'John Carter' Director On Set Design, Characters & Trilogy Plans

john carter movie concept art

There's been a very controlled stream of information that's been released in regards to Disney's John Carter, the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous series of sci-fi novels about the planet Mars. Even the title of film (formerly John Carter of Mars) has been trimmed in order to seemingly downplay the sci-fi nature of the project (a curious decision, to say the least).

A number of sites were recently granted an edit bay visit to glimpse behind-the-scenes of John Carter and see what director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) and his production team have planned for the sci-fi adventure epic, which Disney is hoping to launch as a successful new franchise.

Before we continue, here's a synopsis for John Carter so that the uninitiated can learn what this iconic sci-fi series is all about:

The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) [a giant green warrior creature] and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

We've selected some of the more intriguing bits of info from the edit bay reports, covering topics such as the plot of John Carter, the look of the Mars planet and culture and the characters who propel the story. Aside from the actual building blocks of the film itself, we also learn a bit about what the studio has planned for the John Carter brand and how they hope to market it - including why "Mars" was dropped from the title of the movie.

From i09, regarding the issue of dropping "Mars" from the title:

Andrew Stanton: 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...I also found that — this is the wrong crowd to get this — not everybody's into sci-fi. I've tried really hard to capture what I thought was universal and timeless about this book that is above and beyond the genre itself. I don't want to exclude anybody from a wrong first impression assumption about this movie or this property, so I didn't want to lie and say it isn't what it is, so I said, "Let's sell the character that we put all our efforts towards."

Believe me, Mars is going to come into this thing, title and everything, before this whole journey's over. You've just got to be patient. There was a grand design to all this thing...You've got to know that it was not a studio-driven hammer on me, and it was not a decision that came quickly. I put a lot of thought into what's the most promising way to make a good first impression to a majority of the world that does not know anything about this, and invite them in and hopefully make them enjoy it as much as the people that do love it. That's the best way I can put it.

On what the "grand design" for the John Carter brand entails:

Stanton: Most people know me at Pixar as the guy that doesn't like to do sequels or very reluctant to do sequels. The irony wasn't lost on me when I asked them to do this first book to option the first three. I said, "I really want to try to attack the first 3 like a trilogy and give us a fighting chance to introduce it to the world the way it was introduced to me," which was as an ongoing series with a promise of something going on — not as a cold crafts franchise, but again, to try to capture what I felt as a young kid when I got introduced to them.

There was already 11 books, and they were my 'Harry Potters.' I wanted to see if we could do the same, get off on the right foot with this one. They were very receptive to that fact, and that's exactly what we did. We tapped all three, knowing that the first one was really going to be the only promise of what could be made and [if] it succeeds and does well, then we'll move on.

Stanton also touched on his approach to shaping this fantastical story (as reported by Coming Soon):

Stanton: "Character was probably my biggest focus on the project...I went with my Pixar gut and experience and got actors because of their eyes, their voice, and their acting ability...[Their dialogue] is very heightened prose, and I decided to round up the most seasoned actors I could, a lot of them British. I would often make fun of the dialogue and call it 'Pulp Shakespeare'. I wanted to make sure when they say something out of their mouths, there was gravitas to it that you would believe it, that you would buy."

image of mars from john carter movie

On creating the world of Mars and all the culture therein in a believable way (as reported by Collider):

Stanton: ...It’s a period film of a period we just don’t know about. It’s as if somebody has done their Martian history research really, really well and called in all the authorities... I don’t want it to seem like this is images of creatures that people have been drawing on their notebooks their whole life and just want to selfishly see realized on the screen; I want you to go, “No, sorry, this is actually how people dressed in Aztec times” or “This is how people bargained in Japanese feudal times.” Can we capture that faux authenticity?

So much has been derived from this book over 100 years that my first dilemma was, “How the hell do you make this and not look like you’re being derivative yourself?” It wasn’t until Nathan Crowley...came in, and I wanted somebody that was not a famous sci-fi guy. I wanted somebody that would think more literally. He comes more from an architectural background. How would he attack some of these things? How would a different world come up with doors and windows? Not necessarily how we would do it—that challenge.

Petra in Jordan was a real inspiration, and we came up with this epiphany...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. To those of you on the Utah set, this as you remember is ultimately what will happen to it. It’s having the effect we hoped it would: “Where the hell did they find this place to shoot it?”

John Carter movie poster

On casting some of the big roles in the film (as reported by /Film):

Stanton: ...[My] other main issue was, “How do I deal with these archetypal characters?”  These four main characters in particular, John Carter and Dejah Thoris...I needed to dimensionalize these heroes. Carter’s pretty much a do-gooder for most of these books; he can be very vanilla, very 2-dimensional at times. Dejah was too much of a damsel in distress. You’ve got to remember, they were the fresh adventure ideas at the time that became tropes. Could I make both characters and made a little bit more of them, but still retain what I felt was an innate sense of justice in Carter and the strength of Mars at the core of Dejah? After many casting calls and an elaborate week of film tests, I found my two heroes. I really struck gold. Taylor Kitsch as Carter and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris.

Taylor plays damaged goods really well, and the thing I lucked out on was he’s such a pantomime with things that aren’t there. I kept calling him my modern-day Bob Hoskins. He could act against nothing. That was required of him, as if it was there. That was an added bonus with what I was already getting with him. Lynn wasn’t really on my radar, and she came in with an inner strength and a demanding intelligence that I could not ignore until it translated on screen incredibly well. Neither are hard to look at, so that doesn’t hurt.

Neither of them are incredibly familiar faces yet, and that’s a big thing for me too, if I can have any say, that I want to believe they are who they’re playing. If you’re going to play these characters that are going to be possibly seen again and again, it would be great to get off on the right foot and you can follow in belief that they are who they are. That’s all I ever want when I go with somebody: I want to be sucked in, and I want to believe it.

For more on the how the film came together, the 3D, the soundtrack, or what alien races we should expect to see, click on the any links above to read the full edit-bay visit report from each respective site.

What do you think about John Carter - will it be a new blockbuster franchise for Disney, or yet another here-and-gone sci-fi film?

We'll find out when John Carter hits 2D and 3D theaters on March 9 2012.

Actually, we'll find out sooner than that: a trailer for the film is expected to debut this week, so stay tuned.

Sources: /Film, Collider, Coming Soon, i09

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