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Very Interesting Andrew Stanton Interview re Burroughs fans, and casting of Taylor Kitsch

Andrew Stanton

Eva Lin on the John Carter Facebook group came up with this very interesting interview of Andrew Stanton and Taylor Kitsch from “Kinopoesk”, a Russian site. It’s an interview they did as part of the promotion during their visit to Moscow — and in it Stanton makes some interesting comments about Burroughs fans and his casting of Taylor Kitsch.

Here is the link to the translated version of the Russian page:
Kinopoesk Stanton Kitsch Interview

Here is a transcript of the relevant portions of what Stanton says in the interview:

About his feelings about the film
Every film is precious….I’ve been very blessed that any film I’ve worked on is something that I’ve chosen, and I want to work on, it’s like your own child, you care so much.

About the adaptation and casting of Taylor Kitsch
The harsh truth is that the burroughs fans are slowly, slowly fading. I don’t have some big Harry Potter problem where everybody is going to be offended if I change anything. it was the opposite. i was afraid it was going to fall down the sewer grate of history and no one was going to find it again. I wanted to make sure. I feel like this lucky kid that in the 80’s somebody decided to make comic books about it. had they not I would never have discovered th books. it’s somebody that carried…complexity of history just for sitting there…that’s what I saw in taylor when I saw him in Friday night lights. I saw this character who was trying to hide a lot and I thought he made that so interesting ……and there are just some actors, they are more interesting to watch as they listen than the other actor who is talking. that’s a rare gift. and that was one of the reasons ….

About his take on the character of John Carter
All those things i describe are things I got just as a viewer…i always remembered …a character as iconic like john carter can be very vanilla, very boring, like I am the hero….he reads like that in the book. i needed someone to counter that.I wanted someone where all the novel, justice, have to save the day, take that risk, be crazy, all on the inside. and what would make it more interesting, he didn’t want to be attached to that anymore. that’s what made it interesting for Taylor…..

COMMENT: This is not new — but his formulation here is a little more complete than in some of the other interviews (and I’ve been reading them all as I work on “Hollywood vs Mars”). What I’m interesting in hearing is — for those who disagree with what he did with the character of John Carter — does what he says here in any way cause you to think, well, I don’t agree but I see what his concern was and why he was concerned? Or do you just consider him to not “get it” at all, and that these concerns are trifling, and the changes made were simply not needed, no matter what he says about why he did it?

35 comments

  • Henreid-

    I must defer to your superior knowledge, sir, about Capt America and John Carter. My youthful memories of both are clouded by the many intervening years. You seem to be a reasonable fellow, Henreid – not as bombastic or dogmatic as some other Stanton critics who have been posting comments on here.

    So let me clear something up with you. I’ve been on here steadfastly defending this movie and Stanton against all attacks, but before this movie came out, I had never even heard of Andrew Stanton (having not seen either one of his previous films). I don’t have an agenda in defending this guy, although I must admit he’s gained a lot of my respect just from how he’s conducted himself since the release of this film. If you’ve ever done any sort of art work, you know you lay your soul bare to the world when you show your work. It’s a very vulnerable position. For Stanton to get such rough (I believe mostly undeserved) treatment from movie critics, to have such a tough opening in theaters, and to get screwed in about every way possible by Disney – it has to really, really hurt. And no matter what you think of his directorial job, as a man he’s shown a lot of dignity and strength with his silent restraint. As far as I know, he’s not pointed fingers to shift blame or lashed out at anyone, no matter how harsh the criticism or how unfairly he’s been treated by Disney.

    As to the character of John Carter, I think that today’s movie going public will pigeon-hole any hero figure into the nearest, most familiar movie cliché they’re familiar with. If JC had been presented right from the start as the JC from the books, then it may not have worked so perfectly as so many ERB loyalists envision it. Just because you can dream of the perfect portrayal and imagine it exactly as you think it should have been done, that doesn’t mean the general public would ‘get it’ the way you want them to. My point is that your perfect portrayal could unintentionally be interpreted by today audiences as a brute, or a caricature (comic bookish), or even a dolt. Just because you and others can imagine the perfect John Carter doesn’t mean it would perfectly translate as you visualize it. Dealing with viewers in our present world, I think Stanton’s plan worked well – make JC a Civil War vet (remember, of the Confederacy – the losing side) reluctant to choose a cause again, but reveal through his actions (from the very start) who this guy really is in his heart, and then let him blossom into the healed hero you all want by the end of the movie.

    But what do I know? Nothin’. Maybe you’re right. Maybe a JC straight from the book straight from the start would have worked wonderfully. Okay, let’s grant you that, but is that a reason to go trash this film, which ends back on track with JCM anyway? If we got the 10 next sequels we deserve, this film would gain from that perspective and be seem more as a prologue, anyhow.

    See, as an example, let’s use your criticism of the lack of craters. I actually agree with you wholeheartedly. I wish Mars had looked a lot more like Mars. You said you had recently been to Utah – did you happen to make it down into Arizona and stop by my neighborhood – Meteor Crater? You ride up to it and you can’t tell it’s rim from any other ridge of hills. You peer over the rim and it looks just like another volcano. Every mountain you can see from there is an old volcano. From the air, though, it’s obvious – it becomes perfectly formed (AZ = minimal weathering). So yeah, I know what Mars should look like, and I won’t quibble about the ground level shots in the movie. It would have been great fun, though, to see craters from the aerial views. I wish the moons had moved differently, too, or that Dejah had pointed out ‘the pale blue dot’ (as Carl Sagan used to call Earth). But……. so what? That means something to me personally, only because of my background, but does that mean I should come on here and post my grievances?

    Well, maybe…….. if this film had been treated fairly and had been hugely successful. As it is, though, I have not yet (until now) said one word on here to criticize this movie, not because it’s perfect, but because I’ve been too busy defending it. And that’s because I think it got about 90+% right. But I can not pretend to be unbiased: I loved these books very dearly as a kid, and that same kid is still inside there in this beat up old body. And after waiting 50 goddamn years to see this book come to the screen, my old bastard eyes just can’t seem to focus on the 10% that I think (I repeat – I think) could have been done better. Maybe it’s not my rose colored glasses that keep me from seeing the problems, though. Probably what blurs my vision is all the tears I had to wipe away while I was watching this movie.

