'John Carter' trailer: Andrew Stanton deconstructs it
The teaser trailer for John Carter gave moviegoers a taste for the story of its title character, a Civil War vet (played by Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch) who finds himself inexplicably plopped onto the war-ravaged surface of Mars. The new full trailer, however, is our first real look at just how dangerous and exotic the planet really is, filled with hordes of hostile races of four-armed green men and tattooed red men, fearsome white apes and an oddly loveable frog-like dog (or is that dog-like frog?), all of it from the imagination of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who penned the “John Carter of Mars” series of books the film is based on nearly 100 years ago.
To help make better sense of it all, EW spoke exclusively with director Andrew Stanton (WALL•E, Finding Nemo), who happily walked us through the many creatures and characters that populate his film. Well, to a point. As you’ll see, Stanton has some rather strong feelings about the epidemic of spoilers that choke most modern Hollywood trailers, and he is not afraid to share them.
First, let’s check out the new John Carter trailer itself:
Before we dive into the details of the trailer, Stanton wants to be clear: “I can tell you who the cast is and what the places are, but I’m not going to connect all the dots.” Turns out, the two-time Oscar winner is steadfast in his belief that movie trailers should not reveal the entire film months before you even get a chance to see it.
“Why would anybody want to do that?” he asks, gearing up for a top flight tirade. “First of all, I want the list of who really wants that [in a trailer] outside of marketers who are afraid of their own audience. It makes no sense to me. Who wants the answer to the end of the book before they buy the book? Every single time I go to the theater in the last 10 years, there’s been a trailer that’s too long, and somebody, no matter if they’re in the business or not, or whether they’re 6 or 60, says, ‘Well, they showed me too much. It must be a bad movie.’ I hear it every time. So when are Hollywood marketers and studios going to wake up and stop doing that? I will never contribute to it, so long as I have any say. I think it’s rude and I think it’s demeaning and it undermines the intelligence of the audience. I want you to be teased and excited and have as much hope that you’ll enjoy yourself, but there’s still a mystery about it. My goal isn’t to protect information. My goal is to hopefully protect the thrill you might get from not knowing everything before you go into a theater. I may not be able to control it as much as I’d like to, but if I can, that’s what I’m going for. It’s the only reason to work this hard!” He laughs. “I want to answer all your questions [about the trailer], but I don’t want to accidentally contribute to the dilution of ‘Well, I think I know the whole movie. I don’t want to go see it.'”
With that in mind, let’s leap further into the world of John Carter.
Stanton spoke with EW at length last week about those mammoth white apes that open the new trailer, but who is that green tusked gentleman standing next to John Carter in the arena?
“His name is Tars Tarkas [played by Willem Dafoe] and he is the leader of the green-men tribe of Tharks,” explains Stanton. “He’s their Jeddak, which is the Martian term for ‘king’ or ‘leader.’ [But] there have been complications for the guy.”
“The other [main] species on Mars are the red men. They look like us, and they are called red men because they are of darker, copper complexion, but mainly they are covered in red tattoos. It’s just their culture. It’s how they historically document what goes on with each of them individually and what house they’re from and their lineage, in the same way of maybe the Maori tribes of the Pacific. There’s a big civil war going on between the red men, and the green men are basically staying out of it. They are a nomadic race that probably some time thousands of years earlier were the dominant race of the planet, but as history’s moved on, there’s been another empire of red men. There’s no love lost between both races when Carter [arrives on Mars].”
This city, called Helium, may look far more advanced than the rest of the planet, but according to Stanton, “It’s not a high-tech city. It’s just as old as the other cities. It just happens to be lived in [by a faction of red men], whereas the others are ruins.”
“Dejah Thoris [played by Lynn Collins] is the princess of Helium, and she is also the regent of science. She is basically between a rock and a hard place when we introduce her in the movie, and when you see her in this scene, she hasn’t believed for a long time that Carter is who he says he is and he’s from where he says he is.” But don’t ask what exactly she is doing in that ethereal-looking cave. “I can’t tell you anything!” laughs Stanton. “My joy when I saw the first trailer for Star Wars is I saw a little bit of almost everything in the movie, and I had no idea how it connected, and I had to go see the movie. So the last thing I’m going to do is ruin that little kid’s experience.”
The movie’s main villain is named Matai Shang (Mark Strong). “He is the holy Hekkador of the Thurns, or, you know, he is the leader of the Thurn race,” says Stanton. “I don’t think he would say he is evil. His race has a need for their survival, and he is just doing what he thinks is in the best interest of his race to survive. He’s not out to make anybody’s life difficult for any sort of sadistic reasons.”
“Woola is Carter’s best friend. He’s the equivalent of a Martian loyal dog, but he’s actually what’s called a Calot. He has 10 legs that can propel him very fast, so he’s almost like a road runner. He can zip along the desert faster than anything can in this world. He’s this weird amalgamation of toad, lizard, and bulldog. When you’re extrapolating these fictitious creatures, we wanted them to feel that they matched somewhat the description that Burroughs had in the books, but that they also felt that there was a natural evolution in nature that they were drawn from. We have some pretty weird-looking creatures in our world [on Earth], and they would probably seem like fantasy monsters in somebody else’s [world].”
“Those are the Warhoons. They’re also green men. They’re just a different tribe, but they’re both [made up of] green men. They make the Thark tribe look civilized.”
John Carter did not shoot in 3-D, so for the conversion process, Stanton says he brought in a colleague from Pixar, Bob Whitehill, who is the venerated animation studio’s top 3-D guy. “We are very picky about how it’s done,” assures Stanton. “I’ve gotta say, what I’ve seen, I’ve been pretty blown away by. There are some scenes that I must admit are better in 3-D, so I don’t think that people feel that they’re just getting pimped out for more money.” But note that that title card says 3-D will be in “select” theaters. “I shot it intentionally as a 2-D film,” says Stanton, “for people like me who go to 2-D. I just wanted there to be fair choice, because I know some people like their 3-D, and some people that don’t, and they tend to not cross over.”
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