Monday, January 23, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

John CarterLast Thursday evening I was fortunate enough to go along to an Exclusive Disney John Carter Preview Event. During the hour or so we were seated at The Apollo Piccadilly. Where we got an introduction to the world and heritage of John Carter from Producer Kevin Kurtz, saw 5 exclusive clips from John Carter, the new John Carter 3D trailer and sit in on a QA session with Special Effects Supervisors Sue Rowe & Eamonn Butler and the star of the film Taylor Kitsch.

I have split the session over 3 posts to make it less cumbersome and an easier read. In this first post I’ll cover the Introduction to John Carter presentation we got from Producer Kevin Kurtz, in the second the exclusive clips we got to see and the third the QA session that followed.

Firstly some thoughts on John Carter. Like any informed fan of Science Fiction of course I know Edgar Rice Burroughs. I am a huge fan of one of Burroughs’s other characters - Tarzan, so much so that Burne Hogarth’s, way ahead of it’s time 1972 Graphic Novel Tarzan of the Apes is in my Top 10 Comics of all time and I highly recommend it. In my youth I had a huge collection of books and amongst them - most of the John Carter of Mars or Barsoom series. However to my shame never read all of them favouring Asimov, Clarke, Wells, Verne or Dick for my literary Sci-Fi needs over the more fantastical Mars based stories. Also I had read most of the Marvel John Carter comics as well as the modern reinterpretations and John Carter themes that proliferated comics in some shape or form at the time and still do. So despite Burroughs's books being the source I  felt quite saturated as far as John Carter style tales went.

In an odd quirk, all the authors I mention above bar Wells where influenced by Burroughs and I was well aware of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ influence on not only Sci-Fi but broader culture. So in short even though I grew up with John Carter of Mars but wasn’t a big fan.

When I first heard John Carter of Mar was being made into a film I wasn’t particularly interested in another overly manufactured mediocre big screen blockbuster focusing on spectacle rather than story, the disappointments over the years marring my excitement. Also I had thought John Carter was probably going to be aimed at a much younger age group than myself, how else could they make sense of the extreme fantastical nature (characters & creatures) of the material? But not overly familiar with John Carter I was not very precious about it and my expectations were pretty low so in all fairness I could only be pleasantly surprised.

Last July I managed to catch an early preview of the teaser trailer, which didn’t show a whole lot but my interest was piqued in seeing more – the quickly edited visuals and Peter Gabriel’s cover of Arcade Fire’s My Body is a Cage evoking Johnny Cash’s Hurt seemingly combined for that very reason.

Well after this preview event I can safely say I have seen enough to shift me from ambivalent to John Carter being one of my most anticipated films of 2012. And I’m hoping that Disney continue the momentum and create the same depth of immersive experience of the great TRON: Legacy which I absolutely loved, whilst entertaing both adults and kids.

John Carter The Film
John Carter the newest movie from Academy Award – winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton is an action adventure story set on Barsoom, the exotic and mysterious planet we know as Mars. Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic novel, John Carter is the story which inspired many of the most imaginative and well known Hollywood movies, past and present.

The movie tells the tale of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly involved in a conflict of epic proportions between the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).

In a world on the brink of collapse, John Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

Guide to the World Of John Carter and it’s heritage
Master of ceremonies Chris Hewitt introduced the event and welcomed Producer Kevin Kurtz (any relation to Gary Kurtz?) to the podium. Where he delivered a quick presentation about Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series, its heritage and importance to modern Science Fiction, some insight into the cast and team behind John Carter and ended by taking us through some of the characters, creatures, geography and architecture of John Carter’s Mars also known as Barsoom.

Video: John Carter - Exclusive Ten Minute Scene

The following is from memory and scribbled notes as we couldn't record this part of the session. So it is not verbatim, the order may be mixed up and I've fleshed it out a bit to add some more information. My comments are in square brackets [].

Key points from Producer Kevin Kurtz’s Guide to The World Of John Carter

The history of John Carter
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars the first in the John Carter [Baroom] series in 1912, a 100 years ago.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote 11 short novels or paperback serials in the John Carter series. [the one entitled John Carter was actually the last of these, this come back later in the QA] and the format could almost be seen as a precursor to comics.

A Princess of Mars is like a Science Fiction Rosetta Stone for past filmmakers and authors as well future creators. The books have a wide reaching influence.