  • Paladin, you should really give the Captain America movie a(nother?) look.

    Steve Rogers is every bit as dimensional as Disney John Carter and far more than most action heroes. He’s a scrawny kid who gets beat up a lot, but unlike the cliche’ of the bullied nerd, he isn’t picked on out of turn, but rather gets himself into trouble because he stands up for others and for decency —- he simply lacks the physicality to win the fights he more or less brings on himself. His feelings about all this are fully realized, no less potent for already knowing his own heart.
    Conflicted doesn’t automatically = better characterization.
    More complicated, sure, but not necessarily deeper.

  • I’m also struck by the fact that Burroughs didn’t’ really write John Carter as such a vanilla hero if you actually read the book carefully with an eye toward “narrator issues”. One of the beauties of Burroughs’ Mars series (the JC ones) is that they are narrated in 1st person by a very articulate, perceptive person, but because they are in 1st person you have to read between the lines to glimpse weaknesses or vulnerabilities, because the character is not one who, by nature, will naturally reveal such things.

    So, so true.
    What’s so frustrating about Stanton’s appraisal of the character is that he doesn’t seem to have read him very closely. The way Carter writes himself in his own manuscript is not especially complex, but he has very specific attributes and a variety of character traits. He’s not perfect, he’s internally terrified of romance and uncomfortable with women — something which could have worked awesomely in the film. He acknowledges his fears, then justifies why he had to overcome them (and with difficulty). He’s also certainly writing the version of his tale that he wants to be remembered, with a few sly examples where more of himself seems to slip in (like the one you mentioned, also when he claims a preference not to kill certain guards who are in his way – when I suspect he totally loves killing them, when he admits a sentence later something about the joy of battle). There’s a real human being, a fully rounded individual in the writing of those books who is ALSO designed to work as an audience cipher.

    I’ve said this many times before, but to my reading, the real power of the novels (for boys) comes from John Carter being the better man you’d like to be. The adventurous license-to-kill wish-fulfillment of James Bond, but altruistic – with real fears and a beating heart to make him just relatable enough that you can put yourself in his 38% gravity shoes. He is made vulnerable by his love for Dejah Thoris, even stumbling into traps whenever his mind wanders to her [Warlord]. He is a fool in love. His heart drops when he hears she has promised herself to Sab Than, and who has not felt such pangs of joy or disappointment over a girl?

    That word ‘vanilla’ also implies some kind of Dudley Do-Right moral perfection that doesn’t pass muster when you consider the awesome brutality of JCs actions, like riling up the green men to murder, loot, and pillage Zodanga into oblivion – or his stated willingness to personally depopulate all Barsoom for her.

    I’ve never quite seen the like of this character onscreen, in anything. The combination of tenderness and bloodlust, of courtly manners but with a zeal for defying tradition and crushing superstition.

    Bland? Vanilla? Gah.

  • Most of the great character-building of Steve Rogers into Captain America is in his solo feature, but it’s exemplified further in the Avengers. To summarize, the whole central theme of the Cap film is that the man inside is what matters — the military is about to give someone unbelievable physical power, and they really care about who that person really is. The process amplifies the man, and so they end up with 98lb. ‘weakling’ Steve Rogers, a man who desperately wants to fight because he ‘doesn’t like bullies’. His body is his only limitation. He’ll hurl himself into harms way without a second thought, even if his frail form doesn’t back up his innate sense of justice. He believes in truth, justice, honesty. He’s utterly selfless, and his gentlemanly behavior in romancing Peggy is a charming treat.

    In the Avengers, he’s a bit of a fish out of water, like our JC or DJC —- having been frozen for 70 years to awaken in a 21st Century of calllous disillusionment. “You said we won the war” he tells Nick Fury, “But you didn’t say what we lost”. He’s surprised when they want him back in his old uniform. “I got the impression the Stars & Stripes were now… old fashioned”. But when he’s handed a mission to ‘save the world’ he accepts it immediately (despite being in a bad mood, avoiding the rest of humanity, and mourning the woman he loved… ahem). He trusts the mission on principle. When he distrusts Fury, he takes the initiative to find answers. You should hear the way he dresses down Tony Stark’s snappy cynical attitude (more than in the trailer). He gets his licks in, but while the other heroes are exclusively battling alien invaders, Cap spends much of the final action set-piece directing emergency responders and guiding civilians to safety.

    Beg to differ, Bob, but Captain America was rather widely liked and every review I’ve ever read of the film praised Evans’ straightforward un-ironic performance as the hero. It wasn’t as much of a hit as the Iron Man films, but I don’t think anyone called it a box office disappointment… and that’s sort of a hilarious thing to call it considering the film we’re usually here to talk about.

    Your best examples are still going to be in the solo Captain America film, because there’s so much going on in the Avengers with the others —– but it should be noted that he is the Avenger with the most screentime, edging out Iron Man. (http://www.vulture.com/2012/05/how-much-screen-time-does-each-avenger-get.html) His solo film was also released while Disney John Carter was in production. There are tons of examples of critics praising the freshness of this kind of hero throughout RT.

    The big fear about adapting that character was that Hollywood would give him a modern edge, put snarky one-liners in his mouth, make him brood, or to make his idealism into a joke, but miraculously this was a character who was handled onscreen with utter reverence and love for who he truly was, and has been since 1940.

    I hope some of that helps. Can’t wait for the book!

  • Paladin,

    Whoa!!! I feel like I started something that’s causing other people to get whacked for responding to me. Maybe that’s not it … just feels that way. So let me take the whacks…..not them.

    I think I may have invited comment about Captain America in such a way as to create what you’re perceiving as an equivalence, when that was not the intent of the question, or the answer, other than to point out that an unconflicted “vanilla” Captain America resonated, apparently, with fans and therefore the argument that a “vanilla” John Carter would not resonate can at least be questioned.

