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Andrew Stanton Speaks Out on John Carter Title, Story & Budget

For Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Wall-E and Disney’s upcoming John Carter, bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp adventure to theaters is a dream come true.

“I pretty much just spent 30-plus years waiting for somebody, dear God, to put it on the screen!” Stanton laughed during a press gathering for the sci-fi epic.

It’s an adaptation of Burroughs’ 1917 novel A Princess of Mars, originally serialized five years earlier, which follows the adventures of John Carter, a veteran of the American Civil War who’s mysteriously transported to Mars (dubbed Barsoom by its natives). Discovering that the planet’s lower gravity gives him super-strength and agility, Carter embarks on a journey across Barsoom to save the ancient Red Martian civilization and the beautiful princess Dejah Thoris.

While retaining most of the elements from A Princess of Mars, the Disney film also borrows from its sequel The Gods of Mars, a decision Stanton said was designed to make the story more cohesive.

“It was train cars on those first couple books, especially the first one. It was like, ‘Then this happened, then this happened. Oh, shit, I need some kind of climax to make this all come together at the end and then I add that on,’” the director explained, pointing to the story’s serialization as the cause. Looking over the first three Barsoom books — Princess, Gods and The Warlord of Mars — Stanton and co-screenwriters Michael Chabon and Mark Andrews kept some plot points while discarding others.

“Here I had the luxury that Burroughs didn’t, of where are all these characters going? Where are these worlds going?” Stanton said. “So you could push these together and go, ‘Oh, well, I’m sure if he had this oversight he might make a couple changes, too, and shift when you learn about stuff.’”

Explaining that a good chunk of the writing process involved informed picking and choosing, he added, “I just would hang stuff on the side I loved from the first book as ingredients in the kitchen, and then we put it away and said, ‘OK, we know what the basic line is: It’s a guy who has lost his way, has lost his humanity, and has discovered it with a whole other culture. How do we make that arc work?’”

There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to bring A Princess of Mars and the other 11 Barsoom novels to the big screen — the most recent being in 2005, when Iron Man director Jon Favreau tried to get an adaptation off the ground at Disney.

“When Favreau had it in the mid-2000s, artists are one step away from other artists,” Stanton said, “so I knew people working on it and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, it’s going to get made, finally, finally!’”

“Crestfallen” that the film fell apart, Stanton said when Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook called him to talk about other projects, the director only wanted to talk about the Barsoom books.

“It’s the most Hollywood kind of conversation, which I don’t have, that I had with him,” Stanton recalled. “‘You know, I just heard this property went back to the estate. I know Disney has not had good blood with them because you guys had this property in the ‘80s for almost 10 years and didn’t do anything with it, but you’re now on good standing with them because of the Tarzan animated movie. You guys got to make this!’”

Cook liked the idea so much he called Stanton back during the filming of Wall-E to offer him John Carter, a project the director gladly accepted.

“We had a saying when we got the property: ‘Break the curse!'” he said. “But then I started getting really superstitious!”

Beyond films, the Barsoom novels have been adapted as comic books and interpreted by fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta. But when it came to bringing his version of Barsoom to life, Stanton decided to avoid previous visual representations of Mars.

“I didn’t want to make a Xerox of a Xerox,” he said. Calling the Barsoom books the template for modern genre adventure stories, the director continued, “I knew going in, by the uneducated it’s going to be blamed for copying other things. There’s no way around that. So how can I make a film that, when you watch it, it doesn’t feel like that?”

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Stanton and his production crew decided the answer was in treating John Carter more like a historical drama or a historically accurate adventure story than a science fiction movie.

“The books don’t feel like a sci-fi novel, they feel like a world where Earth has been mapped completely,” he said. “There’s no new countries, no new cultures, so where do we keep exploring on our boats and find another culture to meet? We’re going to make one up and go to the shores of Mars.”

Using that logic, the three screenwriters set out to devise the rules of evolution and behavior on Mars, given that the oceans had died and there was more than one race of sentient life on the planet.

“That was half the fun, going, ‘If you just shift it enough, how will mankind be slowly building the same path to the industrial revolution that we are?’” Stanton said.

