Into the editing room of John Carter with director Andrew Stanton!
If there is one thing that Hollywood loves it’s a story with a built-in audience. With sequels, prequels and remakes in abundance, it seems a shame that they are not looking for inspiration from anything other than films released less than twenty to thirty years ago. If you look at classic literature, there are probably enough ideas to keep moviemakers busy for quite awhile, and the best part is, these tales will feel fresh and new. Partly because making a film inspired by a one-hundred year old story is, for the most part, fresh and new.
“John Carter of Mars” was written by “Tarzan” creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. This highly inventive series of books introduced the character of John Carter in “Princess of Mars” (1912). This beloved character appeared in a number of works afterwards, and for a long time, filmmakers tried to bring this story of a Virginian from Earth who finds himself on the planet Barsoom -- Burroughs fantastic version of Mars – to life. Aside from the 2009 version of PRINCESS OF MARS starring Antonio Sabato Jr. and Tracy Lords, nothing ever came from these futile attempts. Lucky for us, this uniquely wonderful story was finally on its way to a realization.
Now, nearing the 100th anniversary of John Carter, Stanton is bringing this larger than life character to the big screen. In an effort to give Burrough’s character life, Stanton has spent a number of years, along with his crew, at perfecting the look and story of this classic tale. “Next year will be the actual 100th anniversary of the novelization of the first book called 'The Princess of Mars.' Believe me, that fact didn't get lost on me at the time that I asked to possibly do this film. I thought, "Wouldn't it be fitting to have a film that's actually 100 years in the making being made on the 100th anniversary?" That was a little bit of a carrot to try to see if we could get it done for that time.” Stanton told us.
He added, “100 years ago, it was first publicized in serial form, in February of 1912 in a magazine called the All-Star Magazine. The title of it at the time was called 'Under the Moons of Mars.' It was a serial adventure magazine; it was what you had for movies -- it was cliff hangers. You would have the next chapter that would lead you to buy the next magazine. It received its proper publication as a novel with Edgar Rice Burroughs finally owning up to being the author of it, under the title of 'Princess of Mars' in 1912. Since then, it has literally inspired tons of things: It inspired novelists and moviemakers and astrologists, some directly and some indirectly.”
So in this vast world created around John Carter, what story would Mr. Stanton tell? Would he stick to the introductory book, or was it worth exploring other territories. Before he was even asked about the direction he was taking, he explained, “I know I'm going to get this question all day and probably for the rest of my frickin' life: Why 'John Carter?' This has had quite an evolution of me figuring out what was the best thing to do for this book to preserve what I thought was timeless about it, what I thought was the resonant elements about it, but not be afraid to tweak or alter things for the benefit of it, so that it would translate the best it could to screen.”
Stanton has never been one to give away too much, and this is no exception. He jokingly told us early on that he would rather wait to show any footage to anybody at all, thus letting the audience experience the film in all its glory. While that may sound like somebody afraid of an audience reaction, it certainly seems to not be the case here. His passion for the project was exceedingly clear as he continued to tell us about the book and how it seemed to encapsulate his life as he went on through the production. Especially tough seemed to be finding the right look for the film and how far he needed to go when it came to what the look should be like.
When it came to the look of the film, there was a certain reality he wanted to visualize, as opposed to making the entire feature a fantasy. This challenge was met by creating realistic sets, and not simply a world encompassed by CGI. “I set the time period on earth to be what the books were, and it really helped put you in a past mentality for both planets, which I think was a real helpful way to make it feel fresh. Petra in Jordan was a real inspiration, and we came up with this epiphany. I don't know how many of you guys came to the Utah set, but you were on one of the examples of what we were trying to do, which was picking landmasses that truly exist, and just doing the tiniest Photoshop tweak to them. They become man-made or Martian-made. That way when you watch the film, it feels real. A large percentage of the screen space that you're watching has truly been photographed, and it will hopefully help give it a sense of believability that I really wanted out there. This is an actual set location, and this is what we're doing with it, seeing another angle.”
After a very passionate introduction, we were then given the very first glimpse at JOHN CARTER. This included a sequence of Carter (Taylor Kitsch) experiencing a very different world than what he had known on Earth. Most entertainingly, a thrilling few moments of Carter’s realization that gravity on this particular place is not what he is used to. While it is a playful and exciting scene, it never gets overtly silly or ridiculous. Kitsch seems to pull it off with just the right amount of seriousness and humor.
The Tharks – the inhabitants of the planet -- were also revealed to us and they looked incredibly impressive. These creatures stand around 12 feet tall, compared to Carter’s mere six foot (give or take) is a sight to be seen. While we saw very little reaction between John and this fascinating race including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), comparisons will surely be made to James Cameron’s AVATAR. Although, keep in mind that this story is much, much older than AVATAR. As mentioned previously, this series of books was an inspiration to a great deal of modern day science fiction.
We were also given a glimpse of the teaser trailer and for the most part, the reaction was quite positive from the group. While a handful of the writers seemed underwhelmed by the trailer itself, there was still a very positive vibe about the upcoming feature film. For me, the trailer was exactly what it should be. As Stanton mentioned, there is a sense of reality laden throughout, yet it is still quite fantastic when necessary. With Andrew Stanton as writer and director, and a cast including Kitsch, Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston, Dominic West, Dafoe, Polly Walker and Samantha Morton, we may be in for a cinematic treat.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our Edit Bay visit to JOHN CARTER where we go head to head with director Andrew Stanton and producer Jim Morris. JOHN CARTER opens March 9, 2012.
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