    But let’s be clear — I don’t think anyone is advocating for a John Carter as a two dimensional superhero — just one who is not so overtly hostile to the idea of any engagement. The Captain America comment I think was just to provide a counterpoint to the idea that a “vanilla” hero, as Stanton calls him, is intrinsically not interesting.

    I’m also struck by the fact that Burroughs didn’t’ really write John Carter as such a vanilla hero if you actually read the book carefully with an eye toward “narrator issues”. One of the beauties of Burroughs’ Mars series (the JC ones) is that they are narrated in 1st person by a very articulate, perceptive person, but because they are in 1st person you have to read between the lines to glimpse weaknesses or vulnerabilities, because the character is not one who, by nature, will naturally reveal such things. For example, when John Carter says after the Civil War he found himself in possession of several hundred thousand confederate dollars, worthless, he says it with wry humor — but can we infer from it that there was more going on beneath the surface that Carter, in relating his story, chose not to tell us? Was he something of a desperado? There is nothing in Carter’s narration that says so, but there is nothing that refutes that idea either. Carter also makes light of the terror he felt in the cave at the “low moaning sound” — but says it scared him so much that it was the effort to see what it was that caused his body to break free. We don’t of John Carter as being vulnerable to terror — but it’s there on the page if you think about it and get past his heroic way of narrating it. A 1st person narrator is a very interesting beast. How reliable is he? How does his personality affect the way he relates the story, and is there subtext? A 1st person narrator is, in fact, like an actor — and actors are all about subtext. What does the narrator say; what is unsaid; what is implied; what is avoided?

    Anyway — my point (and remember, I’m a fan of the film, but also first and foremost a fan of the books) would be, that while I don’t feel like the choices Stanton made were bad — I think there was more to work with in the text and subtext of APOM than he gives credit for, and that a John Carter could have been fashioned who was essentially true to the original, but more nuanced and with enough psychological complexity to work as a modern day hero without becoming two dimensional.

    But I don’t HATE what Stanton did. It’s just not what I would have done.

  • “Maybe Stanton had too much love and respect for John Carter to do that to him,”

    Sorry I couldn’t help but start laughing! Really? Given Stanton’s stated disdain for the character I doubt he really had any “love” or “respect” for John Carter at all. Again if anyone can prove Stanton really respected these books let’s see it. And not just Stanton’s constant “I’m a fan” quotes. He’s got about as much credibility at this point as an elected politican.

  • John Carter is a Civil War Veteran, for crying out loud. It was 5 years of unrelenting particularly horrendous brutal bloodshed fought in our own American towns and homes – brother against brother, with proto-types of modern warfare and firearms but without anesthesia or antibiotics, sawing off legs and arms with hand saws but no medication. So you want a veteran of that war to act like Captain America? This is your great idea?!

    You do realize, right, that you’re advocating having JC be presented as just another in a long line of Hollywood comic book characters? Don’t tell me a conflicted hero is cliché but a comic book hero is somehow fresh.

    Maybe Stanton had too much love and respect for John Carter to do that to him, to turn him into a two dimensional comic book character. Obviously he wanted JC to be taken seriously, to seem more believable, more like a real person, with more nuance, more like a literary creation than a comic book figure. I believe John Carter as Captain America would have gotten categorized by most audiences as either comic book, or parody, or just too boring/shallow/silly/Disney/goodie-two-shoes.

    The John Carter character we all love works well in pulp because it’s pulp. That hero who works so well in a book would become something completely different to a movie audience because film has a different set of time-honored, decades-in-the-making, cultural memes. King Arthur works on the screen because it’s presented as myth.

    With comic book heroes like Captain America or mythological heroes like Arthur you are not shocked or surprised by the dragons or wizards or aliens – you take it for granted and expect it. Stanton wanted John Carter to seem more real, and this makes what happens to him all the more shocking and amazing. For Stanton, and for many viewers, with a more true-to-life hero, JC’s adventures become even more stupendously fantastic. I applaud Kitsch and Stanton.

  • “The harsh truth is that the burroughs fans are slowly, slowly fading. I don’t have some big Harry Potter problem where everybody is going to be offended if I change anything. it was the opposite. i was afraid it was going to fall down the sewer grate of history and no one was going to find it again. I wanted to make sure.” Andrew Stanton

    When Gray Morrow & I addressed The Burroughs Bibliophiles in 1993, I said that Burroughs was in danger of ending up on the slag heap of forgotten early 20th century popular literature like Tom Swift and TheRover Boys. Certainly, the late Marion Burroughs’ stewardship on ERB, Inc. did not help matters.

  • I am a fan of the Capt. America movie, and also The Rocketeer from a while back, but they were considered under performers at the box office and both were criticized for having such simplistic heroes.

    Now, I do think it is time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Enough with cynical or anti heroes and back to a stand up guy that knows what needs to be done and does it.

    Dotar, In the Cap America movie he starts the movie plunging into a fight he had no chance of winning, all he wants to do is get his chance to fight for the side of right and never for a second mopes or is conflicted about what it is he has to do, fight the bad guys.

  • Rick Berry wrote, “I conclude simply that the medium of film can save countless thousands of words of description and explanation, a difference of which the filmmakers in my view availed themselves with great success. Scene after scene in the movie made a strong emotional connection with me, and they were principally those personal interactions with combinations of Carter, Dejah Thoris, Tars Tarkas, Sola, Woola, and Tardos Mors.”

    Paladin wrote: “Instead of feeling irritated by things that bug you, you could be jumping out of your seat feeling vindicated that at the end Stanton brought you to where you wanted to be and has jettisoned everything you didn’t like. JC becomes the unequivocal Galahad, certain that his rightful home is Barsoom. In every way, even with the title, this movie starts out as JC, but ends as John Carter of Mars. JC literally (and symbolically) takes that damned medallion and hurls it off that balcony as far as he can chuck it.”

    YES! and YES!