Touching on the business behind the movie, the director addressed the title changes as the film went from John Carter of Mars to simply John Carter.

“At the time there was panic of [confusion] with Mars Needs Moms, and that wasn’t convincing me to do anything. Then they did all this testing and they found that a huge bump of people were saying no just off the title,” Stanton admitted. “I realized that the movie is about that arc, so I said, ‘Look I’ll bend if … you guys let me keep the JCM logo because it’s going to mean something by the end of the movie, and if there’s more movies I want that to be the thing you remember.”

Stanton also spoke out about media reports that John Carter was over budget, ballooning from $175 million to $300 million.

“It’s bullshit! I was on budget, on time, the entire time,” Stanton declared, saying that Disney awarded him extra reshoot days because of his diligence in sticking to budget and time constraints.

“I want to end this principal shoot on budget, on time, so I said I will be a good citizen and if there’s things that are broken or missing I’ll add it to the reshoot,” he said, adding, “It’s a big-budget movie, and that’s why Disney gave it to me, because they associated me with huge-budget movies. I think they would have been scared to death to give me a $50 million indie picture.”

As to the criticisms that audiences won’t buy a film set on Mars because they know there’s no life on the red planet, Stanton merely grinned.

“Well, fish don’t talk underwater, either!” he said with a laugh. “It’s how you handle it.”

John Carter opens March 9 nationwide.


  • Anonymous

    Can’t wait, this movie looks great and I will be there day 1 because of my love of the property and how well he seems to have adapted it. However I wish some of his enthusiasm (obviously on display here) had been rubbed off on whoever is marketing the film. I can’t get anyone I know excited to see it based off of the TV ads. My wife is not interested, and she had her interest at least peaked by Prince of Persia. As for the JCM I thought that was  a cool compromise and a neat logo, but I can’t say i have really seen it featured much outside of that teaser poster.

  • cc1738

    I want to see this movie.

  • Mulk

    Well, how the heck are audiences supposed to know if it’s set on Mars if the title OR the trailers don’t even mention it?! Epic failure!

  • Keil

    “I don’t want to make a Xerox of a Xerox”

    And yet every scene from the trailer looks exactly like the gladiator colosseum scene from Attack of the Clones


  • Coryjameson

    The movie-going public has simply become too dumb to appreciate a movie like this one. 

  • Keil


    You mean green-screen, special effects, shirtless guys, fighting, CGI
    monsters. Yep, gotta be a savant to appreciate high art like that

  • D.Smithee

    I just can’t believe they agreed to greenlight a movie with a character that no one under the age of 25 remembers or cares about–especially with a budget of $175 million.

    I am looking forward to it, though. 

  • D.Smithee

     And if I had been part of the decision process–I would have said the exact same thing.

    People won’t get this flick.

  • mike payton

    Disney is utterly clueless on how to market a boys movie. That’s why they copied their strategy from Prince of Persia and hired a pretty boy as the lead (instead of a man that remotely looks the part) in hopes that women will drag their boyfriends to this movie. Guess no one noticed how POP worked out.

    Meanwhile it takes a fanboy to put together a trailer that actually sells the movie properly, and even got the director’s blessings, because unlike Disney, THE FANS get it. 

  • Fatesmith

    You know why it looks like “Attack of the Clones”? Because George Lucas stole it (and many other things from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books. Where do think Lucas got words like “Sith” or “bantha” or even “Jedi”?

    Do your research next time.


  • Joe

    He doesn’t have to do his research. His statement is true. Who cares if George Lucs ripped it off. Don’t shoot the scene so it looks like a scene from Star Wars. That’s what a “Xerox of a Xerox” means.  Set it apart. For 175 million, Stanton should be able to.

  • sandwich eater

    The director’s enthusiasm for the Barsoom books does make me more confident about the movie, but I still think changing the name was unbelievably bone-headed.

  • Brenticles

    I don’t know, my wife saw the original title on a buiding in LA and said, “That sounds stupid.”  Then she saw the trailer and said, “That looks fun”.  We’re pretty average people so it may have been a good idea. 

