Detailed Summary for the Ehren Kruger Script for Paramount’s John Carter of Mars

Other Stuff

As a lot of people are aware of Kerry Conran’s pitch video and test footage for his Paramount John Carter — one of the many that never got made. Because I read the script for that one, someone over at the IMDB message board asked me to explain the differences between that one and the Stanton version–which of course we haven’t seen, but have some insights into at this point.  

The draft I have, which was given to me by Danton Burroughs back when it was “fresh”, is dated September 7, 2005.  Since there seems to be some renewed interest in this — I offer the following beat outline of the Sept 7, 2005 version of the Ehren Kruger script.

UPDATE : I’ve been contacted by someone close to the production who confirms that Kerry Conran’s version was quite different from this, but that this is indeed an Ehren Kruger script that may have been written later in the cycle, after Kerry was no longer directing. Source isn’t 100% sure of the timign — but is sure it was written outside of Kerry’s supervision and doesn’t reflect his vision for the film –which was much closer to the ERB original. If I get more on this I will add it later.
This is the script, beat by beat — I haven’t skipped anything:

  • Modern day.  Carter and Powell are in Africa where they are with “Dev Group, the most elite of special forces unit”.
  • Mayhem at the beginning — action sequence in Africa, bang and burn, etc.
  • JC ends up in a cave in Africa .
  • In the cave — a “massive underground cathedral” with a sun dial thingy.
  • Transport to Mars involves time travel — time moving backwards. (page 14)
  • Ends up in dense forest in “Prehistoric Era”.
  • Spies a “baby Malagor” — tiny pteradactyll.
  • Starts to walk — discovers leaping ability.
  • Arrives at “sweeping martian landscape, like African Savannah”
  • Finds incubator
  • Calots are guarding the incubator — one of them is Woola.
  • White apes attack at the incubator (there to feed on hatchlings)
  • Woola saves JC, but is wounded.
  • JC kills White ape by jamming a grenade down its throat
  • Tharks show up, led by GENERAL TARS TARKAS.
  • Another Thark “Lieutenant Vaxx”
  • Tharks speak Barsoomian — Carter can’t understand.
  • Vaxx tries to kill Woola — JC stops him.  Bad jujus between him and JC
  • JC taken prisoner, goes to “City of Thark”, where Malagors are perched, watching.
  • Tal Hajus and Sarkoja are waiting.
  • JC gives jumping exhibition; Tal Hajus not impressed; JC knocked unconscious. (p 25)
  • Wakes up a captive. Sola is there.  She’s fiddling with his radio and with JC’s radio they can hear sounds of Helium battle with Zodanga.
  • Begins journal: “My name is Captain John Carter, and I am a prisoner of war.”  VO begins…
  • Sola teaches him language; every night he listens to the “sound of war” on his radio.  Also trains him in combat as practiced by the Tharks.
  • First test: JC wrangle s a thoat into submission.
  • Second test: JC proves his worth in helping repulse a Warhoon raid.
  • JC is accepted by the Tharks (p 33) as a warrior.
  • Switch to English dialogue for all characters–no more Barsoomian.
  • Airship from Helium in distress — Dejah Thoris: “A red-skinned, raven-haired woman, beautiful and strong, clad in fine silks with abare midrev, highlighted by a diamond stone in a gold setting at her navel”.
  • It works out the JC is the one to “capture” Dejah.
  • A young pilot in an “interceptor” escapes and races to Helium, which is protected by a FORCE SHIELD, and has a FLOATING PALACE.
  • The young pilot reports to Jeddak Tardos Mors that Dejah is a captive.
  • Sab Than, in a hologram, has a meeting with Tardos Mors and threatens him — Helium will fall.  Helium controls the atmosphere factory; Sab Than wants it; Tardos Mors says no.
  • Sab Than shuts down the hologram, turns to his Zodangan cronies, and says:  “Show no mercy.”  (p40)
