Andrew Stanton Talks John Carter
The comforting thing is that making movies virtually isn’t as different as people think it is from making movies live. Certainly there are a lot of obvious differences, but the fact is that in both scenarios you’re still trying to make a great image on the screen that captivates you and moves the story forward.
And, to my surprise, I actually loved being outdoors and in a different environment every day. It’s a nice changeup from being in the same hallways and offices for years. I don’t mean to say one’s better than the other; they certainly each have their pros and cons. But it’s been a nice change-up after a long time of making movies in a certain environment.
AWN: What led you to want to make John Carter?
AS: John Carter is based on “A Princess of Mars,” which is a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs that was written almost 100 years ago. I stumbled across the book at the perfect age; I was about 10 years old, maybe 11. I fell in love with the concept of a human finding himself on Mars, among these amazing creatures, and finding that he has his own unique powers. It was a very romantic aspect of adventure and science fiction.
One of my friends had a bunch of brothers who all could draw and I would go to their house sometimes and we’d share comic books. I remember them always drawing this character with a sword, who was fighting these 9-foot tall, four-armed, green creatures with tusks. I asked them what they were drawing and they explained to me that it was John Carter from Mars fighting Tharks. It was the same time that Marvel comics had come out with a series based on the books, so I went the comic route first and then I came back and started reading the books. I read the books all the way into my high school years and my friends use to make fun of me.
There are actually 11 books in the series and I have always thought it would be cool to see them realized on the screen. I was really more of a movie fan. I wanted to see the ideas in Burroughs’ books up on the screen so I could go and see them there, but I never thought that I would be the person behind the movie being made.
AWN: How did you update this story, since the source material is almost one hundred years old?
AS: I’ve always been able to envision this early 20th century time period because that’s when the character of John Carter was created and that’s when the story takes place. It was considered present day at the time the stories were published in 1912. It’s very similar to what it feels like to read books by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. The view of science and of future technology and fantasy is very reflective of how people understood the world at that time. I think that part of the appeal and charm of these books and of these characters is that they are not of our time; they’re of the post-Civil War era. I wanted not only Earth but also Mars to have a bit of that flavor, to place it in its own category and not make it possible to even accidentally compare it to other, more current, science fiction films or fantasy films.
But if I were to make the book literally the way it’s described, it would come across as cliché or antiquated. I felt the way to make it fresh was to make it feel even more authentic, to make it feel like a period film, but of a period we just don’t know about, so that it would have all the visceral believability of a very well-researched historical movie. It just happens to be that we’ve made up this history. For me it was all about authenticity, believability and transporting the audience to make them think they’re really there.
Because it’s science fiction seen through the eyes of somebody at the turn-of-the-century, there’s a cool old-fashioned feel that you can play off of. I wanted to be in real locations and make it feel like I was really in that time, whether I was on Earth or Mars.