  • Brenticles

    HAHA! It’s exactly what Stanton was talking about above.  People are going to see this and think it’s a rip off of this movie or that movie and not have a clue where these ideas originated. 

  • Sowhat

    Ne realistic. Do you really think the general public wants to research before they see a summer action flick? Some will, but most wont, and the goal is to reach most people, not just the minority of people who know Star Wars terms like you.

  • kal el

    Worst logo and title of a sci fi epic.

    Taking the MARS title out was THE worst idea.
    Making the sky BLUE instead of RED was the 2nd WORST idea.

    I know the movies origins predate STAR WARS & SUPERMAN…. but it comes off as a ripoff of them now.  The promos should have mentioned the historical importance of the books.

  • Chipperjonesules

    My wife is convinced I am the only person she knows that has a clue whom john Carter is. She may be right. They could have mentioned Burroughs name on the trailer. Creator of Tarzan and so on. Should have gone with different lead , like a young nathan fillion.


    Here’s a glowing non-review-review of JCM that gives one hope, despite the horrendously lousy marketing:

  • Loony

    It’s so sad that general public is not more aware of the ERB legacy beyond Tarzan… if that, even..! This is not just a geek dream come true – this is paying an [over]due respect to the father of modern adventure storytelling and the most influental single force on too many genres of what we call nowadays ‘escapism & fantasy entertainment’. I am SO looking forward to this that it hurts.

  • cc1738

    I found this fan made trailer that uses footage from the trailers and clips and it actually makes the movie look alot better.  I think it’s was better than any of the official trailers.  It actually explains some of the plot.

  • Scott Green

    Can you link to this research?  By all accounts George Lucas based the word jedi off of Japanese terminology.  I don’t know about the others.

  • Keil

    Yeah, I don’t let my affinity for Burroughs’ literature get confused
    with this crappy special effects movie. They are two completely separate things

  • Deco

    Is it just me or do Stanton’s quotes sound like badly translated Japanese-to-English? I can’t tell what the heck he’s trying to say : /

    And as to the “originality” or not of how this looks, most audiences don’t care. Who in the general movie-going public says “that looks too much like Star Wars (or Gladiator or Wrath of the Titans or…), so no, I won’t see it.”

  • Anonymous

    Regardless of how factually accurate the comparison may be, people WILL think this movie is derivative of recent movies if the trailer is any indication of what we are going to see.    

    John Carter is one of those early 20th Century properties that served as the genesis of what we have today, but that just isn’t what people want to watch anymore.  I put this in the same category as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon (which basically have the same formula as John Carter) – properties that need to die.  Unfortunately they won’t because once a property is cheap or public domain, producers keep resuscitating it because they don’t have to pay anyone (a lot of) royalties and (wrongly) believe there is a built-in market for them.

  • Fatesmith


    “In the grand tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘John Carter of Mars'” — George Lucas, May 1, 1975 synopsis of “Star Wars”

    “Originally, I wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, with all the trimmings, but I couldn’t obtain all the rights. So I began researching and found where (Flash Gordon creator) Alex Raymond got his idea: The works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially his John Carter series of books. — George Lucas on the genesis of ‘Star Wars’, Science Fiction Review 24, December 1977

    Lucas got the words ‘bantha’ and ‘Sith’ from the names of two types of creatures (‘banth’ and ‘sith’) in Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. With that in mind, and the two quotes above… do you think Lucas got the term “Jedi” from the Japanese word ‘jidaigeki’ which I guess means “period drama” or does it seem more likely to you that he got it from Burroughs’ term ‘jed’ meaning “warrior”? Perhaps it was a combination of the two as Lucas was inspired in part by Kurosawa’s ‘The Hidden Fortress’ as well when creating ‘Star Wars’. I don’t think it likely he’d come up with it with the Japanese word alone though.

