About that John Carter Opening Scene . . .
Following is reposted from the public wall of the Back to Barsoom Facebook Group. It’s a conversation that’s going on about the opening scene of John Carter that ended up in the movie, and the deleted, longer version that didn’t — as well as the whole notion of whether to start the movie with a scene on Barsoom, thus introducing Barsoom that way — or whether Burroughs had it right in having the reader learn about Barsoom through John Carter’s eyes.
I was the instigator but its the responses that have been interesting — some of them a bit surprising, at least to me. What prompted me to ask the question was that when I view the deleted scene, my sense of it is that if the story has to begin on Barsoom (I would prefer it didn’t), to me at least it feels pretty clear that this scene — which would be followed by much of the Barsoom sandstorm battle and Thern appearance that is now the first scene — lays a much better foundation and would have diminished the “it’s sooooo confusing” complaints, and would have better caused audiences and critics to engage. But as you’ll see . . . it appears I’m in the minority in having that view.
Here is how it started:
(Oh . . . one other thing. Please note the generally respectful tone of the discussion. I’m just sayin’ . . . .)
I like it this beginning.
Gives the narrative a more somber tone, shows a parallel to Earth not so obvious in the movie. Energy is power on Barsoom, according this this, and radium=oil. Dejah has alternative energy that can not only end the war but restore Barsoom, and would take the fate of the planet out of the hands of the Therns, the great manipulators.
It puntuates what happens to a planet when its natural resources are stripped. Still, the ecological tale would secondary to the adventure take, and metaphorically would work at a greater depth than Avatar
Not Burroughs’ story, but I think he would approve.
Gives the story a relevance to the viewer, at least those on Earth.
And I still don’t understand the complaints of being “muddled.” One needs only to pay attention to understand this story in either version.
Having seen the alternate ending, I want more than ever to see the director’s cut. Hope we don’t have to wait as long as Superman II. I probably won’t live that long.
I prefer the original opening scene that got deleted. Live action delivery is better than voice over narration. Both openings provide the same background info. The original opening also keeps Stanton’s idea of the movie starting and ending with Dejah saying “Barsoom”.
Keeping ERB’s opening would’ve been best. I like Barsoom Bob’s version to start out with the “finished” John Carter in NYC 1881. One change I’d make on Bob’s version is it wouldn’t go from the Disney logo to NYC because there would be no Disney logo. Get rid of that thing.
Bob, that’s pretty slick. I wouldn’t have expected breaking up JC’s departure from earth and arrival on Barsoom that way would work — but hearing your description, I think it probably does. Good stuff.
I have very strong opinions about this and have made a my own fan edit. My feelings: both the theatircal and the deleted scene openings are just confusing to the audience because they don’t particularly introduce John Carter at all and start the movie in one place and then totally shift time and space on the audiences and puts them back on Earth. Very confusing and self defeating in setting up your relationship with the main character and the storyline.
I went from the Disney logo to the ominous title card then into the NYC beginning. Starting with an attractive and mysterious John Carter introducing himself right away. Immediately we see a, MCR you are going to love this, a non mopey John Carter. He is charming in how he eludes his pursuer, by pretending to kiss the woman on the street, there is mystery, he is being followed, sends the telegram, directly stating his name in close up. Within a few minutes we have presented our main character, in arguably his most appealing manifestation of the whole movie until the end.
Story wise the mystery continues, whoa, he asks for Ned to come visit but he is suddenly dead, what, a tomb that only opens from the inside! I cut out the details of Ned getting his inheritance and went right to him being given John’s journal. I personally found the whole berating scene with the “first items is beans” to be a little over played, so i cut from his approach to the camp to the army guys requesting his presence from Col. Powell. The scenes with Powell are all the exposition that is needed to set up this part of the story. We are being introduced to our main character in various forms.
I let everything play out uncut until the big whoosh transfer to Mars. Here i inserted the first ariel battle, minus all Defoe’s intro exposition, coming in on the first ship emerging from the sand cloud. This battle plays out and the last line of this scene is, you can rule all of Mars “with no one to stand in your way”, cut to John Carter first opening his eyes on Mars. This works so well, even sound wise, which is a huge problem with fan edits, that I think at one time this may actually have been the intended sequence.