[Meaning that it has such a rich vein of imagination running through it – that it is a source that has influenced or been referenced by literary and cinematic culture ever since and sets a foundation that will continue to influence Sci-Fi and fantasy culture.]

John Carter's influence can be seen in works like; Buck Rogers, Superman, Star Wars, Avatar, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, 2001, Dune and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

[Surprisingly no mention was made of how Edgar Rice Burroughs has imbued Mars into our cultural consciousness over the last 100 years as the red planet of mystery and a focal point for our exploratory nature. So much so that for a while the word Martian meant Alien.]

Previously a number of filmmakers have tried to make a John Carter film to no avail [amongst them: Bob Clampett, Ray Harryhausen, John McTiernan, Kerry Conran, Robert Rodriquez, Jon Favreau]

Director Andrew Stanton was looking for something to make after WALL•E. He looked at a couple of different things but always looked back to his first love John Carter.

The Story of John Carter
In terms of character arc across the serial novels the team thinks of John Carter as very similar to Harry Potter.And although the story may be set on Mar and be fantastical - John Carter is the story of; the friendship between a man and a Martian, a boy and a dog and the romance of a man and the most beautiful woman on Mars.

The Filmmakers of John Carter
John Carter of Mars has been a huge influence on the key filmmakers; Andrew Stanton (WALL•E, Toy Story), Mark Andrews (The Iron Giant, Spider-Man, BraveMichael Chabon (Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) [but neglected to mention the brilliant comic The Escapist a spinoff of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay]

To put some gravitas to this Kurtz showed us a slide of 3 childhood diagrams by Writers Mark Andrews & Michael Chabon and Director Andrew Stanton.

In all fairness one of them, I think Michael Chabon’s wasn’t a diagram rather his name with OF MARS or BURROUGHS added to it in the style of a title, Andrew Stanton’s pencil drawing featured a four armed alien I think it was Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and Mark Andrew’s was a rather impressive doodle of a muscled John Carter and Tars Tarkas with a spear.

The Cast of John Carter
Taylor Kitsch as John Carter - most well known for Friday Night Lights and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Brings some complexity to the role as well as humour and comes across with Indiana Jones like qualities.

John Carter
Image: Taylor Kitsch as John Carter
Born in Virginia, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) served as an officer in the Confederate army in the Civil War. He is an honorable and courageous hero, but the ravages of the Civil War have left him broken, dispirited and personally defeated. Accidentally transported to Barsoom (Mars), John Carter begins to realize that his strength and jumping abilities are greatly amplified in the low gravity of the planet. Carter reluctantly begins a journey to rediscover his humanity while at the same time saving his newfound world. - From
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris – Lynn and Taylor worked on Wolverine together.
most well known for and the Merchant Of Venice [or William Friedkin’s BUG and True Blood]

John Carter
Image: Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris
Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins); the beautiful, raven-haired princess of Helium, is a passionate advocate for the Heliumites and their way of life. Dejah is Regent of the Royal Academy of Science, and was trained to rule and fight. She is on the verge of a discovery that could permanently shift the balance of power between her nation Helium and their enemy Zodanga. But time is running out, and Dejah must convince John Carter to enlist in the fight to save Helium. - From
As well as many other good British actors, and showed us a slide of actors headshots; Samantha Morton, , Mark StrongCiarán Hinds, Dominic West, James PurefoyWillem Dafoe, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston and Thomas Hayden Church.

The Production of John Carter
Unfortunately I might have missed some of this bit of the presentation. But there was mention of the actors playing Tharks like Willem Dafoe were filmed with motion capture using mo cap suits and wore stilts to gain the 9 foot alien heights needed. They also used face cams [the same technology that James Cameron Pioneered for Avatar] fortunately most of the CG character had tusks so that integrated well with cameras.

John Carter
Image: Tars Tarkas on a thoat
Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) is a fierce green Martian warrior who is the Jeddak (King) of the Tharks. The last vestige of nobility runs in his blood and is the only thing that keeps the Thark tribe from turning into beasts. Blessed with a good sense of humor and patience, Tars Tarkas befriends the earthman John Carter and gives him the Thark name Dotar Sojat, which roughly translates as "my right arms." – From
They wanted John Carter to have a realistic feel so early on they created a visual totem that would be used to ground thinking and serve as inspiration.

