John Carter director and Pixar stalwart was on hand today to introduce some new sneak peek footage from his upcoming adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom books about a broken Civil War veteran who becomes Mars's greatest warrior. Spoilers ahead!
Stanton was joined by stars Taylor Kitsch (John Carter), Lynn Collins (the humanoid Martian princess Dejah Thoris), and Willem Dafoe (the nine-foot, four-armed alien warrior Tars Tarkas). As Stanton and Kitsch explained, the movie finds John Carter as a former Confederate captain whose life was totally shattered by the Civil War. Having lost everything, he becomes a recluse and heads out west. It's there that he discovers a strange cave that provides a portal to Mars - or, as it is known to its inhabitants, Barsoom.
That's where the first set of footage picks up. Carter wakes up in the middle of the Martian desert. He begins to climb up a hill so that he can see the surrounding terrain. He comes across a strange rock with a bizarrely glassy texture. He looks through the glass and sees some rocks vibrating - which he realizes are not rocks at all when one of them hatches, revealing an unearthly, six-limbed lizard-like creature. This, just like the dozens more that hatch right after it, is a baby Thark, one of the two intelligent species on Mars.
He then sees a group of unfriendly-looking Thark warriors riding across the basin right towards him. There is another Thark close to Carter - this is Tarkas, who seems to immediately recognize that Carter is not a threat. He implores the other Tharks to not shoot at the stranger. Carter isn't waiting - he leaps out of the way of the oncoming warriors, and surprises everyone, himself included, by jumping at least twenty feet into the air.
Tarkas tries to send the other Tharks away and then approaches Carter, who is hiding behind a rock. Tarkas puts down his weapon and approaches slowly, trying to communicate his name and that he means the strange humanoid no harm. Eventually, the two get each others names across - although Tarkas becomes convinced that Captain John Carter of Virginia's name is actually just Virginia. But Carter remains suspicious, and he leaps towards Tarkas's discarded weapons. A nearby Thark gets ready to fire at the human, and Tarkas throws himself in the way of the blast...which is just when the screen cut to black.
Kitsch explained that Carter gains his incredible leaping ability and enhanced physical strength from the reduced Martian gravity. Dafoe explained that, despite the initial hostilities, Tarkas and Carter soon recognize the good in each other, and a friendship develops. But that's not before the Tharks capture and imprison John Carter. This leads into the next clip, as John Carter meets his other best friend on Mars: the gigantic, adorable, ten-legged beast Woola.
The footage shows Carter chained to a rock in a subterranean chamber. He sees Woola approach, and at first he assumes this beast is here to devour him. Flexing his newly enhanced muscles, Carter rips the chains out of the rocks, and leaps away from Woola. But every time Carter lands, Woola has already rushed right beside him, and he seems to have already decided Carter is his new master. Our hero isn't so sure, and keeps leaping away from him - but as Kitsch noted, Woola is just about the most faithful, loving creature on Mars or Earth, and Carter soon comes to realize that.
We didn't get to see as much from Barsoom's humanoid population, but we were treated to one rather tense conversation between Princess Dejah Thoris and John Carter. Lynn Collins explained that Carter first meets the princess as she's plummeting from an airship in the midst of a fierce battle. The airships fly on light itself, but Collins pointed out that the mere existence of flying machines is incredible enough to a 19th century man like Carter.
Much like Tarkas, Dejah Thoris recognizes Carter's potential to save her dying world, but Carter is unsure whether he should abandon Earth and embrace his new role as savior of Mars. That's where the third sneak peek picks up, as John Carter enters Dejah's room to convince her not to go through with an arranged marriage to the leader of a warring tribe. Dejah asks him what reason he has for her to not get married, and asks whether he will stay and fight for Mars with her. When he hesitates, Dejah gives up and tells him an old Barsoom proverb: "A warrior may change his metal, but not his heart." She tells Carter that he has proven that to be true by his refusal to help.
She then produces a strange artifact and tells him that this will take him back to Earth, and she knows how to operate it. All Carter has to do is speak a series of sounds and he will be transported. As she has him repeat the incantation, there's a loud banging on the door as some of Dejah's fellow humanoids demand to know who she is in there talking to. Carter seems to hesitate over saying the final words and sending himself back to Earth, but as the humanoid warriors finally burst in, Dejah turns and finds herself all alone. Carter has apparently returned to Earth - though I'm guessing that's not the end of the story.
Before Stanton and the actors left the D23 stage, they played one last bit of footage. Carter and Tarkas finds themsleves in a Thark arena about to be executed. Tarkas is badly injured and Carter's leg is chained to a rock. A colossal, six-limbed white ape is then released. It charges them, swatting them out of the way like gnats. Carter recovers and starts leaping over the white ape. He seems about ready to break the chain tying him to the rock, which is when a rather bored-sounding Thark in the stands declares, "Release the other one."
Andrew Stanton stressed that the footage we saw today isn't finished, and there's plenty of post-production work left to do between now and the movie's March 2012 release date. But everything we saw only bolstered our optimism from our recent visit to the John Carter edit bay - this has a chance to be an epic sci-fi film unlike really anything else we've seen. For a ton more on the movie, check out our earlier edit bay report.