  • Back at the city of Thark, Dejah is hauled in front of Tal Hajus.  She explains she was on a diplomatic and scientific mission re atmosphere and water.  She says Helium is under attack, and Tharks should become allies of Helium.
  • Tal Hajus and Sarkoja get angry at Dejah’s insistence and order Vaxx to “strike her down”.  Vaxx tries, but JC intervenes.
  • Tars reminds the Tal Hajus that, as the one who captured Dejah, JC has the right to determine what happens to her.
  • Vaxx demands “Justice” from JC — which Tars Tarkas explains mean a duel is required.
  • JC kills Vaxx — demands that Dejah will live.
  • Tal Hajus accepts this — Dejah is taken away.  Meeting is over.  JC’s stock is up, but he may have enemies now.
  • Afterwards, Tars Tarkas calls JC to meet with him.
  • They discuss Dejah’s fate.  According to Tars, Tal Hajus will gift her to Sab Than of Zodanga to curry favor — but only after taking her himself, as he has a “taste for red women.”
  • JC is furious but hides it.  Takes his leave of Tars Tarkas.
  • JC climbs across the parapets and enters Dejah’s room.
  • She is shocked; but they talk.  He explains bout the cave.  She explains it was built by the “Orovars” — they were the ‘ancestors of all life” who traveled the galaxies, colonizing planets.  They built the atmosphere plant, the canals.  JC talks about his friend Powell, whom he assumes was also transported to Mars.   He bargains with Dejah — if he helps her, will she help him by giving him the resources necessary to search for Powell.  A bargain is struck.  JC leaves.  Dejah is intrigued by him.  But unknown to either of them — Sarkoja has been watching.
  • ZODANGA: Sab that is given an intercepted Helium message which alerts the Zodangans that Dejah Thoris is captive in Thark.  Sab Than tells his lieutenants: “Ready my armor and my ship. Leave the princess to me.”
  • Carter tries to escape.  It looks bad — but then he finds a MALAGOR and jumps on its back, takes control, and uses it as an aerial transport.
  • Carter makes it to Dejah’s quarters — but she is gone. Sola is there.  Sola has killed some guards–she is now a fugitive too.  She and Carter leave — she will take JC to Dejah.
  • MOUNTAIN CHECKPOINT: Two Thark guards see the fighter craft of Sab Than as it approaches. It lets Sab Than off–he departs on a thoat.
  • CITY OF THARK: Sab Than gets past the sentries.
  • TAL HAJUS BEDCHAMBER: Dejah is there, so is Sarkokoja.  There’s a banth there too — Sarkoja controls it.
  • Tal Hajus threatens Dejah–she begs: “But they’ll pay, they’ll pay.” Meaning Tardos Mors.
  • Carter saves Dejah from Tal Hajus — he is wounded in the process.
  • Sab Than, meanwhile, is fighting his way to the Palace.
  • With a timely assist from Sola, the four — JC, Sola, DT, and Woola — try to make it out of Thark.
  • Sab Than shoots Woola with a ray device.  Woola dies (I think.)
  • They use an underground aquifer (dry now) to escape.
  • Tars Tarkas appears — blocking their way.   He sees that Sola is with them.  He is sad — let’s them pass, tells Carter if he ever sees him again he will kill him.
  • Sab Than gives Tal Hajus a major dressing down for losing Dejah Thoris and allowing JC to live.  Threatens him.  TH must find Dejah or else……
  • DESERT:  Dejah, Sola, and JC.  JC is losing blood, badly wounded.
  • Tharks are chasing them, including an aerial scout on a malagor.
  • Dejah, Sola, and JC make camp to escape a desert storm. JC is delirious.  He tells DT: “I know the future. This planet will not survive.”
  • JC is dying….it seems.  He’s losing consciousness.  Dejah kisses him. He does not regain consciousness.
  • Sola tells her story to both JC and Dejah.
  • Storm passes–JC, DT, and Sola trek across the desert.
  • They have to cross mountains — leave thoats behind.
  • At night, JC and Dejah talk: She tells him, Powell is dead.  But he was found buried in the Paktar sea over 100 years ago.    He is on exhibit as proof that there is life in other worlds.
