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Kerry Conran’s John Carter

Dejah Thoris and Banth

Whenever I am asked about the forthcoming John Carter movie from Disney, I tell people I am cautiously optimistic.

So far, the trailers for the film have not given me a sense of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books, nor do they invoke in me the “I gotta see this NOW!” feeling I got when Iain McCaig showed me the demo reel/pre-pre-production trailer that was directed by Kerry (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) Conran to convince Paramount we had an incredible film and that we knew how to pull it off (I say “we” because I worked very briefly on this version, among others).

Kerry’s inspirational bit of footage (clocking in at nearly seven minutes) is finally available for everyone to view on YouTube:

Remember, you’re not watching a finished trailer here. It’s conceptual paintings (none by me but many fine pieces by Iain McCaig) tied with experimental CG animation footage. Nevertheless, I find it breathtaking.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

17 thoughts on “Kerry Conran’s John Carter

  1. The pre-pro trailer is cool with a lot of nice art. Even the short cg test fight has some interest.

    As for the actual film, I can only hope the story will be good, because visually, I have a hard time getting past the physically weak looking martians, despite their 4 arms. Now, the big white yeti sort of creature looks more powerful, but I am just not relating to the martians as depicted.

    Perhaps too many years of Reed Crandall, Frazetta, Krenkel, and of course…Stout! and having seen in person Lyle Conway’s wonderful sculpt of Tars Tarkas..which you can see 2/3 down the page here:

    So, I am reserving judgement until I see it. I hope for the best.

    All the Best,

  2. I checked for the you tube video but it says “no longer available.” 🙁

  3. By the way, the trailers I’ve seen from the forth coming film look pretty amazing to me. I have to say that I don’t have a strong investment in this because I wasn’t a huge fan of the books.
    I do agree, Rick, that some of the Matians look rather weak. I wish they all looked like the really vicious one that appears near the end of the trailer.
    But I’m hoping for the best,

  4. Hi Aaron,
    If this link doesn’t work (, then go to and search for “John Carter Conran”. I just did that and it came up just fine.

    I was happy that the first trailer for the new film established a strong mood and tone rather than going for the typical sci-fi/fantasy action piece. And thank you for not using that hoary, demeaning and never-true phrase “beyond your imagination”. But in the new trailer….those skyscraper-sized great white apes (that I hear are…blind??!? What th—?! Can that be true? They don’t seem blind in the trailer)…I see no need to super-size something that was already pretty damn scary.

    The fliers look terrific and Dejah Thoris has an appropriately exotic look (although she looks like Dejah’s much older sister in her first trailer shot, she looks younger in the rest of the footage).

    I am really, really hoping it’s great and gets a whole new generation to start reading Burroughs’ books. I wish Disney (and Pixar) the best of luck on this film, a vision that has attempted to be filmed off and on since 1931 (long considered a cursed, un-filmable project). I know; I worked on three of ’em.

    BTW, I just watched Sky Captain again — what a fun, brilliant film. It was even better than I remembered — and I was crazy about it the first time I saw it. I love every single lovingly handmade frame of that baby. Call me, Kerry! Please stay in touch!

  5. Thanks for the link, Bill. Got it that time. Some wonderful art work there, and I love the dueling sequence. Also I like their take on the thoats better than the film version, I believe. I was a big fan of Frazetta, and Crandall’s illustrations for this.

    It hadn’t occurred to me that the Mars apes in the new trailer were outsized. I believe Frazetta and current Mars artist Frank Cho draw them to that scale. I know Reed Crandall drew them smaller.

    My main problem with Sky Captain was it didn’t have an intriguing villain. Other than that there were a lot of good things in it.

  6. Oh, I was watching HOUSE the other night and decided that Olivia Wilde has the exotic beauty and acting chops to be a fine Deja Thoris. Maybe you saw her in Cowboys vs. Aliens. She deserves better than that film.

  7. Thanks for the link to that pre-pro trailer! Very cool vision for the film.

    I’m also hoping that the Disney film is a good one.

