Thrilling Adventure Tales Case File #18: John Carter
Here’s a lengthy and interesting article by Nathan Rabin that just came out, taking a thorough look at John Carter.
Thrilling Adventure Tales Case File #18: John Carter
By Nathan Rabin via AVClub.com
If those jerks James Agee and Walker Evans hadn’t selfishly already used it for their empathetic exploration of poverty and privilege, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men would be a terrific name for a compilation of New Yorker profiles. The venerable magazine leans heavily toward erudite hagiography in its eloquent, effusive portrayals of the super-geniuses it covers. That’s certainly the tone of Tad Friend’s October 2011 profile of Andrew Stanton, the director ofFinding Nemo and WALL-E as well as the then-upcoming John Carter, a big-budget, live-action, would-be tentpole movie based on a series of pulp novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs that Stanton devoured as a kid.
It’s easy to see why an institution like The New Yorker might revere Stanton. As one of the driving forces behind Pixar, Stanton was and remains an essential part of the brain trust behind one of the most consistently brilliant and popular brands in the history of American entertainment. As a screenwriter, director, and voiceover artist on movies like the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, andMonsters, Inc., Stanton has made his corporate masters billions while winning two Academy Awards (at 46, he’s been nominated for six Oscars) as well as the hearts and minds of critics, kids, and movie-lovers the world over.
In hindsight what would you change?
I love your strategy for the book and specifically for your approach to interviewing Stanton (being sure not to duplicate questions he’s answered over and over already). Hopefully he takes the chance to thoughtfully present his side of the aftermath in some detail.
Respect, of course. My only request is that you don’t softball him.
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A few questions I know I’d like to ask would go something like this::
You said in an interview that, while you were updating the John Carter and Dejah Thoris characters, Tars Tarkas was the fan favorite and thus wouldn’t be changed much. [do you have this article, Michael? I can’t relocate it but it exists.]
For example: In the novel, Tars Tarkas is known as ‘the greatest warrior and statesman on all Barsoom’, yet in your film he struggles to control his lieutenants in both statecraft and combat. His literary personal journey was of seeking revenge, and learning the value of friendship. The film omits or replaces these core tenants. In the novel, he is a chieftain who wins a fight to become Jeddak. In the film he is already the Jeddak who is demoted by losing a fight. Burroughs presented him as an unstoppable warrior, yet he faints and sleeps through most of your arena sequence. In the novel he reveals almost no emotion whatsoever, but in your film he cries at a wedding.
We know your thoughts on John and Dejah, as you’ve been very open about why they changed. Please elaborate on why it was important to change Tars Tarkas so much, and why did you then feel the need to say you hadn’t?
Was there ever concern that using the ERB ‘manuscript’ first-person framing story as a narrative device would be undermined by often cutting away to Dejah, or Sab Than, or Matai Shiang – scenes Carter never experienced containing information he wouldn’t know about (and thus couldn’t have written about) even at the close of the film?
Can you talk about the shifting perspective of the story in that context?
__Was a stationary Star-Wars-esque matte painting approach always the plan for Cluros and Thuria? Did you ever consider having the Moons of Mars actually move, as they do in both the novels and (similarly) in actual scientific reality?
You’re clearly a filmmaker with a meticulous eye for detail, and digital post-production allows for fixes/changes right up until near the release date. Why is the arena hook holding Carter’s chain to the rock shown to be easily removable (displayed prominently in foreground, in 3D). Is this a clever comment on the character’s eyesight or intelligence?
You stated in an early interview that you saw no reason to get involved with the progressive and sometimes controversial racial material that is central to the novels. Could you elaborate on this? Was it important to you that every member of the cast be, or at least appear, caucasian? Is there some kind of meta-comment there? Did it just turn out that the best actors for all the parts happened to be white*?
*Yes, we know Collins is part Native American.
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MCR – This article was pretty reasonable, largely critical of Stanton’s and his ‘genius’ label. I agree with most of your complaints, but this one was actually on your side (except for the one quote you highlighted).
