About that John Carter Opening Scene . . .

Other Stuff

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’m curious what people think about the original opening scene for John Carter, vs the opening that eventually ended up in the movie. I’m attaching the link to the original opening, which was deleted in favor of the shorter, “docu-style” clilp with Tars Tarkas narrating. Keep in mind that they were concerned the length of the opening which consisted of this scene (4 minuted), followed by most of what we now see in the Tars Tarkas’ narrated scene, then the ERB frame story; then the JC Arizona back story. Their argument was — that’s a whole lotta shoe leather before we JC to Mars. On the other hand — so much of the criticism of the film was about how the beginning was confusing, and when audiences are confused, they become unengaged . . . . so the tradeoff would have been . . . . live with the length, be confident, and get a more solid foundation. I mean . . . Braveheart has 20 minutes of a prologue with William Wallace as a kid, basically to make the point that he saw his parents murdered and that’s why he rebels against the British. Was this scene really better off being cut? Or did it lay a much better foundation than was eventually laid?
  • Kevin Sanderson Michael, you know I really love the movie. But for me there’s too much to follow in the deleted opening, and for some reason it’s easier to follow the sabotage of the Ninth Ray device that Deja is showing in the final version.
  • Bob Woody I think it should have been left in because it does add a lot to the story. The only downside would have been that Defoe’s introduction would have been deleted. I felt his introduction was essential to the story also.
  • Debra Fisher As a fan of the original stories, I wasn’t much impressed with the opening of the movie since it juxtaposed a couple of the books into one storyline and seemed really heavy and long. Necessary, in some form, I understand but I loved the opening of the …See More
  • Joey T. Del Rosario The image and voice of Dejah Thoris narrating this alternate (original?)) intro reminded me of the opening sequence of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herberts’ DUNE with Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) giving the audience a quick run-down of what the galaxy is like in the year 10, 191…
  • Ian Ray Hawke It seems to me that almost all of this is critical exposition. I would have wanted this in the final cut — I like getting the Mars setting first, almost like a teaser. The stuff about the Ninth Ray, though, probably could have been inserted before the Ninth Ray scene that’s in JC now. We need to know how important it is going to be in the story.
  • Patrick Dearen Although the deleted scene would have been preferable, both scenes are too much for uninitiated audiences to digest right off the bat. My thoughts are that Stanton should have trusted ERB and introduced Barsoom as JC experienced it–incrementally.
  • Wayne Baker I’m with you, Patrick. I liked this scene with Dejah’s presentation better than the one that was in the movie. But it shouldn’t have come at the beginning of the movie. Nor should the intro by Tars/DaFoe and the Therns/Zodanga alliance. Three prolo…See More
  • Abraham Sherman I like the thought of getting John Carter to Barsoom, and THEN cutting away to scenes elsewhere on the planet that don’t involve him. If possible, it would help to find something in his experiences with the Tharks to motivate that cut to Helium. That…See More
  • Jamie Ashby While I like this better than the triple opening (which, honestly, I didn’t have any issues with), I still would’ve preferred discovering Barsoom through Carter’s eyes.

