stories.

But because its US copyright protection is rapidly eroding, ERB is now turning to trademark law to protect its marks – John Carter and Tarzan primary among them – in order to keep profiting from Burroughs’ genius.  Last year it filed suit against a comic book distributor, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition – not copyright infringement.  If only ERB could have sued Disney for bungling the marketing of the John Carter movie!


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Jessica has been litigating business and IP disputes for the past decade. During that time, she’s dealt with clients, lawyers, and judges who have varying degrees of appreciation for the challenges of managing discovery in an electronic age. Until the fall of 2011, she was an attorney at a large, Texas-based law firm, where she represented clients in state and federal court nationwide. That fall, she made a long-desired move back to the Midwest and is now a partner at Hansen Reynolds Dickinson Crueger LLC, a litigation boutique based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she continues to litigate while also consulting with business and law firms on e-discovery issues (before, during, and after litigation arises).