  • Henreid wrote:

    Though conceptually defensible, his overbearing miscalculations about the character seem even more severe now, since we’ve recently witnessed the full-blooded re-emergence of the idealist hero [CAPTAIN AMERICA], warmly embraced by the modern audience.

    Hey …. I haven’t seen Avengers and I don’t really have time to as I’m on the finishing kick to get to the finish line of “Hollywood vs Mars”. But I like your point about Captain America — can you flesh it out a bit and give me a few beats that explain why Captain America is and “idealist Hero” …. in other words, maybe cite a few beats of his behavior or story as handled in the movie that I could lift and use either as a direct quote with attribution, or maybe just as background to work into the discussion.

    I’m imagining something that would end up in the book like this:

    “Ironically, Stanton’s focus on updating the hero may have had the opposite effect in that the reluctant, disillusioned, morally bankrupt (it seems) hero may have, by the time John Carter was released, become so familiar as to seem cliche, while the idealist hero, which seemed “vanilla” to Stanton as a 14 year old, had been missing from the scene long enough that his re-emergence might have seemed fresh once again. An indication that this might be the case can be found in the immensely successful “Avengers”, released 10 weeks after John Carter, and featuring at least one true “idealist hero” in Captain America , who [add the beats I’m looking for]

    Thanks for the assist!

  • Good to hear a little more explanation behind Stanton’s motivations, confirming Michael’s hypothesis about the ‘internalizing’ of the character. While I grit my teeth hearing him talk like that, I appreciate his stated desire to re-invigorate awareness about the works in question. And there’s truth to his statement about the book fans being fewer and fewer. That said, it comes off pretty arrogant when he imposes that he, Andrew Stanton, had to personally save John Carter of Mars from falling into the ‘sewer grates of history’. As if anything he has ever done will last so long, be so influential or so well remembered.

    Ahh well, the man made the film he made, and he is reaping what he sowed.

    Though conceptually defensible, his overbearing miscalculations about the character seem even more severe now, since we’ve recently witnessed the full-blooded re-emergence of the idealist hero [CAPTAIN AMERICA], warmly embraced by the modern audience.

    That leader of The Avengers even recently offered a helping hand to lift a battered Disney John Carter off the ground in those Drive-In screenings. Because that’s what heroes do.

  • I don’t think the pulp hero John Carter of the books is just a blank cypher, he was full of passion, had a steadfast moral code that he adhered to, and a tenacious determinism that no matter what the odds, he was going to do his best. Reading these as a young man, it definately imprinted my character as an adult and how I have tried to live my life. To this day, when playing any of the modern RPGs, I still favor the straight up heroic noble choices and never play as the totally evil character variation. But, that is not always the most common choice among younger modern players. One of my greatest hopes for this movie is that it will spur interest in ERB and get young people reading these books again to be exposed to a hero like John Carter.

    Now the movie. I would have prefered a little more swagger, instead of conflicted, and honestly, another actor in the part, I watched Ghost Protocal last night and Josh Hollaway, Sawyer from Lost, would have made a much better Carter. He has a little bit of that gleam in his eye that would have made the character more interesting.

    But, I do agree with Dotar that the character acts consistently like the Heroic JC when the circumstances and choices present themselves. There is this extra layer on top of it, for this movie, that is trying to give him an emotional journey towards redemption, but right from the beginning, with the turning around and saving Powell, he did what JC in the books did.

    As Paladin pointed out, Stanton thought he was making a trilogy, and by the end of this movie it brings this JC to the JC from the books, in his actions and choices, with the neat little closing title switch to “John Carter of Mars”. If by some miracle this becomes popular enough on DVD to motivate Disney or someone else to make “Gods of Mars” our hero is in the right place to continue in the fashion of the books.

    I also think the book character had an ironic journey as well. Think about it, he was a Confederate soldier, who were fighting to keep their rights to slavery and segregation and by the end of the book, he partakes of the wallapalooza of interacial marriages by wedding a RED woman from a whole different planet !

  • Paladin wrote

    I’m sorry, Dotar — that’s my bad.I was just being very sloppy with my language and unintentionally sounding argumentative. I only meant to present a different perspective on the medallion, that’s all, with the hope then that I could get a better grasp on your take/problem with it.

    No worries…….just sounded like you were addressing to MCR, not me! 😉

  • I’m sorry, Dotar — that’s my bad.

    I was just being very sloppy with my language and unintentionally sounding argumentative. I only meant to present a different perspective on the medallion, that’s all, with the hope then that I could get a better grasp on your take/problem with it.

    I need to be more careful with my barking, especially when youre trying to herd cats here. Sorry.

  • Paladin wrote:

    Dotar –
    Do you realize that all your complaints about this movie are resolved by the end of the film? Instead of feeling irritated by things that bug you, you could be jumping out of your seat feeling vindicated that at the end Stanton brought you to where you wanted to be and has jettisoned everything you didn’t like. JC becomes the unequivocal Galahad, certain that his rightful home is Barsoom. In every way, even with the title, this movie starts out as JC, but ends as John Carter of Mars. JC literally (and symbolically) takes that damned medallion and hurls it off that balcony as far as he can chuck it.

    At first I thought this was a typo — the “Dotar” part — could this be meant for me? I guess so.

    Absolutely. That’s why I don’t really classify what you’re calling “complaints” as “complaints” — more like quibbles. I think the choices he made regarding John Carter are completely defensible — I would have chosen differently. But it was his film, not mine, Nd one of the points I’ve been trying to make was that the changes he made to John Carter were really essential to his understanding of the story he wanted to tell. Maybe I’m not expressing myself clearly enough — I mean, I’m a film-maker, sometimes a producer, sometimes a director. If Stanton hd been my director, would have made sure that I had a good enough relationship with the director to be able to propose things and have them given serious weight; then I would have listened to his rationale; they I would have presented an alternative and asked him to think, really think about it — but in the end, if he was really passionate that this is the way he wanted to go, I would have accepted it with good grace on the belief that he’s thought it through; ultimately he’s directing it; and he’d given serious thought to my ideas.

