Andrew Stanton Describes How He Came to be Directing John Carter

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Today in my slog through the writing of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, I arrived at a moment that was personally a big one — the Hero Complex Screening of John Carter on February 27, 2012 in Burbank, with a Q and A with Andrew Stanton afterwards. I was at the screening, and this was the first time I saw John Carter.   In researching it I came across this 10 minute video clip of Stanton describing his relationship to the material and how he came to be directing John Carter, and it struck me that out of all the interviews I’ve seen, this one provides one of the best opportunities to get what I would argue is a pretty strong sense of Stanton’s attitude toward Burroughs.

Now, in posting this, if patterns hold true it will provoke a snarling response from certain contrarians, which in turn will provoke fans to defend Stanton, which in turn will provoke contrarian charges of “See, I told you, you all think Stanton is a God and can do no wrong”, which will then provoke countercharges.

Can we just skip all that, since it’s something we’ve seen a hundred times? We get it.

My reason in posting this is that getting a true understanding of Stanton’s relationship to the material is important to what I’m trying to do with the book I’m writing, and this clip struck me as one which may help. I’m hoping for even the naysayers to make a sincere attempt to listen to this clip, watch Stanton, and see if there are any true insights, and react not over-the-top expressions of scorn and disdain that we’ve heard a hundred times, but rather with something more like: “Okay, this didn’t change my view, but I found this particular bit interesting as it helped clarify [insert what it clarifies]”, or even: “See, when he says [insert statement] here’s what it tells me: [explain…….]

Readers here know that I’m on record that although he did a number of things I would have done differently, overall I fall into the camp of “pleased we got what we got” and grateful for this adaptation rather than what we would have gotten had some of the other screenplays that were in development ended up on the screen. I acknowledge that film-makers will be film-makers — they will personalize the adaptation in ways that may not suit me as a devotee of the novels.

Are there any additional insights into Stanton’s creative process or his relationship to the material that this clip helps clarify? Bashers, you can certainly go ahead and bash but try to actually watch the interview before you do — invest 10 minutes, watch his body language, watch where he gets enthusiastic and where he reveals things that may add a new dimension to your understanding of what happens — and share your insights. If you can do so without going into “rant” or “vent” mode, it will be appreciated.

19 comments

  • I was into my Michael Moorcock period, reading Elric and Hawkmoon, when this new paperback collection was released, and among them The Warriors of Mars trilogy. I can’t remember anything from it! But one year later, in 1988, they released “La Princesse de Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I didn’t even know he wrote other things than Tarzan, which I knew of by the movies and comics without reading any novel, because they simply weren’t available in french as far as I knew (and I was more into sci-fi to be honest). I just fell in love. I bought “Les Dieux de Mars” next, and, to my utter horror, it ended in a cliffhanger!! I was left wondering what happened to Dejah Thoris, Thuvia and Phaidor inside the Thern temple for a whole year! Needless to say, I ate the next book, “Le Guerrier de Mars”. They had the time to release “Thuvia, vierge de Mars” before ending the short-lived collection. At least it didn’t end with a cliffhanger!

    http://forums.bdfi.net/viewtopic.php?id=903

    I had to wait 5 years to see, for the first time, the whole Barsoom series released as two volumes. It’s out of print since, the first volume was released again in february of 2012, but with no sign that it was tied to John Carter!

  • “I would love to hear more ‘first encounters’ from the chorus at large here, it tends to be illuminating.”

    My first encounter with Barsoom was when I was 13 and my uncle got me a copy of A Princess of Mars, knowing how much I loved Star Wars and thinking I might like it. To be honest what first caught my attention was the Michael Wahlen cover art-drawing of Dejah Thoris especially-but once I sat down and started reading and got through the prologue I was hooked into the story and when I got the end I needed to know what happened next. It took a while since the local library didn’t have any Barsoom books-the only ERB books it had was Tarzan of the Apes and two of his western novels-but eventually I read them all. At the time I just loved the escapism but looking at them know I just love the imagination at work in them, the feeling that anything can happen.

  • My first introduction to Barsoom was from my dad’s book collection, which included a number of half worn-out ERB paperbacks from printings in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I was eleven or twelve years old when I started reading them. My first Barsoom novel was Warlord of Mars, and I remember sensing that cool, eery feeling of being on another planet from the first passages. I fell in love with the world and creatures and characters and adventures, and put a selection of ERB books on every birthday gift list and Christmas gift list for the next several years. My mom no doubt ended up spending hours in old bookstores over those years, to help me finish my collection. Before too long, I had collected Princess and Gods, and eventually rounded out the whole series. Nothing compares.

