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The Big Picture: How did ‘Battleship’ escape the ‘John Carter’ flop furor?

By Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — If there is a truism in Hollywood when it comes to the media, it’s that people in the industry never think you’re nasty, mean or vicious enough when writing about someone else’s movie. It’s a business, after all, where people root just as hard to see their friends fail as their enemies.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear from so many studio execs, producers and agents this week, all wondering the same thing: Why hasn’t the entertainment press been giving “Battleship” just as big a whipping as it gave “John Carter” a couple of months ago? After all, both films cost more than $200 million to make, an additional $100 million to market and, despite OK performances overseas, were pretty much dead on arrival in the United States.

Their overall numbers aren’t all that different. Disney’s “John Carter” did a paltry $72 million in the United States and an additional $210 million overseas; “Universal’s “Battleship” is on track to do even less in America than “John Carter” while so far making $232 million overseas. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Universal could lose $150 million on “Battleship,” while Disney took a $200-million write-down on “John Carter.”

Those are both huge bites out of a rotten apple, yet while “John Carter” got a noisy, prolonged thrashing from the showbiz media, “Battleship” has largely escaped scrutiny, except for a predictable round of opening weekend obituaries. (If I had a dollar for every headline that went “‘Avengers’ sinks ‘Battleship,’” I could probably finance a couple of movies myself.)

There have been a few solid inside-baseball accounts, including one at the Vulture website that actually predicted that Universal marketing chief Josh Goldstine would lose his job because of the poor performance of “Battleship.” But for the most part, the media are allowing “Battleship” to slide down to the ocean floor without much fuss or fanfare.

Why were we so worked up about “John Carter,” yet so blasé about “Battleship?

First, I should cite one immutable media law: If there are two box-office stinkers, the first one gets far more attention. Being the first mega flop of the year, “John Carter” was a magnet for media scrutiny. The film was also hurt by the fact that Disney, whose top cadre of executives is about as open with the press as the rulers of North Korea, had few friends in the media who might be willing to cut the studio a break.

“John Carter” also became a fat target after Disney axed MT Carney, its controversial head of marketing, who had famously decreed that the film’s title be shortened from “John Carter of Mars” to the generic “John Carter,” as if Mars might be too esoteric a locale for a sci-fi adventure film. For media sharks, Carney’s departure was a sign that blood was in the water — it only heightened the awareness that something was amiss with the film.

 

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