Disney's John Carter arrives in theaters Friday after years of development and a reported $250 million spent on the movie's budget, but the film's origins can be traced back to a kid reading comic books.
Director Andrew Stanton's first exposure to Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom" series was through the 1970s John Carter, Warlord of Mars published by Marvel, which led him seeking out the original novels.
"I would have never found about it had not some fan decided to convince some editor at Marvel Comics to make a series of comic books about it," Stanton said in a phone interview with Newsarama. "I was definitely a comic book kid. From the age of 8 to the age of about 16, I was really into it, then it just kind of calmed down after that."
In John Carter, the title character (played by Friday Night Lights alum Taylor Kitsch) is transported from post-Civil War America to Mars — or as the natives call it, "Barsoom" — and is soon embroiled in a planetary war. Some Martians look and talk just like humans, and some are considerably more alien.
Though John Carter is rooted in century-old literature — the first Barsoom story was published in 1912 — Stanton didn't attempt to modernize the story, and in fact embraced Burroughs' original text for its timelessness.
"If I could be a kid in 1976, and fall in love with a 1912 piece of literature for exactly the way it sounded and read, and didn't have a desire to make it a '70s, present-day thing, I didn't think anybody would have that desire in 2012," Stanton said. " It's like saying, 'It's Moby Dick, we've got to put a battleship and lasers in it.'"
Though the John Carter stories have influenced a variety of science fiction from Star Wars to Avatar and been adapted in multiple comic books (including current series published by both Marvel and Dynamite), this is the first theatrically released feature film based on the material. After attempts dating back to the 1930s, Stanton, a Pixar veteran, came to the film in after Disney acquired the rights in 2007.
In shaping the film's story, Stanton, who also served as screenwriter along with Pixar's Mark Andrews and novelist Michael Chabon, went straight to 1917's A Princess of Mars.
"It reads like a traveler that's gone somewhere and journaled what this new culture and all the rules of its history are, and with as many details as they could muster," Stanton said. "That's what's so intoxicating about it."
Chabon also has deep connections to the world of comic books, having penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, about Golden Age comic book creators, and written comics for Dark Horse starring the Escapist, the superhero character from that book.
"Mark and I started together, then it became very clear to us that we were going to be so busy prepping the movie," Stanton said, as Andrews was also the film's second unit director. " I just took a chance and asked [Chabon], and thought, 'He's going to be too busy.' It was sort of a childhood dream of his, to be able to see it on the screen, and he jumped at the chance."Despite positive reviews from outlets including The Hollywood Reporter, the pre-release press has often been rough on John Carter, with word of a more than $250 million budget and entertainment industry blog Deadline reporting that a studio executive dubbed it "the biggest writeoff of all time."
That type of talk hasn't seemed to affect Stanton, who is staying upbeat.
"I've been doing this since 1992. And I learned in 1995 that all you can control is whether the movie's any good when you're actually in the theater, but you can't control anything else," Stanton said.
That same Deadline article quoted a source stating "women of all ages have flat out rejected" John Carter, another claim that Stanton doesn't appear to be especially concerned about.
"I've always felt like it's a black hole to start worrying about what demographics will like it, and what might not," Stanton said. "A good story is a good story. If you're lucky, it attracts the right people."
Stanton, who also directed Pixar megahits Finding Nemo and Wall-E, is making his live-action debut with John Carter. Brad Bird, who directed Pixar's The Incredibles and Ratatouille, made a similar move this past winter with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a film that's made more than $679 million in worldwide box office.
No matter how John Carter fares, Stanton — who stressed that he's "never" leaving Pixar — said he's keeping his options open, and looks to be receptive to working in both animation and live action in the future.
"I would say the sky's the limit. I've always just been idea-driven. It will always just be the story," Stanton said. "But I do love that I can realize any story that I've wanted to see on the screen now."Related Story