A $250 million budget. An untested star. And a director making his first live-action feature film. There won’t be a bigger big screen gamble than Disney’s sci-fi adventure John Carter, which opens this weekend after mountains of skeptical press second-guessing everything from the film’s marketing to the decision to strip “of Mars” from the title.
At the center of it all is director Andrew Stanton, the Pixar wunderkind who made a buddy comedy about a lost fish (Finding Nemo) and a dystopian romance about non-speaking robots (WALL•E) into two of the most beloved, and lucrative, films of the last 10 years. But even he knows that although John Carter‘s source material — Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 11 John Carter of Mars novels — has inspired a century’s worth of science fiction from Star Wars to Avatar, the movie is not exactly an easy sell. “I sympathize with the marketing,” he tells EW. “It’s a tough thing to try to get all the things that go on and the complexity of the movie itself and the tone of the movie all in one package in 30 seconds. You can only trust that in today’s world, the way people communicate, that when they get into the theater that they’re very satisfied and they’re very pleasantly surprised … I couldn’t be happier as far as the movie itself, and the rest is out of my control. You just hope people show up to the theater.”
Making sure that audience does show up is especially imperative since Stanton has always envisioned John Carter — about the titular Civil War hero (Taylor Kitsch) who is unwittingly thrust into a 1,000-year conflict between the warring races of Mars — as the first part of a larger saga. “When I offered to do this property with Disney, I said I only want to do it if we can get the first three books and develop it as a trilogy,” he says. “I was introduced to the books as an 11-book series, and I want to kick [the movie] off like a series. I’m very much a realist in the sense that we can’t control whether the first one will be popular enough to do it. But I want to be prepared if we do. When every actor signed on, that was always the pitch. Even with the writers, we’ve always been prepping more like a TV season with a first episode. We’re just trying to be really smart with our preparation. But we also try to make it as self-sufficient of a movie as we can, knowing that if it doesn’t go farther, you’ll still be satisfied.”
Stanton’s been writing a sequel with novelist Michael Chabon (who also co-wrote John Carter with Stanton and Mark Andrews) for the past six months, but he clearly knows it’s far from certain whether their work will ever make it in front of a camera. “I’ve always had multiple ideas, sort of like stirring pots on the top of the stove,” he says. “I’m always kind of ready to go in one direction or the other. So I have two or three projects that I’m keeping all at the same simmer level, and I’m waiting to see which one I wanted to jump on depending on how this movie goes.”