    Alternatively, if I’d been directing it and the producer had been pushing Stanton’s approach on me, I would have given it every possible consideration, but n the end if I didn’t’ think it was an improvement, i would have gone with what I felt was best unless the producer/studio “pulled rank” on me and demanded it.

    At the end of the day I’m happy with what he did and totally realize that he got John Carter to fruition by the end.

    Also — I wouldn’t have just accepted Carter as Galahad and been done with it. I would have looked for ways to give him an arc — but would have tried to work with what Burroughs gave us. As I’ve mentioned here before, what Burroughs gave us was a man who didn’t age normally; who therefore watched others grow old while he didn’t; who therefore could reasonably have felt isolated on earth, but who would have found himself drawn to Mars, and able to overcome his hesitations…..yeada yada……I would have also introduced a subtle post civil war racial component — nothing too heavy or direct, but in the subtext there would have been redemption achieved through is efforts on Mars.

    Anyway — I’m 85% happy and the other 15% I concede are perfectly reasonable and defensible choices.

    Re the Thern medallion — had I been stanton’s producer I would have lobbied him to leave the medallion lying on the desert just as now (remember, Carter leaves it when he learns to jump, and Tars retrieves it). I would have given him some time on Barsoom thinking he was stuck there and needed to make his way on Barsoom — not make his way back to Earth. Then if the medallion really had to be a device, I would have Carter discover it later……Again, if after pitching all this, a director of the stature of Stanton said — thanks, Producer Mike, but I want to do it my way, I would accept it and not sulk about it.

    That’s just the kind of give and take I’m used to, so that’s all I’m doing — fantasizing what it would have been like if I had been Stanton’s producer. That’s waaaaaay different from the real complainers on here and you know who they are.

  • BobJ – Loved your comment! That’s exactly how I feel!

    Dotar –

    Do you realize that all your complaints about this movie are resolved by the end of the film? Instead of feeling irritated by things that bug you, you could be jumping out of your seat feeling vindicated that at the end Stanton brought you to where you wanted to be and has jettisoned everything you didn’t like. JC becomes the unequivocal Galahad, certain that his rightful home is Barsoom. In every way, even with the title, this movie starts out as JC, but ends as John Carter of Mars. JC literally (and symbolically) takes that damned medallion and hurls it off that balcony as far as he can chuck it.

    Okay, so maybe you liked the end, but not the means? Well, I think it’s good to keep in mind that maybe Stanton did this film believing that he’s given us the first movie out of ten more to follow. Yeah, he may talk about a trilogy, but I’m guessing in his mind he imagines/dreams/hopes at least another half dozen more to follow by future directors.

    So if we were sitting here arguing about what was wrong with some future film # 10, what would then be the perspective on our 2012 JC that’s still in some theaters right now? I bet this first JC would look like a great introduction, which is exactly what Stanton wanted. But that’s not our perspective. We sit here today with a sample of One. Perhaps we’re only being myopic, overly focused on microscopic scrutiny.

    I know you would argue that there is a fundamental shift in the protagonist’s motivation. Well……. yeah. In fact, true. But I would make the case that the viewer is supposed to link the medallion with the cave of gold. This is what Stanton wants – they’re tied together in the script – locked at the hip. We know, like Dejah, that the cave is a ruse. We see the chemistry of love at first sight. So we know that the tool which returns him to his miserable existence has only relative importance, but not what you give to it. We’re in on this one, too – we’re not supposed to take it as seriously as you do. I think your protagonists motivations are still there, all intact. But it’s nuanced. It’s part of the beauty.

    Okay, if it’s not serious, then why have it, you may ask. Well, it helps drive the plot. The medallion is useful, and affords the story some added dimension and twists. It adds a layer of deeper issues, too. Myself, as a religious skeptic, I really liked the falsely divine Therns with their science based transportation device, rather than a simple unexplainable astral projection.

    I’m not criticizing ERB – his method worked great in the books. But don’t you think it’s possible that he just grabbed the quickest easiest way possible to get his hero over to Mars so he could move ahead with the action? You’ve got to move fast in the pulp world. ERB might even think it humorous that folks would get so wedded to that detail. When you translate ERB’s method to film, though, I’m not sure that it works so well. If Stanton followed the book with the astral projection, people might be ripping the movie for being vague and opaque. The operable word here is ‘translate.’ You translate a book to film. When you translate one language to another, it doesn’t work if you do it literally – one word at a time – then it becomes an unintelligible jumble. A good translation gets the message across and gives you the meaning. And for me that’s Stanton did – he didn’t use the exact same words, but got the heart of the message across really well.

  • Seeing how the movie panned out I have no doubt that all of Staton’s interview posturing is just your typical disingenuous promotion bull$hit along the lines of “X is my all-time favorite”, “I’m a huge fan of X”, “Filming X has been a dream come true”, “We’re all on big happy family”, “Everything is just great..fantastic..superb”. “X Y and Z were my first choices”. I guess, with an investment that big you do what you gotta do to sell it as a success by way of the usual toe-cringing positive spin on every bad choice made.

    Frankly, I don’t care about whether the adaption was true to the books or not. However, the movie has so many shortcomings and is a dramaturgical letdowns that I literary get angry just thinking about it. Andrew Stanton’s narrative skills leaves volumes to be desired. He’s a ‘hack’ at best.

  • “I must say, MCR, watching you take anything positive about the movie and twisting it to conform to your pre-existing negative opinion, is truly a sight to behold.”

    Probably not as much of a sight as the constant pre-existing “Andrew Stanton can do no wrong” belief it seems so many people cling to Rider.

    “Well, all the characters came from previous movies — all their moping had been taken care of. (Tony Stark did a fair amount of soul searching in “Ironman.” Coulda been moping.)”

    But it wasn’t. Because what did Tony Stark do? He took care of business. There was no not wanting to get involved. He got home and immediately laid out his plans and began to get himself in shape to be Iron Man.

