From iO9 John Carter wasn’t Michael Chabon’s first attempt at writing about nineteenth century heroes having swashbuckling adventures on Mars. Long before he joined up with Andrew Stanton to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novels to the screen, Chabon wrote another Martian epic. Discover the saga ofThe Martian Agent, and how it led to Chabon’s involvement in John Carter.
We spoke to Michael Chabon on the phone for about 40 minutes about John Carter and The Martian Agent, and only some of the highlights of that conversation are included in this article. You can read the complete, unedited interview here. It’s well worth checking out.
Back in the early 1990s, Chabon wrote The Martian Agent, a screenplay which clearly owes a lot to Burroughs. In The Martian Agent, it’s an alternate 19th century, and the British Empire has developed technology that allows travel to Mars, where the natives are conquered by good old-fashioned British ingenuity. And in this alternate timeline, the British never lost America, either, in spite of a failed rebellion by General George Custer. Two young brothers, Jefferson and Franklin, wind up traveling to Mars, where they are caught between their duty as British officers and their sympathy for the natives. And it turns out that long ago, the Martians developed fantastic anti-gravity technology, which could supercharge the British empire. It’s a pretty rollicking action-adventure movie script, set in a steampunk alternate universe.
And The Martian Agent was almost made into a movie — as Chabon explained a while back to ERBZine, the script was optioned by Fox, and Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) was signed up to direct. The studio spent a million dollars on special effects tests, and ILM developed tons of great stuff. And then after Speed 2 came out, it was a huge disaster, and de Bont’s stock fell rapidly, killing all the projects he was signed to