[The image was a grainy black & white (I think) shot taken in a dust storm along the bottom there was a ridge with a group of figures at least one with a spear following after a small ship flying above the ground. In terms of feel it looked like an image from1994’s Stargate, except it felt like it could have been a shaky handy cam spy shot of a futuristic military maneuver.]

The Landscapes and Architecture of John Carter
To add realism, all the landscapes are based on actual geographic features. We got to see a before and after comparisons of a rocky outcrop and how it was turned into a building and then two cities, one presumably the protagonists city and then the antagonists - all flat, black with sharp edges.

The Creatures of John Carter
Next up was a slide of the main creatures featured in John Carter. I think there were 6 images in total.

Thoats are very much Barsooms beasts of burden. See the pic above.

A thoat is a long, sleek creature with eight legs and a broad, flat tail, and a large mouth that splits their head nearly in half. On Barsoom, they serve the same function as horses on Earth. Two species of thoat are known, the smaller breed (about the size of a horse) used by the red martians is an exact replica in appearance of the larger far more dangerous variety used by the green martians, the smaller type of thoat is known to have a rare white variety. Thoats are slate in color shading into yellow at the feet, and their bellies are white. The tail of the thoat is less wide at the root than it is at the tip. The thoats survive almost solely on the yellow moss that covers much of the surface of mars. – From Encyclopedia Barsoomia
White Apes
The most fearsome creatures on Barsoom are the White Apes

John Carter
Image: John Carter fights White Apes
The White Apes are a feared race of semi-intelligent, gorilla-like monsters who inhabit the wilds of Barsoom, particularly the Toonolian Marshes and the Valley Dor.It is said that they are one of the primary causes of death amongst martian children. They are large creatures with an average height of 12 to 15 feet, some are known to be as small as eight feet. Like the Green Martians, they possess two sets of arms, the lower arms serving either as extra hands or extra feet, but they prefer two walk on two legs. As with almost all other Martian fauna, they are almost completely hairless, save for a shock of white hair on top of their heads. – From Encyclopedia Barsoomia

We saw more about them later on check out  part 2 of our John Carter Special: The Establishing Shot: John Carter Special 2 – We see 5 clips of exclusive John Carter footage and its AWESOME! Read our full analysis here!

John Carter
Image: Woola a Calcot
A calot is a Martian dog. About the size of a Shetland pony, with ten short legs and a frog-like head, and a small amount of bristly "hair”, they are the fastest creatures on Mars and are excellent at hunting game or guarding property. Those who treat their calots kindly will be rewarded with great loyalty; after befriending the calot Woola, John Carter was continually surprised when the ugly brute showed up just in the nick of time to save him from a number of otherwise deadly encounters. In fact, he found he had to go to great lengths to convince Woola to leave his side so that his beloved pet would not follow him into situations in which he would be more likely than his master to be harmed. – From Encyclopedia Barsoomia

Meet Woola from John Carter
Image: Meet Woola from John Carter Infographic (click to enlarge)

[There were three more creatures, well more like - inhabitants of Mars but discussing them would through up some spoilers and too be honest I think the filmmakers look like they don’t want to reveal too much about John Carter as yet.]

My thoughts on the presentation
Firstly thanks Disney for allowing us to film fans to come along. In all fairness Kurt’s presentation was a good introduction to John Carter but I would have been great to get a bit more detail in each of the areas and a delivery that brought them all together, it did seem that we were getting disparate bits of information.

Others opinions may differ but the presentation would have been better placed after we watched the 5 clips that followed - as it would have helped shape our thoughts and answer questions after being bombarded with all that great eye candy.

I did get a sense that Disney weren’t trying too hard to sell John Carter but rather talk about all the work that the talented team have put into making John Carter and hoping the results speak for themselves.

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Review JOHN CARTER IS A LOT OF FUN!

The Establishing Shot: John Carter UK Premiere, Pics & video Exclusive cast introductions & Andrew Stanton in a must see talk about John Carter

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Special 1 – An introduction to the World of John Carter and our thoughts on Disney’s upcoming adaptation

The Establishing Shot: John Carter Special 2 – We see 5 clips of exclusive John Carter footage and its AWESOME! Read our full analysis here

Follow me over here Twitter @TheEstShot or Facebook > and please interact. Comments and thoughts always welcome below.

John Carter
Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, Andrew Stanton
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe

John Carter hits theaters in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on March 9th.