    For yet another take on John Carter, visit artist Frank Espinosa’s blog. I’m a huge fan of his Rocketo comics. And when he heard that Conran was pursuing a John Carter film, Espinosa cranked out a ton of concept and character sketches out of sheer enthusiasm. You can see some of them on his blog:

  8. Dear Mr. Stout,

    If you scroll down on this link you’ll see that Frazetta drew the Mars apes quite large. Although in the cover painting they are more man-sized. A friend who is a big Burroughs’ fan says his recollection is that they are described as about 12 feet tall in the books. So maybe the film version isn’t quite so far off in its depiction of them.

  9. Here is the link to Kerry Conran’s profile page at the Looking Glass Films website.
    It features Mr. Conran’s Coca-Cola commercial, the Sky Captain trailer and his John Carter of Mars demo real. Enjoy!

  10. Dear Bill,

    If only there was one image that matched the exotic elegance and sensuality of your Dejah and Banth in Disney’s empty, paint-by-numbers, heartless and visually leaden film (actually the camera moves weren’t leaden – the director just doesn’t know how to set up a compelling composition).

    I have read PRINCESS many times over and always adored Frazetta’s, Crandall’s and Krenkel’s visualization (as well as yours!), and I report that there is nothing even close to that primal and color saturated feel in the film. Beyond that, how Disney and Co. could be so far off in there interpretation, especially by supposed fans at the helm, is just mindboogling. Sadly, if one has the ability to recognize this, the two leads have zero charisma and chemistry. On top of that, the film lacks any “sense of wonder.” There is no star turn entrance for Carter or Dejah, no suspense, no bewilderment by Carter as he arrives on this alien planet, discovers his non-gravity abilities or comes upon the alien Tharks. The worst travesty committed by the screenwriters (it took three amigos to create this convoluted mess) is there implementing a plot device that makes Carter get to Mars by means of some amulet, teleportation device. This goes against the metaphysical conceit of the story that indicates Carter being transported to Barsoom by his enchantment with the planet, while in a semi-conscious stupor. Of course, you know the plot of the book inside and out, so I don’t have to explain that difference. No inference of him being a warrior throughout the eons (reincarnation) or that it only makes sense that a great warrior would go to God of War planet: Mars.

    Personally, beyond the lousy production design (the costumes and warships are overly designed with too much fanciful filigree), the continuity of action is awful (sometimes indecipherable) AND (this is the real tragedy) NOT ONE MANO ET THARK DUEL IN THE ENTIRE TWO HOURS AND TWENTY MINUTES! How can anyone claim to love the ERB series and not include one great swashbuckling scene between Carter and a Thark.

    As for the tone of the piece, this film needed a Man’s Man director (have we got any of those left) to bring out the jingoistic core of ERB’s romantic adventure. Whether of not McTiernan would have done this justice with Tom Cruise as the lead (a 90’s production attempt), I don’t think we would have had a 21st century-one-of-the-guys interpretation Dejah Thoris. The woman in this flick brandishes a sword and looks as if she wouldn’t really need any knight to rescue her. To me, this is the crux of all pre-1950’s period pieces put out by Hollywood these days: the men aren’t men and the women aren’t women. I won’t even address the lack of deportment, as most actors walk around as if they were in a t-shirt and jeans.

    You’ll have to excuse me, but I think I am going get drunk. Don’t worry, I don’t have a car or some silly space motorcycle (STAR WARS Leftovers) to hurt myself or anyone else.

    Look forward to seeing you at Monsterpalooza Bill. It has been a long time. Congrats on the San Diego Mural commission. And if you decide to go to Mexico (maybe not a good idea), I can always give you cover with my BB gun.

    Brant Elliott

  11. Hi Brant,
    I am working for Disney/Pixar right now so my John Carter commentary and criticism (at least for now) needs to be kept to myself. One shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds him.

    Having said that, despite enjoying the film, I must confess I agree or at least concur with you on nearly every point you brought up. And, like I just said, I did enjoy the film. The reviews I have read make it sound as though Andrew Stanton has committed an atrocity second only to the Holocaust. Please; it’s just a movie.

