A Split Screen Comparison of The Mars of Andrew Stanton in John Carter vs The Mars of Ridley Scott’s the Martian

A Princess of Mars, Andrew Stanton, Barsoom

So how do the last two movies about mars look side by side in terms of Mars is presented?  Here’s what we did. First, I tried to get the images from the trailers on the official websites on the theory that this would be the best way of being sure it was a true image as intended by the filmmaker.  However, the Disney John Carter website uses a player that is plays a huge “Play” button whenever the image is stopped, so that didnt work. as the net best option, I went to the official studio YouTube trailer.  I made screen grabs of the “Mars Exterior” shots in each trailer.  My computer is a Macbook Pro with Retina display.  I took the images into iPhoto where I cropped them but did no adjustment of color values , contrast, or anythign like that.  The images are “as-captured.”

Finally, I tried to arrange the split screen by pairing images that have some reason for being paird together. Hopefully what I mean by that will be apparent.

Here they are:

JC Martian 1

JC Martian 4

JC Martian 5


JC Martian 6

JC Martian 7

JC Martian 8a


What Do You Think?

What I think is no secret.  First, I’ve never demanded that Stanton make the movie just the way I want it. I know that I’ve got my own version rattling around in my head — it’s been there for quite awhile.  I respect the film-making process and Stanton’s choices in this area, while they were different than what I would have liked to have seen, didn’t drive me crazy or become a topic that I harped on.  But I have written about it, and I’ve acknowledged that I had problems with the color palette and other aspects of the “look” that Stanton chose to go with.    But anyway, since we now have a point of comparison to anothe Mars movie, here are my notes. These are the same notes I would have given if I had a chance to weigh in on John Carter when it was still a work-in-progress, only now we have The Martian as a way of illustrating the points I would have tried to make:

Quality of Light

Mars is not earth. It’s much, much farther from the sun.  Shouldn’t the quality of light be different than on earth? Farther away, thinner atmosphere?  The Stanton light to me just feels like ordinary sunlight on earth.

Qualty of the Sky

Pretty much the same note as above.  The sky in JC was uniformly blue, with no clouds, and nothing distinctive about it or different than a sunny day on earth.  The sky in The Martian has a rose hue which feels right and is also present inmost of the images sent back from the Mars Rover.  (Someone said that NASA tings those images to make things appear more alien.  I don’t know if that’s true but if they do — it proves my point. We need somethign to make it feel like we’re somewhere other than Utah.)


The last picture in the sequence illustrates this point.  It costs almost nothing except a tiny bit of computer time to make the mountains/rocks in the background look the way they do in The Martian, as opposed to the much less compelling look in John Carter.  This is NOT a cost issue.  Layering in some background images is not the least bit hard or expensive.  It just requires being aware of it and putting some effort into it.


Why did Stanton make the soil so “not-red”?  I’ve been puzzled by it.  One possible reason can be found in A Princess of Mars: “I found myself lying prone upon a bed of yellowish, mosslike vegetation which stretched around me in all directions for interminable miles. I seemed to be lying in a deep, circular basin, along the outer verge of which I could distinguish the irregularities of low hills.”  Elsewhere Burroughs refers to the moss as “ochre.”  Is that why Stanton went in the direction he did?  Maybe.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.  One more thing. When I did the first fan trailer, one of the things that I tried very hard to do was delay the moment when the eye starts getting all these dull drab images.  I tried to front load the trailer with images that had richer visual content and emphasized the magnificence of Barsoom, not a barren desert.  Obviously I couldn’t make it go away entirely, nor would I want to — Barsoom is definitely desert-like and you can’t run from that.  But I felt that the Disney trailers and TV spots, featuring the coliseum scene and the white ape and one scene after another from the desert, were creating were creating an excessively drab overall impression of the movie.

Oh well . . .




  • Yes, but the problem with that (the “naturalistic approach”) is that to achieve a natural look for Mars, shot on Earth … you have to do somehting to process the imagery or it will look like Earth. This fact seemed to have gotten lost. But the problem was exacerbated by te trailers and TV spots which seemed to focus almost exlusively on the “Cowboys and Aliens” desertlook, so much so that without any further explanation (and viewers of trailers and TV spots sure didn’t get one) there was no basis for knowing, or especially “feeling” that this was on another planet. Ugh. Whatever…..Yes, the Mondo poster had the right feel. Everyone loved it.

