Report: John Carter Preview Event
We caught some early clips of the film, plus a Q&A with cast and crew.
Last night saw us invited to a preview event for Disney’s upcoming sci-fi epic, John Carter. We were promised a number of clips from the film, and a Q & A session with Taylor Kitsch, who plays carter himself, Animation supervisor Eamon Butler and Visual Effects Whizz Sue Rowe. Up to this point, we’ve been unsure of what to make of the film, but having been talked through the history of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novels by producer Kevin Kurtz, we were reminded of just how much influence the tales have had on modern science fiction. This does have the effect of knocking those obvious Avatar references into context, when you consider that James Cameron’s epic was heavily influenced by the same source material, whether directly or not. Here’s the official synopsis again to provide a little background;
From Academy Award(R)-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes “John Carter”–a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). “John Carter” is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.
Having been pleasantly greeted by a video introduction from director Andrew Stanton (The man behind Wall.E and Finding Nemo, making his first live action film here), we were shown five clips from the film, notably in 2D.
The first clip showed some of the early scenes from the film, as Carter seeks to escape his Civil War past and retreat to a quieter life, only to be arrested as a deserter by the US cavalry. This was an ideal clip to showcase Carter’s character, and without giving away spoilers gave us a reassuring glimpse of the sense of humour which runs through the film, dispelling our fears that this would be a rather po-faced outing.
Another noteworthy clip introduced us to Carter’s sidekick, a dog-cum-lizard character who seems set to be a young fan’s favourite, he is an endearing little character who caught our eye almost immediately.
The remaining clips showed mainly battle sequences, with one in particular really standing out as Carter faces off against a legion of alien barbarians. It was a frenetic, violent sequence, poignantly intercut with tragic scenes from Carter’s earlier life on Earth. Whilst reading this back may sound like a slightly ham-fisted way to establish a character’s motivation, we are happy to report that we got a little tingle up the spine during this section of the presentation.
We were then shown the trailer for the film in it’s post-converted 3D state. This was the one disappointment for us – according to the team surign the Q & A afterwards, Stanton did not want to shoot in 3D due to the already huge scale of the project, in addition to the huge cinemascope lenses which had to be implemented. Whilst the post-conversion looks to be a better job than most, we have to say that we would rather just see the finished film in two dimensions, as tacked-on 3D never feels quite right. Perhaps it would have been better creatively to have left the film alone, but we imagine the pressure from the Disney execs would have been to cram that extra dimension in and charge a few extra dollars on the door.
The Q and A was a pretty subdued affair, with mainly technical questions being directed at the two effects whizzes on the panel. The two provided some interesting insight into the sheer amount of work that goes into creating a film this huge, with the motion capture work from Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton proving a particularly meaty subject; which Butler was able to describe working with; ‘It was pretty difficult; we knew, going into this movie that we were going to use motion capture, and facial capture. You really want to have all that data when you’ve got Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton, great performances. ... this is really a film where we needed really strong artists as well, and it took a while to create a bridge that the artists would willingly come over.” The two actors played their characters on stilts, and with facial cameras which resembled the characters’ tusks – this seems to have turned up a good result, with Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) seeming to have a real presence on screen, no doubt helped by having the actor present on set for Kitsch and the others to react to. We didn’t see any of Morton’s character, but judging from Dafoe’s scenes, this is very accomplished mo-cap indeed.
Kitsch shows great promise in the lead, and spoke of the depth of the character as what really enticed him about the part. He spoke about how important it was to ground Carter in reality, as a civil war veteran first rather than a traditional sci-fi hero. He seemed to revel in the edge the character is given, and promises to deliver what Kurtz referred to as a real “Indiana Jones” type persona. Interestingly, when asked about the well-publicised name change from the more interesting “John Carter of Mars”, Kitsch gave this decision a real artistic credibility. This is an origin story, first and foremost, argued the actor, and how the character came to earn the title John Carter of Mars. When you look at it this way, the decision does make sense.
Perhaps the most striking thing for us was the art design of the film. Looking far dustier and gritty in tone than the early promotional material suggests, Stanton has said that this is a “period science fiction film”, and Sue Rowe provided a little more background on this side of things. “what does Mars look like? Some of the sequences were very strange. We shot in Utah, which was an amazing place to go; I’d never been there before. The light there, the environment, the rocks, the sand, the dust; it was great being there because we noticed so much, how light travelled, how dust was kicked up. We took all those things back and made sure that when we had to apply it to our digital environments, it was replicated.”
We liked what we saw of John Carter very much, it really did seem like a good old fashioned event movie, and are anxiously looking forward to the March 9th release date. Here’s the trailer again;