    Another big problem is that George Lucas so heavily plundered the Mars books for his Star Wars films (especially Return of the Jedi) that today’s younger audiences (with no sense of history) mistakenly think that John Carter is ripping off Star Wars.

    My biggest disappointment is that it looks like my hopes are dashed of the film turning on a new generation of kids to ERB’s fine books. When, at 62, I’m considered “The Kid” at Burroughs fan gatherings, I fear for ERB’s literary legacy.

    A side note: McTiernan, while an excellent film maker, to me didn’t seem to really “get” John Carter. I had a lot of explaining to do, fighting on a daily basis to keep what I thought were Burroughs’ strengths in the movie. It was also the right project at the wrong time. The film technology just wasn’t there yet to properly pull something like A Princess of Mars off. CG was in its infancy at the time.

  12. Dear Mr. Elliot,

    While I enjoyed the film more than you did, I agree with many of your comments. I had only read one of the books before seeing in the film, so I wasn’t so heavily invested in it for its literary background.

    However, I had many questions as to the choices made when producing this movie. Why have one of the chief villains and the main general of the “good guys” be virtually identical? Even in modern warfare combatants are distinguishable by their uniforms. In the movie all that separates them are red and blue capes. That works until you have a night scene (which is also the big climax of the film).

    The three episodes that start the film (background on what’s happening on Mars; John Carter and E. R. Burroughs in the present day; flashback to Carter’s getting to Mars) made for a very clunky beginning.

    I personally felt that Kitsch did well with the role of John Carter and Lynn Collins wasn’t bad as Dejah Thoris. She grew on me as the film went along.

    I guess my main complaint is that there aren’t enough stand out set pieces in the film that really just take your breath away. All three of the original Star Wars films had these, and so did the first prequel. The only one in John Carter is the arena battle with the white apes. Say what you will about the improvement in special effects from the old days at least we know what a taun taun looks like in Lucas’s film. I don’t think we got one clear image of the head of a thoat in this. And why keep referring to banths and then not show us one? For all the film’s special effects (and it is chock full of them) the over all feeling just isn’t that special.

    Well, after all that criticism you probably doubt that I actually enjoyed the film. I did. Just not as much as I wanted to.

    Mr. Stout, I look forward to talking with you a bit about this at SPECTRUM Live!


  13. Oh, one final point, Mr. Elliot:

    the man vs. thark duel you wanted to see would have made a spectacular set piece for the movie. I would have loved to have seen that one. But Disney it seems was mainly interested in keeping a PG rating, so instead we get Carter jumping off-screen then the head and body of the dead thark landing in the arena. Talk about anti-climactic!

    Again I am shaking my head about some of those decisions.


  14. While I enjoyed Stanton’s vision, it was flawed in ways that are detrimental to the film, and to any possible sequel. This is unfortunant.

    I do like the way Stanton incorporated the Therns into the film (they were not in the first book, but appeared in later books). These Therns were good to show how manipulation has been going on behind the scenes in both city-states. However, they should have been darker, more sinister characters.

    Having seen Kerry Conran’s presentation, I am now more than convinced that he would have had a much, much better film. It seemed darker, moodier, bloodier and more adventerous than what we got from Disney.

    But then I blame Disney for all that, including the lack-luster promotion.
    Disney could never do ERB stories any real justice.

  15. In regard to your last sentence: Some day I’ll tell you my sad, funny, outrageous (but true) tale about the first time I was approached by Disney to work on John Carter.

    Worst. Job. Interview. Ever.

  16. Oh, do tell, Bill. Do tell.

  17. Loved it. Disney finally started marketing it better in foreign markets (better posters and trailers). They also moved the bar when the total gross exceeded the 250 million mark (to 300 million). Now that’s creative accounting.

    Too bad more of the really great scenes weren’t ready sooner. So much of this came together in just the last couple of months before the opening.

    Biggest mistake, taking MARS from the title. I lost count of how many people didn’t know who John Carter was but if I said John Carter of Mars there was an instant postive reaction.

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