We have a spectacular introduction to a strange new world, there is conflict in the air, bad guys are intoduced and gloating about their likely success and then Bam, we have our hero, who ultimately will undo their nefarious plans, opening his eyes for the fist time to experience Mars, even though he doesn’t know he is on Mars yet.
That is how I handled the opening in my edit, much less confusing.
Honestly neither scene works well but the original deleted sequence is slightly better only because it has Dejah Thoris narrating which makes more sense. Its her people fighting Zodanga so she has a personal stake in it whereas at this point Tars Tarkas doesn’t. The problem is that the original opening suffers from the confusing explanation of the Ninth Ray.
The other problem with the scene as it stands, well scratch that. There is a bunch of problems. We have a narrator who has no personal stake in the war. We can’t tell who is who with the bad choice of using the same costume except for red and blue but even then they’re not that different. We have Floating Therns coming in with no explanation of who the “Goddess” is or why they’re floating or why that guy from Sherlock Holmes (And Green Lantern and Kick-Ass, and Stardust and Robin Hood) is once again being a bad guy. We then cut to Earth 10 years later to two guys running around that we know nothing about. Then Ned’s arrival and then we cut back to 10 years before and the introduction of Mopey Carter. It’s no wonder audiences and critics checked out. As Crow T. Robot once said “Jeez Tolkein couldn’t have followed this plot.”
Of course we know really why this happened. After all this movie couldn’t resemble A Princess of Mars. That’s crazy talk, especially for a genius hellbent on his own vision. Maybe next time the Pixar Brain Trust should just give up and not criticize old Andrew since it clearly fell on deaf ears.
And yes ERB was smart. He knew to get in there quickly and establish it with no fuss, no muss.
I just feel like the information is thrown at the audience in such rapidfire fashion in the final version of the opening scene, that it just becomes a blur for most people. Stanton meant it as a tease and didn’t expect people to really get it all . . . but I think the problem that a lot of people, especially critics, had was that it’s presented in a way that invites you to follow it, but it’s hard to follow. An alternative would have been to present it as more of a clearly enigmatic tease . . . .no narration, perhaps — deliberately confusing images taht left the audience with just the takeaway that Stanton wanted . . . there’s a war, and one side got a killer weapon that the other side doesn’t have . . . In other words — by doing it as clearly a tease, audiences who stressed about not getting it all wouldn’t stress because it would be clear that the filmmaker wasn’t trying to get them to get it all . . . . it would just set up that we’re going to mars, stuff’s happening there, stay tuned. . . .
Going back to the deleted scene . . . . for me it’s the lesser of two evils. There is stuff in there that makes it work a lot better for me than the one that ended up in the movie. The information is imparted in more manageable chunks; characters are introduced; and the reference to a sandstorm doesn’t make me wince in pain the way it does in the Tars Tarkas narration.
But clearly a lot of people see it differently — and that’s the problem with calibrating a film in response to audience reactions. You have to do it . . . . but sometimes you just have to follow your gut. Or not. Stanton didn’t, in this case. The orignal scene is what he had always seen in his head as the opening to the movie . . .
Finally . . . just so there is no doubt — none of these solutions are half as good as ERB’s, and doing it a la ERB was the obvious, and best solution. We find out about red martians when a Helium flyer comes into view, pursued by Zodanga, and in the ensuing battle John Carter realizes there are humans aboard, and humans on Mars. . . . . .that works just fine, and that point could have been reached 17-18 minutes into the movie, which is plenty early, if the Barsoom opening had been lost.
ERB was a pretty smart guy.
To be honest, I found the deleted opening scene more of the same of what ended up in the final movie. We still don’t know why Zodanga is more evil than Helium since their technology is the same. If Zodanga has to ravage the planet for radium, how does Helium gets his supplies, supposedly in a more “reponsible” way? How does a static city entertain a thousand-years war with a moving city? How could one moving city threaten a whole planet?
Anyway, I found the deleted scene less awkward than the speech rehearsal of Dejah, and kudos for having another James Purefoy moment: “There’s my smile!”. So I guess I prefer the deleted version but really that’s chosing between two evils which one is the lesser.
As some commented, the best opening is still the one in the book.