  • Dejah tries to recruite JC to fight for Helium.  He’s not interested.  Very devastated to learn Powell is dead.  He’s left staring at his “distant home planet, forever out of reach.”
  • They reach the Ontokk Wood near Warhoon country.  Warhoons attack.
  • The Warhoons are about to kill them all when—
  • Sab Than appears.   He is in command — the Warhoons are under him.  He removes his helmet and Carter is shocked to see — Sab Than is POWELL…..with red skin.  He explains that the skeleton in the Helium museum is the Zodangan who first found him — and whom he killed.
  • Powell/Sab Than takes Dejah and Sola. “Half this world is run by savages, the other half by philosphers.   This world was desperate for men – -like you and me.)  Powell/Sab Than explains how he came to power — a recurring theme is — Mars will die, it is inevitable.
  • Powell wants control of the atmosphere factory. Carter says, “You want to play God.”  He replies: “PLAY GODS — WE ARE GODS!”
  • Powell wants Carter to join him; Carter won’t.  He allows Carter to be escorted off the ship, and left behind.  As the ship leaves, Warhoons beat him into unconciousness.
  • A captive of the Warhoons, JC finds that Tars Tarkas is acaptive too.
  • Coliseum scene — JC and TT fight, then escape with help of a malagor.
  • While they are flying away on Malagors, a Zodangan ship approaches and attacks. They attempt to escape into a cloud bank.
  • Tars Malagor is wounded. He manages to get the Malagor to dive bomb the Zodangan ship and he leaps off of it onto the Zodangan ship.
  • JC’s malagor tires and they crashland into the ground.  JC is unconscious.
  • CITY OF THARK:  Tars Tark, now in command of the assault flyer, arrives at Thark.   He has John Carter as his captive.  He presents Carter, bound, to Tal Hajus.  Carter demands to speak.  Tal Hajus tells Tars Tarkas to cut out Carter’s tongue.  Tars hesitates: “He is still a Thark. Last words are his right.”
  • JC speaks, and rouses the rabble against Tal Hajus.  Tars Tarkas challenges Tal Hajus.   Tars kills Tal Hajus.  Carter to Tars Tarkas: “We await your command.”
  • Tars sides with Helium. He speaks to the Tharks — meanwhile Woola appears, he’s not dead after all. Happy reunion.   Tharks are ready to join Helium against Zodanga now.
  • ZODANGA: From the War Room at Castle Zodanga, Dejah watches sadly as the attack on Helium progredses.  The force field is damaged, it seems only a matter of time.  Refugee ships are leaving Helium; Powell destroys them mercilessly, in front of Dejah.
  • Powell gets the sense that Sola, who is there, knows where “the key” to the atmosphere controls can be found.  He tortures Sola and she tells: John Carter has the key.  Sola explains that when JC was wounded, Dejah took the key from her navel oranament, where it was hidden, and placed it inside JC’s wound.
  • OUTSIDE ZODANGA:  John Carter is there, with Woola, Tars Tarkas, and the Tharks.  They mount a silent attack from the sky, riding Malagors.  They mount a silent assault and make it into the Castle.  Powell is about to kill Dejah Thoris when Carter arrives.  They get into a standoff — Powell wants to trade Dejah’s life for the key.  Carter holds out a small pouch…wavers, then tosses it to Powell. Instead of pushing Dejah to Carter, Powell throws her back to his guards as he catches the pouch.
  • Powell opens the pouch — and out falls a U.S. ARMY concussion grenade.  Sola is hurt.
  • Powell is alive, he’s got Dejah and is trying to get into his airship with her.  He succeeds.  Carter is pursuing. The ship lifts off — JC leaps prodigously and, with an assist from Dejah, makes it onto the ship.
  • Carter and Dejah race to the cockpit. When they get there, Powell “reverse ejects”  through a hatch.  Carter shouts:  “Powell, listen to me. I’ve been inside the atmosphere factory. I’ve been inside.”
  • As Powell drops through the air, his chair in which he ejected sprouts glider like wings.
