Taylor Kitsch
Credit: Disney

There are multitudes of exotic creatures that populate John Carter — Walt Disney’s grand sci-fi adventure, out March 9, adapted from the seminal “John Carter of Mars” novel series penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs almost 100 years ago. There are the four-armed green Tharks that Civil War vet John Carter (played by Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch in the film) first encounters after he’s mysteriously transported to the war-torn surface of Mars. There’s the many-legged amphibi-dog named Woola that becomes Carter’s loyal companion. And then there are one of the most intriguing and fearsome creatures in the series: the great White Apes. In Rice’s maiden John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars, Carter first tussles with the apes soon after he plops down on the alien planet. But when director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E) began adapting A Princess of Mars for the big screen with co-writers Mark Andrews (The Incredibles) and novelist Michael Chabon, he decided to save the apes for a far more climactic confrontation later in the film — as you can see in the exclusive first look below (also after the jump: a chat with Stanton):

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So tell me about these White Apes in your film. They’re from the books, but I recall they’re not quite this ginormous?

ANDREW STANTON: No, they’re sort of an oversized gorilla in the books, and they’re kind of ubiquitous. They’re littered everywhere through at least the first several novels. They were always cool, just from a visceral standpoint, [but] they don’t really have a narrative function in the first book. So what we did is we made the White Apes a formidable creature that you kind of hear about throughout the movie, but you never really witness. There’s a subtle sense of anticipation for what these things might be like. Then Michael Kutsche — who did a lot of the designs on [the Johnny Depp movie] Alice in Wonderland — came up with this design on his own, for just their scale. He made them nocturnal, almost like moles — they stopped using their eyes, and just had a heightened sense of smell. We just love that. We needed a scene where Carter was going have to get out of his execution sentence in order to move the story forward, and we thought what better than having to go up against this formidable creature?

How has John Carter come to find himself in this predicament?

I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but basically he needs an army to solve his big problem in the third act, and the only army he knows was his previous captors. When he goes back, the game has changed, and he gets incarcerated. This is what he has to get out of. He has to get out of jail and not get killed by these apes in order to get his bigger problem solved.

This picture might imply that he’s screwed, but he isn’t completely helpless, right? He’s got some skills?

He’s not Superman. He has this one Superman-like ability where he can leap farther than we can here [on Earth]. But it’s like being a man on the moon. It can’t be forever. He can build up momentum. This green species called Tharks, they know his one special jumping ability, so they chain him to a rock. It’s entertainment. It’s entertainment to watch this execution. They give him a nice long length of chain, so he can bounce around, but he can’t go out of the arena. It’s an interesting problem to have for that guy.

I’m sure John Carter is thinking right now, “This is a really interesting problem.”

[Chuckles.] Right. And you’ve got these apes that can’t see, but they can smell really well. So it gives you a slight chance to not be killed immediately.

Follow Adam on Twitter @adambvary

Read more:

John Carter
  • Movie
  • 132 minutes