John Carter is a 2012 action film featuring John Carter, the heroic protagonist of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 11-volume Barsoom series. The film marks the centennial of the character's first appearance in 1912.
Former Confederate captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is mysteriously transported to Mars ("Barsoom") where he becomes part of a conflict between the various nations of the planet, whose leaders include Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Carter takes it upon himself to save Barsoom and its people.
The film is the live-action debut of director/writer Andrew Stanton and is co-written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. It is produced by Jim Morris, Colin Wilson, and Lindsey Collins, and scored by Michael Giacchino.
The film is being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and will be released in the United States on March 9, 2012. Filming began in November 2009 and principal photography spanned from January 2010 to July 2010. This project marks the first time that Andrew Stanton has worked on a live-action film, as his previous work includes the Pixar animated films Finding Nemo and WALL-E. The film will be released in Digital 3D and IMAX 3D
The film is largely based on A Princess of Mars, the first novel to feature John Carter. It was originally serialized from February though July 1912, in six monthly issues of the pulp magazine All-Story, under the title Under the Moons of Mars, and then those chapters were collected as a hardcover book in 1917. In the novel John Carter is a former American Civil War Confederate Army captain who is mysteriously transported to Mars, known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. In the course of his adventures he learns that the planet is dying from the loss of its atmosphere and water, and that only a peaceful alliance of its intelligent inhabitants can save all the species of Barsoom from extinction.
- Taylor Kitsch as John Carter
- Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium
- Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas, a Barsoomian warrior and ally of John Carter
- Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus, a vicious Thark warrior
- Samantha Morton as Sola, daughter of Tars Tarkas
- Dominic West as Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga
- Polly Walker as Sarkoja, a merciless, tyrannical Thark
- James Purefoy as Kantos Kan, captain of the ship Xavarian
- Mark Strong as Matai Shang, leader of the Holy Therns
- Ciarán Hinds as Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium
- Bryan Cranston as a Civil War colonel who comes into conflict with Carter
- Daryl Sabara as Edgar Rice Burroughs, nephew of John Carter
- Jon Favreau, who was once attached to direct the film when it was still a Paramount production, has a cameo in the film.
MGM and Bob Clampett production
In 1931, Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett approached Edgar Rice Burroughs with the idea of adapting A Princess of Mars into a feature-length animated film. Burroughs responded enthusiastically, recognizing that a live-action film would face visual limitations, but he advised Clampett to write an original adventure for John Carter. Working with Burroughs' son John Coleman in 1935, Clampett used rotoscope and hand-drawn techniques to capture the action, tracing over the motions of an athlete who performed John Carter's powerful movements in the reduced Martian gravity. Clampett designed Tharks, the Green Martians of Barsoom, which he attempted to give a believable appearance, and produced footage of them riding eight-legged thoats at a gallop, which showed all eight legs in coordinated motion. He also produced footage of a fleet of rocket ships emerging from a Martian volcano. MGM was to release the cartoons, and studio heads were enthusiastic about the series.
The test footage produced by 1936 received negative reactions from exhibitors across the US, especially in small towns, many of whom opined that the concept of an Earthman on Mars was too outlandish for Midwest American audiences. The series was not given the go-ahead, and Clampett was instead encouraged to produce an animated Tarzan series, an offer which he later declined. Clampett recognized the irony in MGM's decision, as the Flash Gordon series released in the same year by Universal Studios was highly successful. He speculated that MGM thought that serials were only played to children during Saturday matinees, whereas the John Carter tales were intended to be seen by adults during the evening. The footage that Clampett produced was for many years believed lost, until Burroughs' grandson, Danton Burroughs, found some of the film tests in the early 1970s in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. archives. Had A Princess of Mars been released, it may have preceeded Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and become the first American feature-length animated film.
1980s Walt Disney development
During the late 1950s, Ray Harryhausen expressed interest in filming the novels, but it was not until the 1980s that producers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna bought the rights for Walt Disney Pictures with a view to creating a competitor to Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were hired to write, while John McTiernan and Tom Cruise were approached to direct and star. The project collapsed because McTiernan realized that visual effects were not yet advanced enough to recreate Burroughs' vision. The project remained at Disney, and Jeffrey Katzenberg was a heavy proponent of filming the novels, but the rights eventually returned to Burroughs' estate.