    Just my 2p.
  • Michael D. Sellers I think it’s interesting — there was a kind of “doublethink” in the dialogue Stanton had with his Brain Trust about this. They said the opening was too long (meaning everything before he gets to Mars) . . . .and they said, maybe cut the whole Barsoom…See More
  • Lisa Sweeney i like the way it was laid because it matches more of the theme of take up a cause and the story of inspiration of a man who has lost hope. this alternate puts more focus on mars than on the man. just my honest opinion.
  • Sparky Santos Both work – what drags for me are the lovely Arizonia scenes. I would have kept all the Ned pieces though —
  • Daria Brooks As much as I enjoyed seeing the deleted opening, it really didn’t work for me AS an opening, though it would have been interesting in a “director’s cut” version. As viewers, it is far more important to be able to focus on John Carter as our guide to Ba…See More
  • Sparky Santos I’d like a couple of fan edits to show Andrew to compare to his director cut. I’d speed the whole Arizonia stuff as a blur with maybe “The Spider Cave of Gold” — “First item is beans” — “He stole your horse” then the cave … maybe an explanation of time spent in dialogue? —> all of this pointing to the sequels that are needed?
  • Daria Brooks How about ‘no!’ I love the Arizona sequence–it’s ERB meets John Ford–and it builds in Powell from Chapter 1 of the tale (albeit in a different guise). Besides, every young actor needs his cowboy role.
  • Scott Tracy Griffin FWIW, I would have preferred the film open as the book did, like some of the fans above, so we could discover Barsoom gradually through JC’s eyes. The up-front disclosure eliminates the element of mystery that is such an appealing part of the book.
    The…See More
  • Debra Fisher I would like to say that my 17 year old…who knew nothing about John Carter other my occasional comments over the years…loved the movie. He liked the opening because he said that it did set the story up for him and did not find it long or excessive….See More
  • Mark Holmes I would have liked to have learned about Mars with John Carter. Cut the opening.
  • Jeff Doten I wish they’d done the opening monologue – zoom into mars, there is no dialogue, just music, the image is all grainy and that they had NOT had the holy trio of therns floating down, something else please. Then the titles, JOHN CARTER OF MARS and open in Arizona. They should have asked Del Toro what he would do.
  • Scott Casper I’m glad they took out that other opening. Instead of a barbaric, warrior race, your first impression of the Red Men of Mars would be of lazy legislators.
    23 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Manu Delpech The deleted opening is clearly inferior to the one we got. Opening the movie with the narration by Dejah is not compelling, we should dive in the planet right away, like the movie does, even though there is some stuff that could have been different.
    23 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Sparky Santos Daria? It bogs the movie down when it needs to run. You’re free to disagree.
  • Jeff Doten I love the Arizona portion, interesting choice of words with ‘run’. That and the ERB intro · which I’d include JC running around Boston or whatever – all work. It’s the narrative that is clumsy and arrival of the therns. I do really like the air battle though. Would have been perfect without the floating trio of therns. But they’re a myth so it doesn’t really matter.
    23 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Sparky Santos heh – see – my take is that we want to establish “Ned” as a both dreamer and a doer – so the Johns Hopkins University scene is important. The “lucky SOB” is a hook to take non-fans to Barsoom with him. We “fans” were ‘Already There’ –  

    The lazy s…See More
    22 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Jeff Doten But they use Arizona to set up who Carter is, even down to his “I don’t care !” as he rescues Powell.
    22 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Jeff Doten If you don’t have some kind of set up you’ve just lopped the nose off your story.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Ian Ray Hawke MIchael, this is great stuff to ponder — and very informative — thanks for this! I agree with you about this being a better version than the one chosen. A couple of things I would like to offer for contemplation though: (1) That films must always …See More
    19 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Daria Brooks Arizona seems to be getting the “thumbs up” here. I agree that there was no need for the Therns in this story, though I love the medallion angle; after all, John could have just found it in the cave with an incantation. (I think the “gas” transport wo…See More
    19 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Ian Ray Hawke I think the alternate opening presents a framework that those unfamiliar with the books really need to have. Those who prefer the shorter one seem to be more in support of a linear story, one thing at at a time. Though I like the alternate version better, I see there are many excellent points going the opposite way, like Lisa Sweeney‘s!
    19 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Chris Farley 3 Openings is 2 too many The film should have opened with a backgrounding of Carter ,from his journal, with Civil War excerpts,his finding his dead wife,exploring for and finding gold as per the novel. I liked Paramount’s opening …..I am a very old m…See More
    19 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Richard A. Tucker This isn’t a new opening but clearly part of the opening we see. They just cut this sequence for the other voice over narrative. i like this and would to see more cutting room floor material. Too much Barsoom? No such thing.
  • Daniel Presnell Ok have my editor hat on. In my cut we would open with the NYC chase to the telegraph office. No changes until we cut to Dejah”s speach. Would like to use the original throne room scene with Kantos saying Sab’s ship is cross the border. Cut to the batt…See More
    17 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • Ian Ray Hawke I’ve always been a stickler for ONE final version of a film — no European version, no cable version, no chopped up TV version, no Director’s Cut either unless it becomes the official FINAL version. But this rainbow of fascinating options — all of th…See More
    17 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1
  • Bruce Kaplan A very interesting discussion. I personally would’ve liked the movie starting with ERB finding JC’s journal after his “death”, then cutting to the Arizona scenes and going on from there. The narrative about Mars being a dying planet, etc could’ve then been given by Tars Tarkas to JC in person soon after the 2 meet. Oh well, what’s done is done and I still enjoy watching JC with the current beginning, just like I enjoy watching Star Wars I, the Phantom Menace, despite the presence of the annoying Jar Jar Binks. Of the 2 beginnings presented by Stanton, I prefer the one which was included in the movie, perhaps because I’m so “used” to it having watched it multiple times. However, I think either beginning would have been suitable and I doubt either one would’ve been a “making or breaking” point for the movie.


  • 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.

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