Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 03-05-12

Taylor Kitsch – Star of “John Carter”

Taylor Kitsch – Star of “John Carter”

“JOHN CARTER” BTS, L to R: Director Andrew Stanton, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) Ph: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

“JOHN CARTER” BTS, L to R: Director Andrew Stanton, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) Ph: Frank Connor ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

“A Thousand Words” – In theaters March 9th

“A Thousand Words” – In theaters March 9th

“Silent House” – In theaters March 9th

“Silent House” – In theaters March 9th

“Carter” crowd: With the boxoffice running about 19 percent ahead of this time last year, 2012’s off to a fabulous start.

We’ve already seen two $100 million-plus grossing films open this year — Universal and Relativity Media’s crime thriller “Safe House” has done about $108 million and Screen Gems’ romantic drama “The Vow” has taken in nearly $112 million — and with New Line Cinema and Warner Bros.’ action adventure comedy “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” having passed $85 million, it’s well on its way to $100 million.

Last weekend saw Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s 3D animated family fantasy “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” arrive to over $70 million, clearly putting it on track to join the $100 Million Club.

That’s the crowd Disney’s hoping its sci-fi action adventure epic “John Carter” will be running with after it blasts off next weekend. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe, “Carter” is the first live action film directed by Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E,” “Finding Nemo”). Kitsch, by the way, is starring in another big budget sci-fi action adventure opening soon — Universal and Hasbro’s “Battleship,” which sails into theatres May 18.

“Carter,” which reportedly represents a $250 million production bet by Disney, is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic “A Princess of Mars.” That story first appeared serially in All-Story magazine in 1912 as “Under the Moons of Mars.” It was re-titled and published as a novel in 1917. A few months after Burroughs’ debut with his “Mars” story, he wrote another short story called “Tarzan of the Apes,” which turned into the series of books for which, of course, he’s now best remembered.

“A Princess of Mars” was the first of 10 novels Burroughs wrote set on Barsoom, the name the inhabitants of what we call Mars call their planet.

Meanwhile, the title Disney ended up putting on the movie reflects the realities of who goes to see sci-fi movies. Because sci-fi typically skews male, having the word “Princess” in the title wouldn’t be the ideal way to sell such a the story to moviegoers. At one point, they were going to call it “John Carter, Warlord of Mars.” That was confusing and made sense only if one already knew the storyline in which a veteran of the American Civil War, Carter, is accidentally transported to the dying red planet and finding himself in the midst of an alien civil war.

Director Andrew Stanton’s been quoted as saying the word “Warlord” didn’t work because in the film Carter isn’t yet a warlord.

Stanton’s also explained the revised title by pointing out, “I’d already changed it from A Princess of Mars to John Carter of Mars. I don’t like to get fixated on it, but I changed Princess of Mars… because not a single boy would go. And then the other truth is, no girl would go to see John Carter of Mars. So I said, 'I don’t want to do anything out of fear. I hate doing things out of fear, but I can’t ignore that truth.'”

By reducing the film’s title to simply the hero’s name, at least there’s nothing negative to turn away anyone. Not surprisingly, recent tracking reports show it’s doing best with 25-plus males, the core audience for sci-fi movies.

On Barsoom Carter encounters different species of natives who’ve been fighting their own civil war for over 10,000 years. He also finds that he’s unique on Barsoom because the planet’s low gravity gives him super powers unknown on earth — like being able to jump great distances.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Burroughs’ books have inspired much of the science fiction that’s come our way since then in novels, short stories, comic books, movies and television shows. Think Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, “Star Wars” and “Avatar.”

As the film’s press notes explain, “Science fiction writers Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury have all credited John Carter as an inspiration for their own work. James Cameron has cited the John Carter books as an influence on his epic science-fiction film 'Avatar,' George Lucas credits Carter with inspiring the 'Star Wars' movies and writer Michael Crichton named one of his characters after John Carter.”

Because Burroughs’ books aren’t well known to today’s audiences, moviegoers may wrongly think “Carter’s” derivative of these other sci-fi works, but the truth is exactly the reverse. It all started with “Carter.”

Meanwhile, “Carter’s” competition next weekend for moviegoers’ time and money will include Paramount’s Eddie Murphy comedy drama “A Thousand Words” and Open Road Pictures’ horror thriller “Silent House,” starring Elizabeth Olsen.

Bottom line: If “Carter” connects with moviegoers as Disney hopes, Hollywood will have a one-two boxoffice punch with Universal’s already sizzling “Lorax” to get through March until two potential powerhouses hit theatres late in the month.

Lionsgate’s much anticipated youth appeal sci-fi action thriller franchise “The Hunger Games,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, opens Mar. 23. And Warner Bros.’ 3D action adventure fantasy “Wrath of the Titans,” starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Rosamund Pike, opens Mar. 30. Between them, you can expect March to go out like a lion.