The question I would ask Andrew Stanton is specifically about the look of the movie. Why did he make the choice to not make Barsoom more other-worldy-looking, for example by featuring the moss-covered lands and the huge moon racing the sky? Did he fear he could alienate part of the audience he wanted to reach, or is it just a matter of his personal taste in the matter?
A lot of reviewers that were aware of the property, while seeing early materials, be it footage or pictures, were reserved about the “earthen” look of Barsoom. The concept drawings seemed far more in a other-worldy direction that what ended up on screen.
I don’t have a problem with that…..I do think there’s a big difference between “valid” and “as valid” — i.e. if it was “do you still think that’s a valid observation” might wander into the area you’re describing….do you think it is “as valid” is different. But it’s easy enough to just not use that word.
The questions sound fine. The only suggestion is with the question “Prior to the release of the film you were quoted often as saying that there weren’t enough active fans of the John Carter books to create the kind of fan pressures you would have with, say, a Harry Potter series. Did anything happen with the release to change that view, or does it still seem pretty much as valid as it did going in?” Back when I was working for my college newspaper they always stressed to avoid the word “valid” since it can appear that you’re agreeing the person and not being objective. You may want to restate it as “or do you still feel that way” so it doesn’t appear that you’re thinking the same thing, even if you are since it might lead readers to just assume it’s a puff piece and you’re agreeing with everything he says.
Here’s what I’ll take from that.
Did you seek out advice from directors with live action experience before you started filming?
You’ve said you re-read APOM to refresh your memory, then set it aside during the first phase of the adaptation process, then went back to it again. Can you explain that process a little bit and tell us more about your thoughts about APOM when you re-read it prior to launching the adaptation?
What are your thoughts on the press and their obsession with the film’s budget? Why do you think this film became a target while other films, like say Battleship-didn’t?
What is your favorite book from the John Carter series? Why?
Prior to the release of the film you were quoted often as saying that there weren’t enough active fans of the John Carter books to create the kind of fan pressures you would have with, say, a Harry Potter series. Did anything happen with the release to change that view, or does it still seem pretty much as valid as it did going in?
In hindsight, are there any aspects of the adaptation you would do differently?
How did the name change from John Carter of Mars to John Carter come down? Would you comment on that?
So let me get this right. Day after day, week after week, you attack Stanton — whom these people admire and love for making a movie that they love — and after you attack him 10 times in as many days, Kimberly comes on and very mildly rebuts you …..and you start whining about being “attacked”? Good grief MCR, be real. You’re like the bully in the playground who terrorizes all the kids and then one person comes up and gets in your face and tells you to stop and you run off saying you’ve been attacked.
Let’s end this conversation here. If you want to have one more swing and get the last word fine — I won’t reply. But this is getting ugly and I’m not running an ugly site. I’m open to diverse opinions and have proved that I mean that but there comes a point where the community that comes here every day just gets fed up with hearing the same thing again and again — whether it’s you bashing Stanton or me coming on here and asking you to cool it.
And for the record, you bashed Stanton quite a few times in the last week without me calling you out on it. I kept thinking you would eat your fill and stop, but instead you just seem to get overstimulated and get more and more strident — so I have to say enough, and that’s what I’m saying now. It’s time to give it a rest. Instead of responding to this, why don’t you respond to my answer to your questions for Stanton. That’s a more reasonable and far more interesting conversation.
‘MCR- it’s quite apparent that you seem to get your jollies off every time you respond to any article John Carter related. (like a person who loves the sound of his own voice) You offer nothing new or substantial to say..quite frankly just the same old boring comments over and over. Perhaps there is another movie out there that can occupy your time. Your attention seeking is getting old…..BARSOOM…”
And once again we get the fans attacking the contrarians. Yeah I could say the same thing about you too. You don’t have anything new to say either-it’s all Stanton made a great film and it’s the greatest thing ever. Don’t you have anything new to add either? Or is it just making sure to follow the herd and not having an original opinion of your own?
