Disney has been fairly quiet when it comes to marketing its upcoming (expensive) sci-fi project John Carter, an adaptation of the first novel in Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic John Carter literary series. The studio previewed footage from the film at the 2011 D23 Expo and unveiled a teaser trailer this past summer, but casual moviegoers still seem by and large oblivious to the film’s existence or background.

However, longtime John Carter novel fans are definitely intrigued to see the movie – and the latest image from the film, depicting a Martian “White Ape” in battle, should only stoke their fires of anticipation.

For non-John Carter fans, here is a quick plot synopsis for the new film:

Civil War vet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch)  is transplanted to Mars, where he discovers a lush, wildly diverse planet whose main inhabitants are 12-foot tall green barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), Princess of Helium, who is in desperate need of a savior.

Those who attended the D23 Expo actually got an early glimpse at one of the film’s big action set pieces: a deadly showdown where the alien Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and John Carter are trapped in a gladiatorial arena and forced to battle gigantic, multi-limbed Martian beasts known as White Apes. However, for the vast majority of people, the following still frame from said scene (see below) marks their first look at the CGI creatures.

CLICK FOR LARGER VERSION

Here is what John Carter’s multiple Oscar-winning director, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) had to offer EW, with regards to the design of the White Apes and their role in the film’s narrative:

“[The White Apes is] sort of an oversized gorilla in the books, and they’re kind of ubiquitous. They’re littered everywhere through at least the first several novels. They were always cool, just from a visceral standpoint, [but] they don’t really have a narrative function in the first book. So what we did is we made the White Apes a formidable creature that you kind of hear about throughout the movie, but you never really witness. There’s a subtle sense of anticipation for what these things might be like.

“Then Michael Kutsche — who did a lot of the designs on [the Johnny Depp movie] Alice in Wonderland came up with this design on his own, for just their scale. He made them nocturnal, almost like moles — they stopped using their eyes, and just had a heightened sense of smell. We just love that. We needed a scene where Carter was going have to get out of his execution sentence in order to move the story forward, and we thought what better than having to go up against this formidable creature?

“… I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but basically [John Carter] needs an army to solve his big problem in the third act, and the only army he knows was his previous captors. When he goes back, the game has changed, and he gets incarcerated. This is what he has to get out of. He has to get out of jail and not get killed by these apes in order to get his bigger problem solved.”

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter

Early John Carter footage has so far drawn love/hate reactions from viewers. The 19th-century aesthetic and fantastical design of everything from the Martian landscape to its native inhabitants has seemed outdated to some, imaginative and eye-catching to others. Similarly, the basic plot setup for the film has already (and is bound to continue) drawing comparisons to sci-fi titles like Avatar and Dune, to mention just a couple. While the narrative of Burrough’s source material was very much a trend-setter, it comes off as merely a generic copycat to many who are not familiar with the original John Carter novels.

John Carter boasts a pretty soldi creative team that includes Stanton, Oscar-nominated co-scribe Mark Andrews (the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Samurai Jack cartoon series), Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Michael Chabon, and director of photography Daniel Mindel (Star Trek). That’s not to mention the cast, which also includes reliable thespians like Samantha Morton, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Hayden Church, Mark Strong, and Bryan Cranston in supporting roles.

That’s all to say: John Carter is definitely a costly gamble (the budget is estimated to be upwards of $200-250 million) for Disney – one that may not pay off either critically or financially. All the same, there’s certainly potential for this to be a truly memorable moviegoing experience.

John Carter arrives in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters around the U.S. on March 9th, 2012.

Source: EW