John Carter was almost a Tom Cruise vehicle directed by John McTiernan?
USA Today recently ran a pretty great piece on the arduous trek JOHN CARTER has had to the silver screen, and one of the more interesting developments they reveal is the 1990 version that kept the title "A Princess of Mars" and had John McTiernan, Tom Cruise, and Julia Roberts attached. That project's $120 million budget would have made it one of the most expensive movies ever made at that time, though with inflation that number is actually probably very close to what Andrew Stanton has spent on the version you'll see March 9th.
From William Stout, an illustrator who worked brought on McTiernan's version: “Two days into that job had me in the middle of a huge depression. They were going to use camels and elephants in creature suits... There was no way that you could get any of this stuff to look like the Burroughs stuff.” This leads into a possible reason why the project was scrapped, as McTiernan decided that they would need to do most of the effects with CGI since animals in suits + people in prosthetics + stop motion was going to be too impractical. And back in 1990, CGI was most definitely not up to crafting "realistic, organic creatures," and very expensive and time consuming besides.
What's also interesting about McTiernan's "A Princess of Mars" is the places the script went. Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) had a version in play at one point entitled "The Chronicles of John Carter: Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars." This was followed by a rewrite from Bob Gale (BACK TO THE FUTURE) that was meant to add more humor - what kind of humor did he add? "The Tharks mispronounced Carter’s home state of Virginia as "'vagina.'" The thing of it was, reportedly Tom Cruise was not at all happy with the script(s) he was given, and I'm sure the fading of his interest did the struggling project no favors.
Interestingly, McTiernan had a what is called a “pay-or-play deal,” which meant that if the project was cancelled outright or even just not put into production by a specific date he would get paid anyway. When the latter came to pass McTiernan decided to walk and take his money with him, eventually going on to direct Arnold Schwarzenneger in LAST ACTION HERO.
You can read the rest of the comprehensive history USA Today has compiled here.
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