  • Thank you for sharing that, Dotar, and yes — there’s a huge difference here that might be at the heart of all this. You definitely found John Carter through a wondrous passage. My first exposure was the D’Achille paperback cover to Princess from my fathers’ bookshelf, and the opening lines of the manuscript.

    I AM a very old man; how old I do not know.

    For me, those words are such an essential part of the whole experience. ERB may not have followed up on that in much depth, but it sets a tone for everything afterward, and a stronger hook is hard to imagine (something you’ve noted before). For me, it was always the character first. I re-read the trilogy many times before I got farther than the first few chapters of ‘Thuvia’ for that reason. The other books all occupy a different plane for me than the bloodsoaked romance of Captain John Carter winning his Princess and uniting all races and nations to become The Warlord of Mars.

    In both of our first encounters, it was the voice of the character, as written by Burroughs, who spoke first. Stanton came to the world of Barsoom through another angle – the marvelous, though certainly lesser storytelling of the comic book series, and I have to wonder how much that affected his perception of the property, or the adaptation choices he would later make. [I dig his crediting the Marvel publishers for leading him back to the books, and his assumed mission to lead others back there with the film, btw]. When JCoM grabs you, it holds on, but clearly in different ways for different people, and I wonder how much ones’ introduction to it affects the tenor of that fan relationship.

    I would love to hear more ‘first encounters’ from the chorus at large here, it tends to be illuminating.

  • As far as the music analogy goes, didn’t those bands end up making their own music, not doing covers of old songs? (well, I could be mistaken in that frankly, since I don’t know that much about music!) I don’t remember any negative comments regarding Cameron taking part of his inspiration from the Barsoom books with Avatar.

    For the comics, the only influence I can think of is the use of Tars Tarkas as a somewhat comic relief. He was also sometimes used that way in the Marvel run.

    The Finding Nemo 2 announcement seems like a blow to potential sequels. Andrew Stanton will now be booked for the next four years (they announce a 2016 release). In the meantime, we’ll see what happens with the rights, and there’s these options for two sequels in the crew’s contracts. Will they come to an end too? Probably.

    But you could be right too, Henreid, perhaps it’s a setup for Andrew Stanton to return to Barsoom later on. Whatever the reason, I sincerely hope Finding Nemo 2 will be a work of passion for him too.

    I’m the first to say that John Carter is not a perfect movie, that it could have been better, but I’m really a staunch supporter of Andrew Stanton for finishing the tale he began. I think it’s important for the visibilty of all ERB’s properties. I think M. Stanton himself stated that beautifully in the interview. Now the books will never fall into oblivion again, hopefully. It’s important that we have those sequels, to show that an ERB property not named Tarzan can be endearing and successful. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

  • MCR: “Except for his comparison to the Beatles and I’ve never heard U2 or Green Day or any other band say they needed improving.”

    That’s an interesting analogy to explore. The Beatles used early American Rockabilly and RnB as their template, but as every talented musician realizes, no one’s particularly interested in listening to a slavish imitation of what’s been done before. So they put their own personal stamp on it to make it their own. The same can be said of Green Day and U2 with regards to Punk Music, and the same can be said of bands like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath when it comes to American Blues Music. The amps got louder, the guitars more distorted, the technical skill required more demanding, and the arrangements more sophisticated. But the blues is still in there, clearly, and no one has ever accused these bands of hating the roots music that inspired them or being arrogant for making what some would call “improvements” on it.

  • Thanks for sharing this Dotar! I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity or his genuinely love for the property, because I for one felt I saw it in the finished project, especailly after multiple viewings, but also because my own introduction to the Barsoom series is almost exactly the same as Stanton’s. We both started with the Marvel comic around 1977, the same year as Star Wars came out, and quickly moved to the original Burroughs novels. And like Stanton, I thought after the success of Star Wars and a ton of other SciFi and fantasy films that a John Carter of Mars feature film was just around the corner, but 35 years later it still had not happened. The reason the film resonated so much for me was it was very much in the style of the kinds of popcorn films being released in the late 70s. I very much felt like this is the John Carter film we WOULD have seen if Lucas or Speilberg had directed it and had the technology been available at the time. At the end of the audio commentary on the BluRay Stantons says that what he tried to recreate on film was the feeling one got when reading the original novels (and I’m fully aware that this will most likely illicit a predictable response from the usual cast of characters), but for me he succeeded.

    I would also add, Dotar, that my very first introduction to John Carter: Warlord of Mars was the first annual issue, an adaptation of The Ancient Dead.