  • On Powell’s ship, Carter gives Dejah the key (a diamond stone) back, and she puts it into her navel holder.
  • Carter returns to Zodanga and makes a rendezvous with Tars Tarkas.
  • Meanwhile, Powell meets up with a Zodangan airship and orders it to go to Helium.
  • HELIUM: Tardos Mors leads the defense of the city, but it’s not going well.
  • SKIES NEAR HELIUM: Carter and Tars Tarkas make for Helium. Zodangans are in pursuit.
  • Things are looking very bad for Helium — when the Tharks arrive and reinforce them.  The alliance is formed.
  • The battle is joined — Powell says don’t worry about the Tharks, they don’t have the technology to challenge us.  Meanwhile, Zodangans are using a special “mirage” cloaking device…they have the upper hand.
  • A Helium battleship crashs, and Tars tarkas wants it.
  • Meanwhile, Powell’s ship — with Dejah, Carter, and Tars Tarkas aboard, is hit, and goes down.  It crashlands onto the carrier deck of the great Helium battleship.
  • Dejah gets on board a small flyer — she says to Carter: “This isn’t your war.”  Carter: “It is now.” He gets on the small flyer with her.
  • The battle continues.  Carter and Dejah are in a small flyer.  Tars Tarkas commands a wounded Helium battleship.   He and Sola jump off as it careens to the ground, and join the ground fight.
  • Sola saves Tars’ life in the fray.
  • SKIES ABOVE HELIUM: Carter and Dejah are gaining on Powell.  Carter finally reaches and engages with Powell, whose flyer is damaged.   Powell and Carter fight; but it ends up that Carter and Dejah escape, leaping off the wounded flyer.
  • Powell crash lands into the garden of the Helium palace — a huge fireball.
  • ON THE GROUND:  The Tharks and Heliumites fight valiantly, but the Zodangans are too many.   Sola and Tars Tarkas have a moment — knowing they are about to die.
  • The other Tharks suddenly appear (cavalry coming over the hill)…..they may hold the balance — quickly it becomes apparent–the tide has turned in favor of Helium and the Tharks.
  • As the Tharks mop up — Dejah presents John Carter to Tardos Mors.  She credits Carter with creating the alliance with the Tharks.
  • KING’S COMPOUND, HELIUM:  As dusk settles over the city, John Carter and Dejah look out across Helium — she urges him to take it in: “Your new home.” They kiss.
  • Later, Carter and Dejah are sleeping together, when Woola bounds in followed by a Court Advisor:  ‘You Highness.  The King is dead.”
  • They rush and find that Tardos Mors has been assassinated — and his key to the atmosphere factory has been taken.
  • They look outside — the skies are changing.  Carter realizes: “Powell is inside.”
  • In a small flyer, Carter, Dejah, and Tars race toward the atmosphere plant.
  • They enter the atmsophere plant and find the Orovar who operate the plant dead, murdered by Powell.
  • Powell and Carter face each other.  Powell is intent on controlling the atmosphere plant.   Carter tries to manipulate things so that he can send Powell back to Earth using a “pathway” capability that exists in the atmosphere factory.  But Powell switches on the “miraging” capability of his armor — and becomes invisible.  He is cutting Carter to shreds, invisible.
  • Tars manages to shoot the invisible Powell — he becomes visible.
  • Carter then manages to kill Powell.
  • He’s about to rejoin Dejah but is caught in the blinding light of the pathway device — and is yanked back through space and time……..
  • Carter and Powell both find themselves in a Virginia forest.
  • Carter is home.
  • Later, he is in a cabin which he has fixed up and furnished.  He is writing in a journal.
  • Time lapse photography — years and decades are passing.  Carter:  “The life span of the other world has followed me here.”
  • He is trying to figure out how to get back to Barsoom.
  • Ending: Carter returns to Africa, looking for the mountain and the cave that sent him to Barsoom the first time.  He is determined to return.