Producer James Jacks read Harry Knowles' autobiography, which lavishly praised the unfilmed John Carter of Mars series. Having read the novels as a child, Jacks moved to convince Paramount Pictures to acquire the film rights, only to launch a bidding war with Columbia Pictures. After Paramount and Jacks won the rights, Jacks contacted Knowles to become an advisor on the project and hired Mark Protosevich to write the script. In 2003, Robert Rodriguez signed on to direct the film after his friend Knowles showed him the script. Recognizing that Knowles had been an advisor to many filmmakers, Rodriguez asked him to be officially credited as a producer.
Filming was set to begin in 2005, with Rodriguez planning to use the digital sets he was using for his production of Sin City, a film based on a graphic novel series by Frank Miller. Rodriguez planned to hire Frank Frazetta, a popular Burroughs illustrator, as a designer on the film. However, Rodriguez created controversy over his decision to credit Frank Miller as co-director on the film adaptation of Sin City. As a result, Rodriguez decided to resign from the Directors Guild of America. Unable to hire a non-DGA filmmaker, Paramount assigned Kerry Conran to direct and Ehren Kruger to rewrite the script in October 2004. The Australian Outback was scouted as a location. Conran left the film for unknown reasons, and was replaced by Jon Favreau in October 2005.
Favreau and screenwriter Mark Fergus wanted to make their script faithful to the novels, retaining John Carter's links to the American Civil War and ensuring that the Martian Tharks were 15 feet tall (whereas other scripts made them human-sized). Favreau argued that a modern soldier would not know how to fence or ride a horse the way a Confederate officer like Carter would. The first film that he envisioned would have adapted the first three novels in the Barsoom series: A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, and The Warlord of Mars. Unlike Rodriguez and Conran, Favreau preferred using practical effects for the film and cited Planet of the Apes as his inspiration. He intended to use make-up as well as CGI to create the Tharks. However, Favreau's official affiliation with the project was not strong, and in August 2006 Paramount chose not to renew the film rights, preferring to focus on Star Trek instead. Favreau and Fergus moved on to Iron Man.
In January 2007, Disney regained the rights, acquiring them this time for Andrew Stanton and writer Mark Andrews. Stanton noted he was effectively being "loaned" to Walt Disney Pictures because Pixar is an all-ages brand and John Carter was rated PG-13. By 2008 they completed the first draft for part one of a film trilogy. The first film will be based only on the first novel. In April 2009, author Michael Chabon confirmed he had been hired to revise the script.
Having completed WALL-E, Stanton and Wells visited the archives of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., in Tarzana, California, as part of their research. Jim Morris, general manager of Pixar, said the film will have a unique look that is distinct from Frank Frazetta's illustrations, which they found dated. He also noted that although he had less time for pre-production than for any of his animated projects, the task was nevertheless relatively easy since he had read the novels as a child and had already visualized many scenes.
The film was originally titled John Carter of Mars, but Stanton removed "of Mars" to make it more appealing to a broader audience, stating that the film is an "origin story. It's about a guy becoming John Carter." Stanton plans to keep "Mars" in the title for future releases in the series. Kitsch said the title was changed to reflect the character's journey, as John Carter will become "of Mars" only in the last few minutes of the picture. Critics have noted that Disney's 2011 film Mars Needs Moms was one of the biggest bombs in the history of the studio.
Principal photography commenced at Longcross Studios, London, in January 2010 and ended in Utah in July 2010. Locations in Utah included Lake Powell and the counties of Grand, Wayne, and Kane.
Disney will release the film in several 3D formats. In February 2010, Michael Giacchino revealed in an interview he will be scoring the film. Given his association with Pixar Animation Studios, Andrew Stanton is the fourth Pixar filmmaker Giacchino will have worked with following Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission:Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Pete Docter (Up) and John Lasseter (Cars 2).
Walt Disney Records will release the soundtrack on March 6, 2012.