Andrew Stanton Talks John Carter
For environments, for example, we are actually shooting locations in Utah that have an otherworldly feel. The thing about Utah is that it really was a dead ocean at one point, as is a lot of Martian topography, so it is easy to just stand in certain areas of the state and think that you are on another world; that you are on Mars. I wanted it to feel like a different world’s romantic period because one of the cool things I always remembered from the books was that everybody could sail on air. It’s the equivalent of tall ships having the wind in their sails, but these “air” ships can actually propel off the light that bounces off the surface of the planet, much like an air-hockey puck, so I wanted that sort of graceful gliding that comes from that period where things haven’t been automated yet. It’s also fascinating to me because Mars is a dying planet and there’s something very romantic and eerie about the desert.
AWN: How did you approach adapting the book?
AS: I was such a fan of the books as a kid and as a young teen, but then I sort of fell away from them and just sort of lived off the memories of them all through my 20s. Then I rediscovered the books in my mid 30s and read them again, now with the eyes of somebody that’s had to write their own stories and make films. It made me not only appreciate what was still really great stuff in the books, but also how much needed to be altered or edited in order not just to make a better story, but to also capture cinematically the feeling that you get from reading the books. I think that’s really more the job of the filmmaker when they’re adapting a book. It isn’t so much whether you’re incredibly faithful, it’s great if you can be, but more importantly, have you made the audience feel like what it felt like to read the book?
To me, that’s the sign of a good adaptation, so that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve gone and looked in the other books in the series and sometimes found a character or situation that I felt might be better served to work in the first story and certainly added or embellished anything that I felt we wanted to explore more. There are an insane amount of battles and fights in these books and it’s because the chapters were originally serialized. You didn’t read a whole book, you read chapters in a magazine, and you waited until the next month until you could read the next one. So every chapter had a cliffhanger that was equal in size to the end of a movie.
So, Mark Andrews and I, and Michael Chabon, all worked very hard at balancing it all out so that you would get a much better rhythm and arc of what you expect when you see a movie, while still retaining the best of what it felt like to read the book.
AWN: How do you strike a balance between a story that feels authentic and believable and a story that includes nine-foot tall, green, four-armed Martians?
AS: When you describe the creatures and the ideas that Edgar Rice Burroughs came up with for these books, it seems like pure fantasy. That was the thing I really tried to overcome. How can you sell nine-foot tall, four-armed, tusked characters and have the audience completely accept it? The audience just needs to think that maybe they really could exist. I thought that the way into the film was not so much trying to be fantastical, but actually the opposite. How can I make you believe that these things really follow the laws of nature and the rules of reality on another planet?
That’s the way we approached it. To present this to you as if it’s another travel destination, an exotic location that’s in our universe, but we just didn’t know anything about it. And that’s really how, through those eyes and through those rules, we’ve made any decisions on this film.
AWN: Describe the visual style you bring to the film.