Disney’s John Carter is a story written in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was his first novel originally titled, “A Princess of Mars.” I can’t say I’ve ever read Burroughs, but you & I have seen his strong influence at the movies. Have you ever watched a Science Fiction movie showcasing another planet, another world, aliens, Martian creatures, futuristic societies, incredible flying contraptions & the never-ending battle between good and evil? Then you’ve seen Burrough’s 100 year-old influence in action.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a war-weary American Civil War veteran who’s lost everything. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr. Carter finds himself on the surface of Barsoom, AKA Mars. It’s there where his life finds its meaning. His path crosses with Tar Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) the leader of the savage Tharks. Warrior Princess Dejah Thoris, (Lynn Collins) who enlists Carter to help save her people, the Heliumites and end the ongoing war with The Zondangans.
You can’t help but look around and marvel at this world. In movies, we’ve all seen life on other planets. This time, lifelong Burroughs fan, Director Andrew Stanton was the mastermind behind the look of John Carter. Much of the Mars scenery was shot in the deserts of Utah. The crew worked in excess of 120 degrees. That didn’t stop them from filming sweeping shots of the dessert landscape.
Thanks to Stanton’s Pixar animation background, (He directed WALL*E and Finding Nemo) he was able to animate thousand year old Martin ruins and weave them into the side of mountains. It’s a new and fresh approach to bring this world to life. Production designer Nathan Crowley was instrumental in creating the film’s look as well.
The production of John Carter called for the Tharks to be between 9-10 feet tall. This required Wilem Dafoe to master the skill of walking on 3-foot stilts. In top of that, he’s also have to endure Motion Capture equipment or a Mo Cap suit. Those were just the technical requirements.
In the acting, Dafoe relished the challenge of learning to speak Tharkian. USC’s Dr. Paul Frommer, who has a doctorate in linguistics, is the man who created the native Navi language for James Cameron’s “Avatar.” He was tasked with creating the Tharkian language. The main consistency in developing this new dialect was simply, Edgar Rice Burroughs. In his original writings, there were approximately 420 source Barsoom words and sounds. That was the foundation. The actors engaged in Tharkian language bootcamp which added a layer of authenticity.
When describing John Carter, you have to roll out a laundry list of genres. Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Love Story. It’s all there on the big screen. It’s a huge sweeping epic movie. I envy any 9-year old kid who’s about to take off into this new reality for the first time. Anyone older has seen a glimpse of this world already in “Star Wars,” “Alien,” “Star Trek,” and “Avatar.”
The key to fully enjoy a movie like this is to simple: Commit to suspending your disbelief. Go along for the journey. If you sit down in the theater to see John Carter wearing your cynical hat, it’ll just go nowhere. If your idea of an amazing movie is spending 2-hours watching George Clooney’s wife in coma, that’s your call. For me, John Carter is why we go to movies, to be taken away to a place we’ve never been, but always wanted to go.
I ventured to Scottsdale Arizona to interview the John Carter cast for www.VelvetRedTV.com. Those interviews will online very soon!
You don’t have to go to Barsoom to Follow me on Twitter @leoquinones