    “William Shatner never woulda done that.”

    Yeah because Shatner was too busy scoring with every alien chick in the cosmos. As for Star Trek II that worked because the plot centered on mortality and the realization that everyone eventually becomes old. Their was a difference between Kirk lamenting his age and John Carter’s selfish attitude and moping over his dead wife.

  • “As for that test audience, well Dotar the issue there is that I’m sure none of them had ever read the books or knew anything about them. They got a free movie and probably circled whatever the top choice was so let’s not put too much faith in a test audience. They are never prime indicators of how a movie will turn out.”

    I must say, MCR, watching you take anything positive about the movie and twisting it to conform to your pre-existing negative opinion, is truly a sight to behold.

    “I guess Joss Whedon must have missed that memo since there was no moping characters in The Avengers. Even Bruce Banner had a sense of humor. And look how much money that made.”

    Well, all the characters came from previous movies — all their moping had been taken care of. (Tony Stark did a fair amount of soul searching in “Ironman.” Coulda been moping.)

    “How about Star Trek? Yes I know many Trekkers hated Abrams’ film but James T. Kirk was not hung up on his dead father.”

    Then why did they bother to bring up his dead father? That stealing his step-father’s car, getting into bar fights, being totally undisciplined, had nothing to do with him being affected by his father’s absence. William Shatner never woulda done that.

    You know what? Recently saw “Wrath of Khan” at the Cinerama as part of their SF Film Festival. James Kirk spends most of the film lamenting his age, being stuck behind a desk, I’m so old and worn out, moping, moping, moping. Why did they ruin this heroic character with characterization?

    Should I put a smiley face after that?

  • MCR wrote

    a) OK so the only thing the Pixar Brain Trust and the bozos from Disney agreed up on was that John Carter worked best as a whiny self-centered character? Yeah that really makes me lose more respect for them.

    b) As for that test audience, well Dotar the issue there is that I’m sure none of them had ever read the books or knew anything about them. They got a free movie and probably circled whatever the top choice was so let’s not put too much faith in a test audience. They are never prime indicators of how a movie will turn out.

    Re “a” — yup. My point exactly. Stanton is not the lone ranger in seeing it this way. It’s conventional Hollywood-think.

    Re “b” — nope. Having been on the receiving end of test screening results, I can assure you it’s not like that. They can be extremely critical and what you’re saying just isn’t how it works. The mob mentality goes to work. That the test audience bought the characterization (not knowing the John Carter they didn’t meet, of course) is significant and can’t be written off as meaningless.

    What is the meaning?

    The meaning is, there was nothing putting brakes on his choice regarding JC. It just sailed through the various critical review processes that were in place.

  • Dotat Sojat wrote:
    “Here are two interesting confirmed points that have emerged.”

    OK so the only thing the Pixar Brain Trust and the bozos from Disney agreed up on was that John Carter worked best as a whiny self-centered character? Yeah that really makes me lose more respect for them.

    As for that test audience, well Dotar the issue there is that I’m sure none of them had ever read the books or knew anything about them. They got a free movie and probably circled whatever the top choice was so let’s not put too much faith in a test audience. They are never prime indicators of how a movie will turn out.

    Also:
    “But I’m also mindful that what Stanton did not only reflects conventional Hollywood thinking about virtually all protagonists, including super-heroes ”

    I guess Joss Whedon must have missed that memo since there was no moping characters in The Avengers. Even Bruce Banner had a sense of humor. And look how much money that made.

    I’m sorry but this whole theory that audiences only flock to movies with “damaged goods” heroes is bull. Look at Star Wars. Look at Avatar-there was no moping on Jake Sully’s part about his condition. How about Star Trek? Yes I know many Trekkers hated Abrams’ film but James T. Kirk was not hung up on his dead father. And on the super hero side, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America didn’t have moping scenes or didn’t say “It’s not my problem, I just want my cave of gold.” I think you asked me once before if I have been to a movie in the past 50 years. I wonder if Stanton and his valued Brain Trust have been to one.

    Finally:
    “I also don’t think anybody — a strong producer, strong writing partner–could have really changed this aspect of Stanton’s treatment. I think he was completely committed to this type of John Carter from day one.”

    Which seems to confirm Stanton’s ego driven “my way or the highway” approach to this film. Even that Brain Trust couldn’t get through to him about how awful and confusing the opening was. Makes me wonder if he’s always beent his arrogant. After all even James Cameron never said the studio feared him and wanted to keep him happy.

  • Stanton did not just have to please us long-time fans – who, as he justifiably notes, are dying off. He had to please a much larger audience – and not just fans of pulp or fantastic fiction.
    I am not the same person I was 40-odd years ago when I first read APOM. While the 10 year-old me is long gone – the experiences of 40 years have him under control – I can still enjoy Burroughs’ Barsoom tales immensely. But I don’t want to see an exact adaptation of them to the big screen. Because I believe that if the negative pile-on was as bad as it was for Stanton’s movie, just think what it would have been for a literal adaptation of the book to screen. I don’t think you could have done that – and been successful – without it being a broad parody of the source. Did we want to see that? I know I would have been pissed.
    I don’t buy the argument that why Burroughs’ Carter as written is why the books are enjoyable – the scale, weirdness and action – Barsoom itself – is what I love. Not Carter himself. When I swung a plastic sword around as a kid and pretended my cocker spaniel was a calot I wasn’t pretending I was Carter, but I was pretending I was on Barsoom. Did Stanton have to give us his back story, and have him be the reluctant hero? No, but I didn’t get bent out of shape about it because the core of the character is in the fricken’ movie. His honor and sense of justice is intact, and he also acts without thinking – a key Carter trait. Heaven forbid he gets a little depth to his character. Sure, it would have been fun to have Carter as the “embodiment” of a warrior – not knowing how old he was and mysterious. The avatar of Mars itself. But come on, even if Stanton wanted the character like that, he would have been told to make him more human and able to be related to. Apparently reviewers (because damn it all, I think audiences understood the film just fine) were confused enough by the movie that they didn’t need to have needless mystery about the main character added in to the mix…
    So we didn’t get the movie that has played out in our graying fan-boy heads over the years. Mine was probably different from yours anyway. While Stanton’s film isn’t perfect, it is far from an awful film. And when it soars…man, does it ever soar! We did not get some green-screen set piece, with music that was romantic and not afraid to stand out from the action. The film asked us to pay attention, and didn’t assume we were idiots. We got a bit of an old-fashioned film, that was sincere and not cynical. The movie made me want to leap from my seat and swing a plastic sword around.
    Guess the 10 year-old me still lives….