    If Stanton wants to make a movie that is true to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books in any real way, it will by necessity bear a surface resemblance to other movies without even trying to. The book JOHN CARTER is based on is 100 years old now and has been strip mined by lots of people. For what it’s worth though, I hear Stanton’s arena scene in JOHN CARTER is superior to Lucas’ in ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

  • Keil

    you can soliloquize about it for hours if you want – but the John Carter
    movie still looks identical to Attack of the Clones – the creatures,
    arena, the crowds of aliens, even the tones of the backgrounds used in
    the arena scene look like the EXACT same special effects as Attack of
    the Clones

    I prefer my multi-million dollar movies to have some original look

    I mean look at the Biker Scout speeder in the picture above – I suppose Burroughs thought of that first too

  • Fatesmith

    I prefer my movies to have some originality to them as well. These concepts we’re discussing didn’t suddenly become George Lucas’ original creations just because he happened to film variations on them first. They all still originated with a book written 100 years ago titled ‘A Princess of Mars’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    I grew up with STAR WARS; but as I’m just beginning to discover for myself, Edgar Rice Burroughs pretty much invented American science fiction. Credit where credit is due. His imagination seems to be unparalleled in terms of the influence it’s had both within and outside the genre.

    Yes, Burroughs did create the speeder bike first as well. From Chapter 21 of ‘A Princess of Mars':

    “The next few days were spent by Kantos Kan in teaching
    me the intricacies of flying and of repairing the dainty
    little contrivances which the Martians use for this purpose.
    The body of the one-man air craft is about sixteen feet
    long, two feet wide and three inches thick, tapering to a
    point at each end. The driver sits on top of this plane upon
    a seat constructed over the small, noiseless radium engine
    which propels it. The medium of buoyancy is contained
    within the thin metal walls of the body and consists of
    the eighth Barsoomian ray, or ray of propulsion, as it may
    be termed in view of its properties.”


    “As I rose above the city I circled several times, as I had
    seen Kantos Kan do, and then throwing my engine into top
    speed I raced at terrific velocity toward the south, following
    one of the great waterways which enter Zodanga from that

    I had traversed perhaps two hundred miles in a little less
    than an hour when I descried far below me a party of
    three green warriors racing madly toward a small figure on
    foot which seemed to be trying to reach the confines of one
    of the walled fields.

    Dropping my machine rapidly toward them, and circling
    to the rear of the warriors, I soon saw that the object of
    their pursuit was a red Martian wearing the metal of the
    scout squadron to which I was attached. A short distance
    away lay his tiny flier, surrounded by the tools with which
    he had evidently been occupied in repairing some damage
    when surprised by the green warriors.

    They were now almost upon him; their flying mounts
    charging down on the relatively puny figure at terrific speed,
    while the warriors leaned low to the right, with their great
    metal-shod spears. Each seemed striving to be the first to
    impale the poor Zodangan and in another moment his fate
    would have been sealed had it not been for my timely arrival.

    Driving my fleet air craft at high speed directly behind
    the warriors I soon overtook them and without diminishing
    my speed I rammed the prow of my little flier between the
    shoulders of the nearest. The impact sufficient to have torn
    through inches of solid steel, hurled the fellow’s headless body
    into the air over the head of his thoat, where it fell sprawling
    upon the moss. The mounts of the other two warriors
    turned squealing in terror, and bolted in opposite directions.”

    My biggest in regards to Burroughs is that I haven’t been reading him already for thirty years.

  • Keil

    no doubt it’s a bummer that Lucas ripped Burroughs off. But I still put
    some onus on the filmmakers of this John Carter movie. That bike above
    looks EXACTLY like the bike from Shadows of the Empire – I mean exactly.

    They could have designed a bike that had a distinctive look – they
    didn’t. That is not Lucas or Burroughs’ fault – that is the fault of the
    idgets who made this John Carter movie

  • Anonymous

    This film is going to be great, because of the perfect adaptation and a great director

  • Guest

    What an amazing little time capsule this piece and the discussion that follows it is. Now we all know the result – A box office bomb (for the budget). How does everyone feel revisiting the facts now? Serious question. I’m very curious. Was it the title? The narrative? The casting? Where did it all go not-as-right-as-they-thought-it-would (I would say wrong, but it did make some money).