Saturday, April 21, 2012

More on John Carter and Rich Ross's Demise

Has the final word been spoken on John Carter after Rich Ross exited as Chairman of Walt Disney Studios yesterday?  Not quite but we are probably getting closer.  Bob Iger will still have to spell out the financial details of the Carter losses in his quarterly report and there is the release to video which will most likely be done quietly.  Disney needs to distance itself from John Carter.  It has already admitted mistakes in the cost for the movie and Ross's removal is the biggest change made to date to correct the mistake and appease the investor community. 

There has been some buzz on the Disney discussion boards and forums about Ross and invariably they point back to John Carter's failure but there is more to the story.  John Carter was already in production when Ross came aboard as Disney Studios Chairman two and a half years ago.  He wasn't the one who made the decision to make the movie but he was the one who watched the cost of the production soar to the point where it may be the most expensive movie ever made (it's in the Avatar ballpark) and Ross was the one who didn't know what to do to market the movie once he had it.  My take is that the movie was marginally marketable to begin with and simply had to be spectacular on the big screen to gain any kind of box office momentum.  It wasn't spectacular, just a pretty good entertaining movie with flaws though there are those who outright hated it.  A movie that cost a quarter of a billion dollars needed to something more, something better and it just wasn't.  Carter came almost exactly a year after another huge expensive flop - Mars Needs Moms again, a movie that was already in production before Ross came aboard but failed under his watch.

Give Ross some credit though.  He did pull the plug on Robert Zemeckis Disney deal after the Moms flop.  The agreement had already been made but he did enter into the partnership for Disney's Touchstone Pictures to distribute the live action Dreamworks films which to this point has been marginally successful with Real Steel and War Horse but had a huge hit with The Help.  And Ross may have been the person behind the bringing of Chinese investment into the large scale Disney produced films that begins with Iron Man 3 when it starts filming later this year.  And Ross was also the person who stopped pre-production of The Lone Ranger when the projected costs began to run into the John Carter sphere.  Only when cuts were made by the Bruckheimer gang was the move put back on Disney's schedule.

Still, there were those failures, huge failures, and a price had to be paid.  There is also the back story that what is in the Disney Studios pipeline for the future is not very strong.  Iger (probably with the advice of John Lasseter) knew something had to be done to get the company's oldest foundational entity (film production) back on the right track.  Movies are not the biggest source of Disney's profits anymore.  Far from it.  But they are very important as movies tie into the theme park promotions and attractions along with the huge money made in merchandising.  Disney studios needs to at least match the success of its Pixar and Marvel subsidiaries.

As I've said it a few times elsewhere, the story of John Carter is more interesting than the movie itself.  It would make a terrific book and would even translate into a pretty good move, a kind of Moneyball in reverse where excess spending leads to the downfall of some high ranking people or used to be anyway.  

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