  • As you guys mostly know — I’m digging deep into what’s out there, and talking to people from the production and Disney. Here are two interesting confirmed points that have emerged.

    1. When Stanton screened the 170 minute cut for the PIxar “Brain Trust” (Lasseter, Docter, Brad Bird) and two Disney execs (Sean Bailey and Brigham Taylor) in December 2010, there was unanimous approval on pretty much one thing only — what Stanton had done with the character of John Carter. That’s one data point.

    2. When the film was given it’s first test screening in Portland in June 2011, in front of 400 viewers, in the focus group 19 out of 20 said John Carter was their favorite character and there were none of the kind of complaints that we who have read the books so often lodge against.

    I don’t offer that as a defense — I am more inclined toward the idea of JC as reader’s avatar and psychological projection of who the reader would like to be (if male) or like to be with (if female). I think there was plenty of room to go that route and make it work, without putting such a radical change on the character. But I’m also mindful that what Stanton did not only reflects conventional Hollywood thinking about virtually all protagonists, including super-heroes …… it also reflects Stanton’s own “modern” take on the character of John Carter. He just didn’t get the character the way it was written, or didn’t experience the books in the way those who are so passionate about the books did.

    I also don’t think anybody — a strong producer, strong writing partner–could have really changed this aspect of Stanton’s treatment. I think he was completely committed to this type of John Carter from day one. He kept the heroic underpinnings submerged beneath the grief and angst, letting is surface through Carter’s actions (save powell,save woola, save dejah) as sort of his subconscious self, while his conscious self was otherwise.

    Nowhere in the whole development and market research phase did they encounter any resistance to John Carter the way he envisioned him.

    It’s just interesting, that’s all, to see how it came about. I regard it as legitimate choices but not the ones I would have made.

    I also think it could have worked much better without the Thern medallion being established early on as a transporter mechanism back and forth to earth. If JC had been thrust on Mars thinking there was no way home, and had not therefore been overtly focused on how to get home to his cave of gold, then I think the tragic past might not have intruded so much, and his journey toward acceptance of his new role would have less irritating. As it was, for me at least, it was the “nothing matters but getting the medallion to work” that was the real problem with his character. If that option hadn’t existed, at least until later in the story when it would have been an interesting test of his loyalties , it would have been better. It could have been a secret bit of knowledge that Dejah carried and didn’t share with him until honor required her to disclose it…….

  • Let me just say I like both version of Carter. What I saw in what Stanton did is not change Carter’s character, he simply gave him another facet to his history and explored what the John Carter of the books would have done, or how he’d be in this new circumstance. I thought the movie Carter was exactly the book Carter, if he’d had a wife and child that he’d lost. I simply imagined how he would react to losing Dejah and Carthoris in the books… and voila, you get movie Carter.

    Anyway, I just enjoyed both very much. Love the character of John Carter through and through, and I can’t say I saw him as “vanilla” myself. I related to him… and well, maybe that makes me vanilla. lol!

  • MCR wrote —

    “Also yes I’ve read all the comments and I still stand by my assertion that no one has offered anything that explains Stanton’s supposed love of these books. The man himself dismisses them whenever he gets the chance so why does he think he’s a fan of them? If you don’t like the lead character of a series do you keep reading them?”

    Well, Stanton has repeatedly said that he loves the books and loves the world ERB created. You proceed from an unshakeable assumption that Stanton is lying when he says such things. There are people who love ERB but don’t care for Tarzan. There are people who love Tarzan but can’t get into the other ERB books. There are people who love Robert Howard but can’t stand the Conan stories. And vice versa. Just because Stanton doesn’t “love” the books in precisely the same way you allegedly “love” them does not negate how he feels about them.

    Besides, JC isn’t the lead character of the entire series.

    “Yeah maybe if he was going after the person who killed his family in some hard boiled detective novel-or in some Shadow pulp story-then sure. ”

    Well, then you’d have Milius’ “Conan the Barbarian.” I’d say it’s still pulp. I’d also say it’s a bad movie.

    But I’d also say we probably shouldn’t define pulp quite so narrowly. Some major and influential writers came out of the field. And yes (as you said) there can be some good characterization (although with series characters like Doc Savage it takes awhile to accumulate). But now we’re getting a bit afield … and I can’t really wax poetic about pulps while at work.

  • I’m ultimately satisfied with what ended up on the screen (as an “alternate” take), but at the same time I don’t believe for one second that the character of John Carter would not have worked as written by Burroughs. The prime example of “vanilla guy” that comes to my mind is Luke Skywalker: I was never bored by him one second during Star Wars and its sequels. He was our surrogate in discovering this strange universe, and it’s needed in these fantasy environments. I won’t say necessarily that Stanton made a mistake, like some of my fellow posters seem to imply, but he took a huge risk. And I think John Carter as a character suffered the most from the reshoots, which seemed focus on making Dejah more sympathetic (the idea of the original “I am alone” scene seemed much more logical at this point in the movie).

  • Rider first Stanton did not understand the “pulp aesthetic.” What was making John Carter a whiny widower really “pulp?” Yeah maybe if he was going after the person who killed his family in some hard boiled detective novel-or in some Shadow pulp story-then sure. But Stanton didn’t get it. And while I agree with Steve about this movie I don’t agree that pulp isn’t about the characters. They may not be Shakespearan but there the reasons people went back over and over. I don’t think it was just because someone wanted to read a jungle adventure that they kept going back to read new Tarzan tales. Or Conan or The Shadow or Doc Savage or John Carter of Mars. And just because pulp may not be about “character” that’s no excuse for Stanton’s cliched riddled handling of the characters in this film.

