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Taylor Kitsch, Andrew Stanton take ‘John Carter’ from book to big screen

Courtesy of Disney

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It’s been cited as an influence on many of pop culture’s most visible science-fiction staples, such as “Star Wars” and “Avatar.” After a century almost exclusively on the page, it’s now set for its own big screen debut.

“John Carter,” which is based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s character who first appeared 100 years ago and eventually spawned an 11-book series, is set to hit theaters Friday.

The Lantern spoke with director Andrew Stanton and star Taylor Kitsch.

Bringing a century-old franchise to life was no biggie for Kitsch, who plays the titular character who ends up whisked away to Barsoom, the natives’ name for Mars.

“I don’t think you’re going to put more pressure on it because it’s existed this or that,” Kitsch said. “I think that’s a lot of the outside pressure trying to come in. But no one is going to put more pressure on it more than I will.”

Stanton said he felt the same way, even though he admitted to being a huge fan of the franchise, going so far as to asking Disney, the studio that produced the film, to approach the Burroughs estate in 2006 for their graces in getting a film adaptation in the works.

“I didn’t (feel a lot of pressure) because the harsh truth of it is, is that not that many people know about (John Carter),” Stanton said. “It’s not like Harry Potter or (J.R.R.) Tolkien. It’s slowly been a dwindling base and so I knew there wasn’t this massive social pressure about how it was executed.”

“John Carter” is Stanton’s live-action directorial debut, after helming Academy Award-winning animated films “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E” at Pixar.

Directing a live-action film wasn’t all that different from directing an animated film, Stanton said, though the shooting schedules for “John Carter” were much stricter than those of animated films.

Being on your feet shooting for about 15 hours a day in varying weather, however, was new for Stanton.

“The big difference is just physical stamina,” Stanton said. “I know that’s not sexy, but that’s the truth of it.”

The physicality was an issue for Kitsch as well.

Kitsch said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day to train to achieve Carter’s chiseled look. He said it involved a “boring” diet of lots of protein, as well as boxing, core work and sword training.

Kitsch’s role as Tim Riggins on NBC’s hit drama, “Friday Night Lights” likely aided his rise to fame.

Kitsch said shooting a feature-length film was a lot different than shooting “Friday Night Lights.”

“A big difference (on a film) is, we can do a whole day, 12-hour day, and do one scene,” Kitsch said. “If I’m playing Riggins, I’ve done 17 pages in one day. So I think that you can really take your time and break it down a lot more (on a film), maybe.”

Much of the world around Kitsch on Barsoom was created from scratch. Location shooting in Utah doubled as Mars, while Barsoom’s aircrafts, architecture and non-human life, including the tall, lanky Tharks, were crafted with computer-generated imagery, or CGI.

“I mean, making ‘John Carter’ was basically making two movies — almost literally two different film productions,” Stanton said. “One was the live action side that took almost a year to do, and then the computer, graphic side.”

With the film set to open in 3-D, IMAX 3-D and on conventional screens Friday, Stanton is already looking ahead.

He said Disney has obtained rights to the first three “John Carter” novels and is hoping to return to the franchise with Kitsch, should the studio greenlight a sequel.

“That’s me knocking on wood,” Stanton said.

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