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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Nineteen

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

This was not a part of The Comics Journal interview. It’s a completely new addition that adds to Stout’s experiences in trying to make a John Carter movie.

STOUT: I got called again to A Princess of Mars years later via Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles. This time it was a Paramount movie in the hands of Kerry Conran and his brother Kevin, who had just made the magnificent Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. They assembled an incredible art department that included Iain McCaig, Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, myself and about four or five others. I immediately hit it off with Iain. It was like meeting my brother-from-another-mother.

At an early point in our first round table meeting, Iain asked all of us, “What is this movie?”

We each answered. Iain and I were totally in-sync. “It’s the greatest love story ever told, a love that transcends two planets.”

Then, original art and other rights issues reared their head once again. I bailed after about two days. Kerry really wanted me on the film and was willing to fight the studios on my behalf.

I ran into Kerry and producer Sean Cunningham at a Cal Arts event.

“Kerry, I can fight my own battles. I don’t want you to make any concessions or compromises to the studio on my behalf this early in the game. The picture will suffer.”

“Bill just gave you some great advice, Kerry,” said Sean.

As it turned out, Sky Captain bombed and the John Carter movie was promptly ripped out of Kerry’s hands. Before that happened, Kerry directed a John Carter promo/work-in-progress demo reel that I think really captures the spirit of the John Carter of Mars books and the film we all wanted to make. Watch it at:

Next, A Princess of Mars was given to Jon Favreau, who had just made the sci-fi feature Zathura. Jon and I met and had lunch together to discuss the project. Jon is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met in The Biz and we hit it off. Then, Zathura tanked and the John Carter film was snatched away from Jon (if only they had known he had the potential to direct something like Ironman).

I wasn’t involved in the Disney John Carter movie that finally made it to the screen. I have issues with it. There is no chemistry between John Carter and Dejah Thoris. If this is supposed to be the greatest love story ever told, then the two leads have to be believable as lovers. They’re not. Also, she looks too old for him; he looks too young for her. It ain’t happening. I did like the Warhoon battle sequence, though. Pure Frazetta!

One major problem of any attempt to film A Princess of Mars is the fact that the first book ends with a cliffhanger. I think that ERB’s Martian trilogy would best be served by a Game of Thrones-style mini-series. Wouldn’t that be incredible!

Disney’s John Carter is not a bad film; it just doesn’t come up to what it could have been. It wasn’t helped when Disney smothered their own baby in the cradle. Two weeks before the release of the film, Disney was labeling it a failure, a huge bomb. How in the hell could they know that prior to the film’s release? It’s the public who determines what is a hit or a miss. Then it came to me: regime change. The Disney mucky-mucks who okayed John Carter were no longer in power. The new regime had to make sure John Carter flopped to justify their own new jobs. That’s how I read it, anyway.

Plus, Disney bungled the promotion. One problematic issue was that the John Carter books had been visually looted by Hollywood for years., especially by Return of the Jedi. The public, upon seeing trailers for the film, assumed John Carter was just a Star Wars rip-off. I would have simultaneously educated the public and sold the movie with this sort of ad line:

“Before there was Star Wars, before there was Avatar, before there was Superman and before there was Lord of the Rings…there was John Carter of Mars.”

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