"Reshoots should be mandatory," director Andrew Stanton recently told the New Yorker in an extensive profile. He said this while on the set of his first live action movie "John Carter" during an extensive 18 day reshoot this past April. While the term "reshoot" is generally shorthand used to denote a troubled production, for Stanton, who comes from the world of Pixar where films are storyboarded in full, critiqued, broken down and retooled numerous times before animation even begins, it's a luxury that he feels every production should take advantage of. In the case of Pixar, it may mean a movie takes three or four years to develop, but it also ensures the high quality standard of the studio is maintained. As the profile's writer Tad Friend notes, it's a bit like the old Hollywood studio system where many hands were involved in putting a movie together, and Stanton agrees.
"That's exactly what Pixar is! And some of the Pixarness we're trying to spread at Disney is, 'It's O.K. to not know, to be wrong, to screw up and rely on each other.' Art is messy, art is chaos -- so you need a system," Stanton explains.
It's this passion to get things right that perhaps persuaded Disney to give the thumbs up to the reshoots this spring after Stanton's first, nearly three hour rough cut of the movie, shown to the Pixar Braintrust (made up of story gurus and studio execs) in December, left them lodging some serious critiques. Among the issues at the time was a rather drab opening sequence in which the details of the Barsoomian wars on Mars are explained, but perhaps worst of all, especially from the director of "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E," the movie didn't have his usual, deeply personal touch. However, unlike Pixar projects where nothing is committed to film until it's absolutely ready and has been through the process of working out the kinks multiple times, a feature film is a different animal, with fewer chances to get everything right -- acting, special effects, music, action sequences -- live action filmmaking is a process Stanton describes as, "synchronized swimming with aircraft carriers."
However, Stanton toiled away and a new opening was created, one that will launch viewers immediately into a battle between Zodangans and Therns, before cutting to earth where we first meet John Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch. If it sounds like a totally out there concept for a major movie, it kind of is. An adaptation of Edgar Rich Burroughs' seminal serial sci-fi stories, the story concerns a Civil War soldier who is transported to Mars and embarks on alien adventures. Or rather, that's the simple way to put it. But it's a sci-fi saga of sorts, always a risk with mainstream audiences (see "Cowboys & Aliens") and Disney dropped the latter part of the original title "John Carter Of Mars" in order not to scare away women or people not predisposed to movies set in outer space. And they'll need to pack multiplexes for this one as the movie needs to take at least $700 million (or roughly more than double of its nearly $300 million budget) to get a sequel greenlit. However, whatever apprehension the studio might be feeling, an early test viewing has been very positive.
Screening this past July in Portland, the film was obviously nowhere near finished, but it was a test for Stanton to view the movie alongside four hundred people (and of course some Disney executives) to see if what he was pulling together was going to work. And it did. "I realized, O.K. they're with me," Stanton explained, pleased that the first joke in the movie landed in a big way. "Then they laughed at anything that was meant to be a smile. There was no fidgeting in the air battle with Dejah, the least finished part of the film, and I was thinking, O.K. just get them to the kiss, because I've always been very confident about the last third. And there was applause at the end!"
With the move scoring as "excellent" or "very good" with 75% of attendees, Stanton and Disney are likely feeling heartened that they have a winner on their hands. John Carter himself was named as the favorite character by the test crowd, and the "Warshoon attack," in which our hero protects Dejah from a savage tribe, was named the favored scene. All of that said, the studio is not waiting to see what that first weekend looks like before flipping the switch on any followups, but the movie seems to be headed in the right direction. Currently running just over two hours, "John Carter" co-stars Samantha Morton, Dominic West, Polly Walker, Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Bryan Cranston, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong and Daryl Sabara and will hit theaters on March 9, 2012.