    Also yes I’ve read all the comments and I still stand by my assertion that no one has offered anything that explains Stanton’s supposed love of these books. The man himself dismisses them whenever he gets the chance so why does he think he’s a fan of them? If you don’t like the lead character of a series do you keep reading them?

  • Steve, I’ll stipulate that you’re far more knowledgeable about pulps and the sci-fi genre than I, which makes your insightful comments particularly helpful to me.

    In trying to think through why I nevertheless liked the Burroughs books (which I’ve read many times) and the Stanton film BOTH so much, I conclude simply that the medium of film can save countless thousands of words of description and explanation, a difference of which the filmmakers in my view availed themselves with great success. Scene after scene in the movie made a strong emotional connection with me, and they were principally those personal interactions with combinations of Carter, Dejah Thoris, Tars Tarkas, Sola, Woola, and Tardos Mors

    I doubt I would have enjoyed a literal translation of my beloved books to the silver screen. Maybe it’s fair to say that the “John Carter” characters are still stereotypical; but they’re at least updated, fleshed-out, compelling stereotypes for today — which, much as I revel in the Burroughs romps, the original characters really aren’t. Burroughs’ characters are mainly the love-’em-or-hate-’em variety, very compelling in the adventure books (which is one reason I reread them); but film has time and opportunity for more than that.

    Others elsewhere have made comparisons of “JC” to the many Disney movies about strong princesses who reject their fathers’ wills in search of another path and find love in an unexpected Mr. Wonderful, so I won’t claim that the principal arc of the film is brand new. Still, I roundly applaud the modified storyline that Stanton and his co-writers created.

  • MCR wrote —

    “And honestly if he thought John Carter was vanilla why did he even like these books? I know that’s an old question but so far it seems no one has a good answer, just Stanton-approved PR responses.”

    Um, didn’t you read Steve Davidson’s comment just below yours? “Pulp fiction and its descendants are NOT about character. They are about place, or action, or new vistas or other worldly things.” That’s a good summary of pulp, even though I disagree with pretty much everything else Mr. Davidson has posted on this site. I’d say Stanton understands the “pulp aesthetic” as his description of JC is in line with what Mr. Davidson wrote, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary.

    Really, MCR, if you still think only “Stanton-approved PR responses” are what get posted here, then you obviously haven’t been paying very close attention to this website.

  • I know I’m falling Steve’s comments but this is just more of Stanton’s arrogant dismissal of the fans just because there isn’t a huge Harry Potter sized fan base and how no one will care how badly he butchered ERB’s work. If there is a reason this film did fail outside of Disney’s marketing bull it’s Stanton’s huge ego.

    And honestly if he thought John Carter was vanilla why did he even like these books? I know that’s an old question but so far it seems no one has a good answer, just Stanton-approved PR responses.

  • I hear his explanation, which is indeed a bit more concrete than other semi-explanations he’s offered elsewhere and my response is:

    Stanton doesn’t ‘get’ what made John Carter (and many of those other iconic pulp heroes) so approachable, so popular, so very intimate to each reader. He seems to have fallen into the camp of those who advocate “character development over all else” – the great divide within the genre fiction field. Pulp fiction and its descendants are NOT about character. They are about place, or action, or new vistas or other worldly things. They RELY on ‘cookie-cutter’, stereotypical characters to save time, to keep the pace up and to get the reader/viewer right into the good stuff. The evil scientist is known; the square-jawed hero is known; the damsel in distress (or even the damsel in distress who ends up saving her rescuers) are instantly recognizable. We don’t have to worry about their motivations, their back story or why they are doing what they do, because they’re stereotypes and we already know what they are going to do and how they should be reacting. The added benefit is that it is much easier for the reader/viewer to identify with these characters because there is no jarring detail to get in the way, no back story we can’t identify with. They are deliberately cyphers. Revisionists want us to believe that this is a failing of pulp fiction, these ‘cardboard characters’, when in fact it is one of their primary assets.
    Stanton obviously does not understand this. He fell into the trap of believing that he had to ‘update’ the story to resonate with modern audiences – modern audiences that for the most part don’t read, period. This interview, in my opinion, puts the spotlight right back on the director when it comes to questions of flop.

  • Well, that explains the moping. :-)

    But seriously, ERB’s characterization of JC was simple and straightforward, allowing the character to be the reader’s avatar in seeing this new and exciting world. (On a similar note, I’m re-reading “Rendezvous with Rama” for the first time in 35 years or so and there is pretty much zero characterization; all of the many characters are essentially interchangeable. But as we — and Clarke, apparently — are primarily interested in exploring this new world, lack of characterization is not seen as a problem.)

    However, ERB’s JC is a born fighter who takes joy in slaughtering foemen by the score. How to visualize that in a film without the character coming across as a psychopath? Kitsch’s JC has the same skills (well, once he figures out gravity) but is reluctant to deploy them.

    Both ERB’s JC and Kitsch’s JC are fully aware of what they are capable of. The former revels in that aspect of himself; the latter is repelled. This becomes evident in his first battle with the Zodangans. Kitsch jumps aboard their airship and immediately starts tossing Zodangans overboard — including the women. ERB would have been shocked by that, but given that JC is a born fighter who sees a red mist before his eyes when he leaps into battle, doesn’t it follow that he would kill everyone in front of him, regardless of gender? There’s a reason JC doesn’t want to fight for anybody — he knows what he can do on the battlefield.

    So yes, I approve of the changes he made to the JC character (and Kitsch’s interpretation). He brought an adult perspective to books he loved when he was a kid, although there are some here who feel they would rather he had made a kid’s film instead. To each his (or her) own.

  • I like what Stanton and Kitsch did with the character. Times and tastes have changed in the 100 years since John Carter first appeared. We like our leading men to have some measure of complexity and darkeness to them these days.

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