  • Henried wrote:
    “More in love with his nostalgia for the book than being in love with the actual book as written – if that makes any sense.”

    I don’t even think it was that. It seems what he really loved was those Marvel comic books more than the actual novels and watching this movie you can sort of see it since those comics-while closer to ERB than Stanton was-still wasn’t that close. Heck one storyline had Dejah giving herself willingly to a Hawkman clone and Carter becoming a horn dog for a race of Amazons.

    My question-and Dotar if you’re still looking for questions to possibly ask him-is how many times has he really read the books? Based on his comments at best three times-when he was a kid, prior to writing the screenplay where afterwards he decided to not look at them again during the writing process (an interesting theory that probably explains why this film bore so little resemblance to the books-or possibly discovered his nostalgia didn’t mesh with the actual content in which case, as he constantly reminds us, didn’t stop him since there was no HP crowd to annoy) and then afterwards where he commented that some of the ideas he thought he came up with were in the novel. Granted I still want to know where most of the worst ideas came from since they were not in the books (and you know what they are.)

  • Henreid wrote:

    Unfortunately that love didn’t extend to the characters, themes, plot, or Burroughs’ writing. I think the “coolest best friend, coolest girl, coolest pet” thing is telling in that he ‘gets’ the wish-fulfillment part —- but then adapted that into his own personal wish-fulfillment instead of what was written. He didn’t treat it like a great novel, or even as an especially good book to be taken seriously. He treated it as a beloved, charming little thing, full of fun monsters and details he loved from childhood, but that wasn’t good enough to work on it’s own without storytelling improvement from the greatness of his own pen. More in love with his nostalgia for the book than being in love with the actual book as written – if that makes any sense.I suppose, by virtue of being the guy who got the chance, that was something he earned the right to do. He was true to his personal vision of what the book meant to him, which is honest at the very least. And he got his reward! He got to make the John Carter film he wanted to make, and no one can take that away from him.

    Nicely put. I’ve always been struck by the way he discovered it –guys drawing these cool green creatures …wow, what’s that…..tharks! here’s a comic, check it out…..

    It’s so different from my discovery of Burroughs–a book in a library, Llana of Gathol ….I opened it up and there was an incredible black and white plate of John Carter
    John Carter takes on an ulsio

    And then I read the opening paragraphs:

    No matter how instinctively gregarious one may be there are times when
    one longs for solitude. I like people. I like to be with my family, my
    friends, my fighting men; and probably just because I am so keen for
    companionship, I am at times equally keen to be alone. It is at such
    times that I can best resolve the knotty problems of government in
    times of war or peace. It is then that I can meditate upon all the
    various aspects of a full life such as I lead; and, being human, I have
    plenty of mistakes upon which to meditate that I may fortify myself
    against their recommission.

    When I feel that strange urge for solitude coming over me, it is my
    usual custom to take a one man flier and range the dead sea bottoms and
    the other uninhabited wildernesses of this dying planet; for there
    indeed is solitude. There are vast areas on Mars where no human foot
    has ever trod, and other vast areas that for thousands of years have
    known only the giant green men, the wandering nomads of the ocher
    deserts.

    Sometimes I am away for weeks on these glorious adventures in solitude.
    Because of them, I probably know more of the geography and topography
    of Mars than any other living man; for they and my other adventurous
    excursions upon the planet have carried me from the Lost Sea of Korus,
    in the Valley Dor at the frozen South to Okar, land of the black
    bearded yellow men of the frozen North, and from Kaol to Bantoom; and
    yet there are many parts of Barsoom that I have not visited, which will
    not seem so strange when there is taken into consideration the fact
    that although the area of Mars is like more than one fourth that of
    Earth its land area is almost eight million square miles greater. That
    is because Barsoom has no large bodies of surface water, its largest
    known ocean being entirely subterranean. Also, I think you will admit,
    fifty-six million square miles is a lot of territory to know
    thoroughly.

    That was how I got drawn in …so different.

  • Thank you Dotar Sojat for posting the link to the Andrew Stanton Hero Complex interview. I had not seen it before and it pleasantly provided insights into his overall mindset regarding seeing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first creation eventually gracing the silver screen. I believe the other directors he mentioned who previously helmed failed undertakings to bring the character of John Carter into cinematic reality (Robert Rodriguez and Jon Favreau) most likely share similar passions for our beloved lost Jasoomian. Fortunately for us Stanton, too, is a fan of the series and we are beneficiaries of that love of this 100 year old hero…

  • I realize I have said a lot of that previously, so here is something positive I don’t think we’ve discussed here before.