Dotar Sojat wrote:
“Please: Your Stanton bashing is getting out of hand again. I am requesting that you dial it back, give it a rest for awhile, find something else to talk about.”
Fine just ignore what I just wrote in response to Kimberley. We’ll start over but I still feel that the fans of this movie need to get over it. Not every ERB fan liked this film-John Carter of Mars was around a long time before Andrew Stanton made his “movie” and it is not a masterpiece. Also give us something else to talk about. Most of the articles here are repeitive-the marketing sucked, chastising critics who didn’t like this movie but not the overzealous fans who can’t handle a dissenting opinion and articles like this one that fawns over Stanton. How about more vintage pieces about ERB. A look at previous attempts to make a John Carter movie? Reviews of some of the scripts that have surfaced? Heck even Tarzan or other ERB movie and book news? Something to diversify the site rather than another bunch of articles about the same thing? It might stop me from saying the same things over and over.
Finally: “What REAL questions would you really like to see asked, and how would you phrase them? Please don’t bother with the questions unless you can make a sincere effort to come up with some real ones, not “fantasy this is how I would like to rile up Andrew Stanton” ones.”
REAL Questions? OK:
Did you seek out advice from directors with live action experience before you started filming?
How many times did you really read A Princess of Mars before you sat down and began adapting it?
What is your thoughts on the press and their obsession with the film’s budget? Why do you think this film became a target while other films-like say Battleship-didn’t?
What is your favorite book from the John Carter of Mars series?
Was there any concern about alienating the fans of the books or any thought about them at all?
Do you think with hindsight would you have done things differently? Rewritten the script to make it more self contained or even possibly put off directing it until you had more live-action experience under your belt?
Why if you were against the name change go along with it? Or why did you claim it was your idea when it wasn’t?
Is that a good start? Or are they too mean and could rile up Stanton?
MCR- it’s quite apparent that you seem to get your jollies off every time you respond to any article John Carter related. (like a person who loves the sound of his own voice) You offer nothing new or substantial to say..quite frankly just the same old boring comments over and over. Perhaps there is another movie out there that can occupy your time. Your attention seeking is getting old…..BARSOOM……
MCR, like it or not, there are literally dozens upon dozens of reviews out there that praise that scene. I know you hate it. We know you hate it. We’ve heard it at least 30 times from you that you hate it. We get it.
Also, you say: “On the one hand Stanton is egocentric, yet his “talent” excuses such behavior. ” I don’t have time to go back and re-read the article but my takeaway that when he said that he was basically criticizing the New Yorker for saying that, not saying it himself.
Please: Your Stanton bashing is getting out of hand again. I am requesting that you dial it back, give it a rest for awhile, find something else to talk about.
And you never responded to my request for serious questions for Stanton in an interview. Here is what I wrote:
Please try just once to stop your ceaseless venting and instead imagine you’re an actual journalist with an actual opportunity to ask questions of the real Andrew Stanton. Please stop hand-grenading and be real about how you phrase them. This is not an involuntary interrogation — it’s a voluntary interview in which the subject can easily just shut up and say “eff you” if not treated with respect. Hard questions can be formulated respectfully. What REAL questions would you really like to see asked, and how would you phrase them? Please don’t bother with the questions unless you can make a sincere effort to come up with some real ones, not “fantasy this is how I would like to rile up Andrew Stanton” ones.
I’m tired of those critics that qualify ERB’s work without reading a line of it. Stanton and co “streamlined the books”?? Really? I love the movie but come on…
“like a bravura sequence that crosscuts images of Kitsch destroying a competing alien army in an explosion of righteous fury with flashbacks of Kitsch burying his dead wife on Earth. ”
What is there now some goal to find every review that praises this claptrap scene and it’s “bravura” quality?
Beyond that this article was schizophrenic at best. On the one hand Stanton is egocentric, yet his “talent” excuses such behavior. I guess it did as long as his films were making money but where does that leave him now? Also what a ripoff of a title. With “Thrilling Adventure Tales” I was hoping for a tribute to ERB and his work, not another rehash of Stanton fawning/analysis of why this film failed.