Prepare to blast off on an out-of-this-world adventure with Disney’s John Carter, in theaters and IMAX today. The 3-D film, directed by Andrew Stanton, is based on the classic science fiction novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It follows former military captain John Carter as he’s accidentally transported to the mysterious planet of Barsoom—or as we know it, Mars—where he discovers his superhuman powers. The planet’s inhabitants have been battling a centuries-old civil war, and Carter uses his newfound powers to put an end to the fighting and save the planet from destruction.
TFK spoke to Andrew Stanton, the director of the new movie as well as past hits, like Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Read on to see what the filmmaker says about bringing planet Barsoom to the big screen.
You’re best known for your work at Pixar Animation Studios. Why did you decide to make the leap to live-action movies?
It wasn’t actually a desire to do a live-action movie; it was more a desire to see this story on the screen. John Carter is a story that I’ve remembered since I was 11 years old. All movies are really hard to make, and all of the movies I’ve made have taken years. When I first started on Toy Story, my son was just born. He was 4 years old by the time I finished. When I started A Bug’s Life, my daughter was just born. She was 3½ by the time I finished. I learned a long time ago that if I’m going to work on something for so long, then I should make sure it’s an idea that I love.
What was your connection to John Carter when you were a kid, and what’s your connection now?
I connected with the hero in a sense that he was, on one world, a normal guy. Then by going out of his comfort zone into a new environment, he was suddenly special. That’s something everyone secretly wishes for—maybe if I go here, I’ll be unique. There’s a hope that there’s a place out there where we can be exceptional and extraordinary, and that we’ll find it. That was a big part of my connection to the story.
If you could go anywhere at all where you would have special abilities, where would you go?
Honestly, if there were truly a Barsoom or another civilization on Mars, I would love to go there! But if we’re trying to be more grounded, then I would love to go to Italy.
How did you go about creating the world of Barsoom, or Mars?
It’s very similar to the animated pictures I’ve worked on. We had to make up every detail that you see on the screen, so I was used to that kind of a task. It’s all about getting great artists early on that come with lots of ideas and love to do research and love to look all around the world for inspiration. The Burroughs books had a lot of ideas in them. There’s lots of description about what the world of Barsoom/Mars looks like, how people acted, and what they wore. The books helped us get started.
The movie was filmed on location in Utah. What was it like turning the Utah desert into Mars?
We didn’t go to Mars, believe it or not! One of the things that helped us is that NASA has Rovers driving all over Mars taking pictures. So we know that Mars looks a lot like the southwestern desert.
Actor Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter. What made him the perfect choice?
John Carter is described in the books as being the perfect human specimen, and Taylor really is one good-looking, athletic guy! I also needed someone who had a natural sense of goodness, but who was also a little broken and damaged and complex. I saw Taylor on the show Friday Night Lights, and he played this kid on the wrong side of the tracks. But he still had trust, and if he believed in someone he fought for them. I thought, a guy like Taylor could really add an extra dimension to Carter that wasn’t there in the books.
Is it true that Taylor did most of his own stunts?
There were times when I was happy to let him sit down, but he really wanted to do the stunts. He didn’t want any fakery on the screen if he could avoid it.
Were you ever concerned for his safety?
Always! [Laughs] He is amazing, but we were beating him up almost every day for 100-plus days. He really went beyond the call of duty.
What are your favorite scenes in the movie?
I have two. There’s a scene where Carter breaks into [his love interest] Princess Dejah’s wedding chamber, and she tries to convince him to go back to Earth. The scene captured the real romance between Dejah and Carter. The other is another relationship scene. It’s the scene where the Barsoomian warrior Tars Tarkas meets Carter for the first time [and they become friends]. It was a special moment in the book that I always wanted to see on the big screen.
Do you think Edgar Rice Burroughs would be pleased with how the film turned out?
I sure hope so. We’ll never know, but I sure hope so.
What do you think kids will take away from the film?
I’m hoping kids and adults will get caught up in that same sense of wonder and adventure that I remember from when I was a kid.