    He mentions he discovered John Carter at about the same time he found Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. This speaks to, I think, the core of his love for Barsoom. That particular artistic intersection I find very interesting, especially since we know he was adamant about using Kashmir in the trailers. While there was criticism here and elsewhere about using that track, about how it seemed old fashioned for an epic trailer… I believe he did that because he felt very strongly about the soulful association between that music and this story, something very likely forged early on.

    His insistence to use this song may not have helped sell tickets, but I always thought it worked for the movie (at least in spirit), and I love/respect that he fought that battle.

    KASHMIR – LED ZEPPELIN

    Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream
    I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
    To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen
    They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed

    Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear
    But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear
    Oh, oh.

    Oh, I been flying… mama, there ain’t no denyin’
    I’ve been flying, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’

    All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground
    And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land
    Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been.

    Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
    Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
    My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
    Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.

    Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails, across the sea of years
    With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear
    Ohh.

    When I’m on, when I’m on my way, yeah
    When I see, when I see the way, you stay-yeah

    Ooh, yeah-yeah, ooh, yeah-yeah, when I’m down…
    Ooh, yeah-yeah, ooh, yeah-yeah, well I’m down, so down
    Ooh, my baby, oooh, my baby, let me take you there

    Let me take you there. Let me take you there

  • Pascalahad,
    I suspect he’s going to knock out another mega-hit for Pixar to re-prove his box-office cred, and once he does he’ll be aiming back at live action. That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world for ‘Back to Barsoom’.

  • I remember this interview back when it first popped up online, before I saw the film, and it was hard not to be pulling for him to succeed back then. It’s definitely the most in-depth description of his relationship to the material – (and best re-telling of those stories, imho).

    I don’t doubt his passion for Barsoom, never did – he obviously loves the world and the situation Burroughs created, the creatures, the ships, the transporting imagination of it all.
    Barsoom could have done much worse with another director, someone who cared less, or came later to the party. He clearly grew up wanting to see this world on the screen.

    There’s so much that is admirable about his effort to put it there.

    Unfortunately that love didn’t extend to the characters, themes, plot, or Burroughs’ writing. I think the “coolest best friend, coolest girl, coolest pet” thing is telling in that he ‘gets’ the wish-fulfillment part —- but then adapted that into his own personal wish-fulfillment instead of what was written. He didn’t treat it like a great novel, or even as an especially good book to be taken seriously. He treated it as a beloved, charming little thing, full of fun monsters and details he loved from childhood, but that wasn’t good enough to work on it’s own without storytelling improvement from the greatness of his own pen. More in love with his nostalgia for the book than being in love with the actual book as written – if that makes any sense.

    I suppose, by virtue of being the guy who got the chance, that was something he earned the right to do. He was true to his personal vision of what the book meant to him, which is honest at the very least. And he got his reward! He got to make the John Carter film he wanted to make, and no one can take that away from him.

    It’s also why we need never feel bad dissecting it on the autopsy table or criticizing every decision to our hearts’ content —– that comes with the deal of getting to direct your dream project at an astronomical cost.

    Everyone else gets to have their say about it.

  • Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “Okay, this didn’t change my view…”

    OK this didn’t change my view. But…no it didn’t reveal anything new either.I didn’t come away from this with anything new-there was no explanation for why he did certain things, no reason why he felt he was the one to make this movie, nothing except the usual prerehearsed stories he’s been telling now forever. Except for his comparison to the Beatles and I’ve never heard U2 or Green Day or any other band say they needed improving.

    Sorry Dotar 🙁

  • This was a good interview with Stanton. He really seems to get it about the original stories of ERB which makes me wonder why he made the changes he did. I never read the JCM comic books, so maybe that influenced him somehow. I DO believe if he got the chance to make the trilogy, the three films together would have culminated in a more satisfying whole. Especially after John Carter, by the end of the movie, became the John Carter I loved. Now he could finish the stories as they were written.
    ken

  • This has to be the best interview I’ve seen with Stanon yet! I love his enthusiasm and that he didn’t “dumb down” the film for modern audiences. I can’t thank him enough for setting the film in the proper time period and not making it modern day! And I can’t thank him enough for bringing that specific DNA from the original to the screen! The old-world sensibilities, speech, etc. And for Tharks! And Woola! And all of it. He will bring us the atmosphere plant and the rest from the first 3 books if we just give him a chance to do so and I WANT TO SEE THEM!!! Thanks for posting this!! Now off to share it everywhere! 😀

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