We had a lot of important questions for Disney's John Carter. For example: Why are all the Martians British? What's with the tattoos? And why do people keep calling these tan people "Red Martians?" We asked the cast, crew and director Andrew Stanton our most pressing questions about John Carter, and here are their answers.
Can you address how you went about adapting source material that has racial undertones? It is, essentially, a book about a Confederate soldier who goes to Mars and saves a bunch of green people?
Andrew Stanton: I tried to just avoid it, because it seemed unnecessary. We're all human beings and we all have family, and we all have things we think we believe in and causes we fall for. And I think there's a shorter list of people in history who are driven to hurt others. I try to keep it nebulous because who knows who agrees with what, but I think history has shown it [the Confederate] was the wrong side to be on. I didn't feel like I needed to go there and point a spotlight on it. But in my mind, I felt that [John Carter] feels duped by the whole darn thing. And he lost his family — he even says it in the film, "War is a shameful thing." There's nothing to be proud of about it. And I felt, if I could just put a human face on loss. Then the whole subject, no matter what side you're on is a questionable thing, then we could not have to go there.
Why is everyone on Mars British? And why do they have different accents from the Tharks?
Andrew Stanton: I just wanted you to sense the different cultures. Sadly, movies have shown that when you give someone a British accent, they seem more civilized. And maybe that's the American in me? And I thought, well that will make them feel more civilized. The truth is, had I had Carter meet the "Red Men" first, they would have been speaking the same language. That Martian language, because he would have drank [the milk of Barsoom] which made the translation happen. But I would have always given the Tharks a slightly different accent (even though they all speak "English"). Just so you can tell it's a different culture. And when you visit another country you can tell when one person has a slightly different accent than somebody else, and that's all I wanted was a sense of cultural history.
Why did the movie keep the term "Red Men" from the book when the people aren't Red, they're tan?
Andrew Stanton: I did try for awhile to think "how unnaturally red can we make them" because I was intrigued by that. And they just looked sunburnt or they looked fake. And technology was not friendly to that. How to [make people red] whether it was in post or shooting, we just couldn't get our heads around it. So we said, "What I can get for free is tanning everybody" and they are called copper-colored people. So I thought screw it, I'm just going to make them really mediterranean skinned people. And then the Red Men will be more of a terminology for the fact that they're covered in red tattoos.
Dominic West (who played lead villain Sab Than) also had a few thoughts on the lovely chocolate spray he was hosed down with everyday.
Dominic West: I knew that the white ape fur meant a certain rank, and that you'd killed a white ape, but I didn't know that the tattoos meant anything. Maybe I forgot that... Well they spray a thing called "st. tropez" on you. You stand in a tent stark naked and a nice lady comes along and sprays you with a chocolate-tasting stain.
Why does everyone on Mars have Henna Tattoos?
Andrew Stanton: I thought helped give them a bit more historical gravitas, more cultural gravitas. That you knew that there must be a history as to why they're covered in them. Some of them mean rankings, some of them mean their cultural lineage. I just don't explain all of them, because I don't feel it's explained to me when I go to another country.
However Lynn Collins (Princess Dejah Thoris) had a few answers for us.
Lynn Collins: There was one tattoo that was on my wrist that was like *slap*, when you were born you get your father's symbol. And that we discovered, but the rest of them, we just didn't have time to talk about what they were. Hopefully we do another a number two, and you get to find out when they get their tattoos, you'll see that maybe?
What is this city of Zodanga? Does it move around?
Andrew Stanton: The moving city! It's very simple philosophies. You have a dying planet, and it does kind of happen in this world, there are governments or companies that decide, "screw it, we're just going to get what we can, while we can before it's all over" and others that try and make a long term investment and revive [the planet] and do a longer regrowth. So there's short term thinking, and long term thinking. And since you have to learn this world right away, what's more physically off-putting than a moving oil rig that just takes what it can and leaves the rest. And we've seen that in real life with mining. There is this sort of [sense of] "raping the planet." I needed help to make you go,"I like those guys, I hope they win" and "I don't like those guys, I hope they lose."
Here's another piece of concept art, showing the moving city of Zodanga.
Did that answer all of your John Carter questions?