If you're not familiar with the name John Carter, you'll learn soon enough. The titular hero of the classic novel series 'John Carter of Mars' by Edgar Rice Burroughs, has influenced generations of sci-fi fans, artists and filmmakers, and next year he is finally coming to the big screen in 'John Carter'. In the movie, the war-weary former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is inexplicably transported to Mars, where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions among the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating princess Dejah Thoras (Lynn Collins).

Moviefone was lucky enough to hit Barsoom studios near San Francisco to get a peek at some of the footage. While there, we got to chat with producer Jim Morris and director Andrew Stanton (the writer and director of 'WALL-E'), and learn a few things about the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster.
1. Title Change Controversy
First off, the title change was addressed. The film will be called merely 'John Carter.' Stanton told us that character was the important thing here but acknowledged that it was a controversial decision:

I know I'm going to get this question all day and probably for the rest of my frickin' life: Why 'John Carter'? This has had quite an evolution of me figuring out what was the best thing to do for this book to preserve what I thought was timeless about it, what I thought were the resonant elements about it, but not be afraid to tweak or alter things for the benefit of it, so that it would translate the best it could to screen."

"I've tried really hard to capture what I thought was universal and timeless about this book that is above and beyond the genre itself. I don't want to exclude anybody from a wrong first impression assumption about this movie or this property, so I didn't want to lie and say it isn't what it is, so I said, 'Let's sell the character that we put all our efforts towards.' Believe me, Mars is going to come into this thing, title and everything, before this whole journey's over. You've just got to be patient. There was a grand design to all this thing. That's the most I want to say, because I don't want to spoil it even for you guys."

2. An Action Epic Made by Pixar People
Though Morris and Stanton are Pixar people, this isn't a sweet little animated film for kids. Morris said, "'John Carter' is a Walt Disney picture. It's a live-action picture. It's not a Pixar film, it's not an animated film, it's not a G- or PG-rated film -- probably PG-13. There are battles and dismemberment and things such as that not suitable for small children.''

Stanton, who was introduced to the property through a short-run comic version in the '70s, gave us some more info:

Next year will be the actual 100th anniversary of the novelization of the first book, called 'The Princess of Mars.' Believe me, that fact didn't get lost on me at the time that I asked to possibly do this film. I thought, Wouldn't it be fitting to have a film that's actually 100 years in the making being made on the 100th anniversary? That was a little bit of a carrot to try to see if we could get it done for that time. A hundred years ago, it was first publicized in serial form, in February of 1912 in a magazine called the All-Star magazine. The title of it at the time was called 'Under the Moons of Mars.' It was a serial-adventure magazine. It was what you had for movies -- it was cliffhangers. You would have the next chapter that would lead you to buy the next magazine. It received its proper publication as a novel with Edgar Rice Burroughs finally owning up to being the author of it, under the title of 'Princess of Mars' in 1912. Since then, it has literally inspired tons of things: It inspired novelists and movie-makers and astrologists, some directly and some indirectly."

In case you're wondering, the film was not shot in 3D, though the decision for post-production conversion hasn't been made yet. Stanton told us that, if that happens, it won't be that difficult as most of the CGI elements will lend themselves nicely to it.

3. Will There Be Sequels?
If this film is well received by moviegoers, there are likely to be more. Stanton explained, ''Most people know me at Pixar as the guy that doesn't like to do sequels or is very reluctant to do sequels. The irony wasn't lost on me when I asked them to do this first book to option the first three. I said, 'I really want to try to attack the first three like a trilogy and give us a fighting chance to introduce it to the world the way it was introduced to me,' which was as an ongoing series with a promise of something going on -- not as a cold crafts franchise, but again, to try to capture what I felt as a young kid when I got introduced to them.''

Stanton told us that everyone who worked on this film was a lifelong fan. He even showed us some of his Thark drawings from when he was in school!

4. Taylor Kitsch & Lynn Collins Bring the Heroes to Life
Stanton also spoke about casting:

How do I deal with these archetypal characters. These main characters in particular, John Carter and Dejah Thoris. Character was probably my biggest focus on the project: I needed to dimensionalize these heroes. Carter's pretty much a do-gooder for most of these books -- he can be very vanilla, very two-dimensional at times. Dejah was too much of a damsel in distress. You've got to remember, they were the fresh adventure ideas at the time that became tropes."

"Could I make both characters and maybe a little bit more of them, but still retain what I felt was an innate sense of justice in Carter and the strength of Mars at the core of Dejah? After many casting calls and an elaborate week of film tests, I found my two heroes. I really struck gold: Taylor Kitsch as Carter and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris. Taylor plays damaged goods really well, and the thing I lucked out on was he's such a pantomime with things that aren't there. I kept calling him my modern-day Bob Hoskins. He could act against nothing. That was required of him, as if it was there. That was an added bonus with what I was already getting with him. "

"Lynn wasn't really on my radar, and she came in with an inner strength and a demanding intelligence that I could not ignore until it translated on-screen incredibly well. Neither are hard to look at, so that doesn't hurt. Neither of them are incredibly familiar faces yet, and that's a big thing for me too, if I can have any say, that I want to believe they are who they're playing."

5. What Will It Look Like?
We got to see some shots and some footage and how it was all put together. Stanton is creating a world here, but he really wanted it to look like it exists. He filmed many of the sequences as plates in Utah and added structures digitally. Seeing the original shot of some sort of interesting rock formation and then the buildings layered on top of it reminded me of looking at cloud formations. You see the suggestion of the shape, you know what to call it, but if you drew it, you'd add all the detail to the base that was there all along.

We got to check out a few scenes, and while we can't reveal much (and you don't really want me to spoil anything anyway), we can tell you this: In the first scene Carter discovers that, since gravity is much lighter on Mars, he can leap and jump like a cartoon character. We really got a sense that the film isn't taking itself too seriously. There was some great humor and the entire audience laughed as we watched Carter fall down and attempt to walk. We got to see his first encounter with the indigenous people. Again, we don't want to spoil their look (which you'll see in the trailer very soon), but it erased any lingering doubts about the visuals of the film. We also got to check out a few scenes between John and Dejah, who is no traditional damsel in distress. The costuming and set design is gorgeous. Finally, we got to see the trailer. Let's put it this way: You'll be just as convinced as we were after checking that out, which, incidentally, you'll be able to do very soon. The trailer for 'John Carter' will debut on Apple this Thursday, July 14.

'John Carter' hits theaters on March 9.
John Carter
PG-13 2012
Based on 42 critics

A human military commander (Taylor Kitsch) becomes embroiled in an epic conflict on Mars. Read More