  • Stanton wanted a naturalistic approach, which seemed to imply as little “digital tweaks” as possible. That reminds me of the Conan movie with Jason Momoa, where landscapes were digitally modified in some instances. The end result was unsatisfying because it looked completely fake. But I still think it would have been a good approach for Barsoom.

    He was completely aware of the “ochre moss” covering nearly all the surface of Barsoom in the novels. It’s featured in the scene where Carter awakes on Barsoom, and that’s where Tars finds the medallion. It was as if Stanton said to purists: “yes, I know it’s supposed to cover the surface, but we won’t go there”. As with (too?) many things in the movie.

    Remember the promotional Mondo poster featuring an awesome landscape with a tiny John Carter in it? That was the poster that made me say “why isn’t that in the movie?”.

  • the color(s) or Mars, by NASA: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/videos/index.cfm?v=29&a=2

    Red, butterscotch, “golden” brown, tan and sometimes even “greenish”

    but not gray.

    Dotar, you are obviously far more devoted to this subject than I am, going all the way to color palette to analyze this film.

    Long ago I decided it was simply a bad, wretched film that destroyed the chances for a Barsoom franchise for at least a decade if not longer. I no longer need to find reasons it was wretched.

    In fact, I didn’t need anything more than the teaser view of the “flying boat” (which was actually a sickly dragonfly) to know it was going to be awful. But the proverbial nail in the coffin was Stanton’s admission that his encounter with the stories was the first series of Marvel comics – not the original novels. He claimed to have loved Barsoom and been involved with it passionately, but anyone making such statements would have at least said “yes, I read the books but liked the comics better”.

    The studio’s mistake was in handing a live action film project to someone who had never done one before. Period. Full stop. So yes, ultimately the studio was at fault. Like Fezzini says “never get involved in a land war in Asia”.

    My only remaining shred of hope is that Burroughs Inc will decide that they can make a go of things like Marvel did before being bought out by Disney – bring in some real, bonafide Barsoomian fanatics who know film and fund the franchise themselves. I care not whether it is feature film, television show, animated Saturday morning, streaming indie video or flash cards individually shipped to consumers., so long as they don’t fuck with the basic story line and manage to convey the emotional content that Burroughs did in his writing. No plush toy Woolas, no airy-fairy flying ships, no shape-shifting Therns, no walking cities of Zodanga, no skimping on the cultures or the “fighting man’s code”, no stupid, weepy John Carters. There’s ten/eleven novels to draw from – jeez, talk about franchise….

  • Mars is really a more pale salmon color as seen in this real image: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://mars.nasa.gov/images/mars-globe-valles-marineris-enhanced.jpg&imgrefurl=http://mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/extreme/&h=4798&w=4798&tbnid=zQ19jkdSNMrCGM:&tbnh=186&tbnw=186&usg=__eAk5BgdbjjUVU2xi-N39vEOmVik=&docid=ipkUWa5h_KbNBM&itg=1

    It has been said for years that NASA tweaks the images so they don’t look like earth. One person swears he saw them adjusting the monitors when the first color images were coming in decades ago.

    Here’s one that doesn’t looked tweaked from Curiosity… light sky, not an orange ground: https://www.google.com/search?q=Mars&rlz=1C1GIGM_enUS561US561&espv=2&biw=1920&bih=975&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAmoVChMI0-fTh8qwyAIVgz8-Ch0n5g21&dpr=1#imgdii=gzLXAlWtIUsh1M%3A%3BgzLXAlWtIUsh1M%3A%3B2o6IkBZD-4m-1M%3A&imgrc=gzLXAlWtIUsh1M%3A

  • “The Martian” is a realistic, near-future action movie set on the real planet Mars. “John Carter” was a space fantasy set on Barsoom. Perhaps, in addition to the possible text-based motivation you mentioned, Stanton chose a decidedly non-Martian look so as to move audiences further away from, “But that’s not what Mars looks like!”

    Anyway, this was an interesting post, and thanks for the work in putting them side by side for us to see.

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