D23 Expo: The John Carter Presentation

“I assumed that live-action would move faster than animation,” joked director Andrew Stanton backstage to SuperHeroHype, “and was used to being on films that could last up to four years. This is just a few months shy of that by the end of my time with it. It’s actually way more familiar than I thought it would be.”

The first scene showcased had John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) waking up on Mars and wandering, bewildered, up a hill. He finds a large rock that looks like it has a symbol on it. He clears off some of the dust and finds it filled with eggs, which start to hatch. Out pop what seem like hundreds of baby Thark aliens. In the distance, Carter sees Thark riders coming out to meet him, and doesn’t notice Willem Dafoe’s character (Tars Tarkas) coming up alongside him. Not sharing a common language, Carter instinctively jumps away, not realizing that Mars’ lesser gravity gives him seemingly super-powered abilities.

The riders arrive, shooting at where Carter hid. Tars manages to talk them down, and he says he will deal with the strange being. He puts down all his weapons and puts up all four of his hands to approach Carter. Carter sees that the weapons are gone, and slowly comes out. Carter and the Tharks bumble their way through first contact, with Jeddak successfully introducing himself and Tars thinking that Carter’s name is Virginia.

Tars asks if Carter could jump for him again. Carter sees this as an opportunity and leaps over Tars to his pile of weapons. Tars is horrified as his comrades-at-arms pull out their guns and runs to try to stop the violence. Despite Carter holding his own gun at him, Tars throws himself around him. The screen cuts to black, there are gunshots, and Tars screams.

Dafoe, Kitsch and Collins were then brought out to talk about their characters. Dafoe had to wear three foot tall stilts every single day of shooting to help create the realism of the nine-foot tall Tharks.

“You just gotta deal with being nine feet tall,” Dafoe grinned, “That’s where you start and that’s an important place to start. You have to feel comfortable on stilts and basically perform a movie on stilts. I’ve also got four arms, so there are certain times when I’m doing things with my real arms and I have to be assisted with some puppetry to animate the other ones.”

The second clip had Carter held captive in a Thark nursery. Realizing he has immense strength on Mars, he tries to pull his rusty chains loose as a bizarre dog/lizard with ten legs approaches sleepily. When it seems to conk out, Carter rips his chains off the wall and leaps to another landing, only to find the creature waiting for him. He leaps again, and the creature again is waiting for him. The creature can run as fast as Carter can jump, it seems, and Carter just can’t shake him.

The third clip was between John Carter and Dejah Thoris. Dejah is betrothed to marry a man she despises for the peace of her people, but Carter appears in her bed chambers. When Carter tells her not to marry the man, she demands that he give her a reason. Carter hesitates, looking at what looks to be a wedding band on his hand. Sensing this, Dejah pulls out a pendant Carter had on him when he (presumably) first appeared on Mars. She explains she has deciphered how to send him back, if that’s what he chooses. All he needs to do is hold it and say a series of sounds. Guards start pounding at the door as Carter repeats the syllables and the pendant glows. As Dejah speaks the last sound, the door bursts open and the guards ask Dejah if she is alone. She looks for Carter, but he is nowhere to be seen.

“At first there was a whole lot of trepidation that went into [playing Deja Thoris] because she’s so iconic,” Collins told us, “Because she’s the most beautiful woman in the universe and blah blah blah. I went into it feeling really into her and left feeling like a woman who had come into her own. At the end of the day, that’s really what Deja Thoris is. We all have that masculine fight. We all have that feminine compassion. We can all work it out and make our bodies look great… Hopefully women and girls will access that say, ‘Hey, that girl could be me!’ Because they can. and boys will say, ‘Hey, that could be my partner!’ because it could.”

The final clip had Carter and Tarkas held in a gladiatorial arena of a rival Thark clan. Tars is gravely injured already and Carter is chained to a huge rock. Try as he might his strength is no match this time. The Tharks unleash a creature called a white ape into the arena. It’s absolutely massive, easily 12 feet tall, and walks on two legs and two arms in its midsection. It’s coated in a white fur, and its second set of arms seem primarily for smashing things. It sniffs out Tars, as it’s apparently blind. As it moves in to kill Tars, Carter smashes his chains against the ground, pulling the beast’s attention away. As it approaches him, the camera turns to the bored looking Thark leader.

“Release the other one,” he says, and the screen cuts to black.

After the footage was unveiled to the audience, Kitsch acknowledged the relief in finally sharing what has been years of work.

“You feel like you’re sharing in some kind of journey that we all undertook,” he smiled, “It’s an exciting time to finally share all this.”

John Carter hits theaters in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on March 9th.