  • Is it me or did others see Avatar in this outline? At least to some degree and some similarity to Aslym’s version.

  • That’s strange. Dotar Sojat your archived copy of the Sept. 7 Kruger script summary doesn’t have the update you included back when you posted the summary in January.

    Here it is for the interested (this was inserted just after the paragraph noting the script’s date).

    UPDATE 1/17/12 10:30pm: I’ve been contacted by someone close to the production who confirms that Kerry Conran’s version was quite different from this, but that this is indeed an Ehren Kruger script that may have been written later in the cycle, after Kerry was no longer directing. Source isn’t 100% sure of the timign — but is sure it was written outside of Kerry’s supervision and doesn’t reflect his vision for the film –which was much closer to the ERB original. If I get more on this I will add it later.

  • “YAY that we got the version we did!”

    Yeah because whiny, selfish self-centered heroes are vast improvements over modern day Op Soliders.

    Sorry for the sarcasm and before anyone jumps up and down no I did not like the Kruger script, even though I feel the Conran test footage and artwork was done before this script was written (there’s a few images of JC in the Civil War). But to say that we should be happy we got Stanton’s butchering of the material? Neither approach was respectful of the books or ERB. Luckily someone at Paramount at least had the foresight to not make Kruger’s script.

  • While Conran’s “pitch” video looked interesting, I agree with Khanada. The script outline represents a much more “hollywood” adaptation of John Carter…. Too slick. To modern. No depth of story, characters or what motivates them. Stanton’s version may have its flaws, but the soul and spirit of ERB’s Barsoom “still lives” in Stanton’s film. Very glad Stanton got the chance to create the first JOHN CARTER OF MARS film. Makes me appreciate Stanton and his version of JC even more!

  • OK way to deal with the audience knowing Mars as a dead planet now – have JC travel to Mars in the ancient past. Agree with Khanada that it’s better to keep JC from the 19th century, it makes for a better fish out of water story when he’s thrown into an alien world. He has more charm and chivalry as a Virginia cavalryman than a grenade lobbing commando. You’d think they’d write a big Carter vs. Powell super-leap battle at the end of the script. This reads more like John Carter: Martian Delta Force. A Jerry Bruckheimer film.

  • While I do think that there might have some merit in the “Mars of ancient times” element, which both Michael Moorcock and Otis Adelbert Kline used effectively in their pseudo Barsoom novels. the rest of it isn’t a whole lot better than the Syfy abomination. Plus, there’s enough in that one outline to fill three or more movies without ever getting into “Gods” and “Warlord.” And those who have commented on Carter being a member of an army that defended slavery would go into apoplexy at the thought of Carter being the member of an “elite team” of what would be seen as mercenaries creating havoc in modern Africa.

    Add to that, it’s barely recognizable as the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which, to me, was the entire purpose of the movie.

  • Funny how the local “Darth Vader” feels like the one in Asylum’s Princess of Mars! It’s not a bad gimmick, though. I wonder if they had read this screenplay or came with the same twist accidentally.

    Still, not a great deal about the love story, which should be the core of it, in my opinion. We’ll never know how it would have turn out, all would have been in the execution, even if the lack of heart of Sky Captain’s characters didn’t give a lot of confidence in Kerry Conran in that area. Anyway, I would have been very curious to see the movie.

  • Dreadful. Did someone really think this was better than the original story? Hard to find what was not changed. Khanada is right.. Stanton did it much better.

  • Hmmm, well, this makes me SO glad Stanton did it. I don’t like the modern day angle. Don’t like Powell ending up on Barsoom. Oh so much I don’t like about this version. It loses the spirit of the books for me. YAY that we got the version we did! 😀

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