Today is not only the 10th anniversary of the release of Disney’s John Carter, it’s probably the 10th anniversary of the death of its sequel. Everyone involved with John Carter, which was based on a legendary series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, saw it as the start of a franchise. Even the film itself, which starts as “John Carter” and ends as “John Carter of Mars” aims at that. But on a film’s first day of release, most studios know if it’s going to be hit or not, and everyone involved with John Carter knew it wasn’t going to be.
But up until that point, plans were being made for a sequel — and in a new interview, co-writer and director of John Carter Andrew Stanton revealed to the Wrap exactly what the movie, titled Gods of Mars, was going to be.
To understand what Stanton’s talking about though, you have to remember where the first movie ends. Right after their wedding night, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is tricked into being sent back to Earth by the immortal Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Carter then spends over a decade figuring out how to get back to Mars and the film ends with him succeeding, though we don’t see what happens next. The sequel started there and had fun with the passage of time.
Here’s Stanton, as told to the Wrap:
I love the idea of you were going to open with the prologue. It was going to be that every movie had a different character saying the prologue. The first one is Willem [Dafoe], as Tars. The second one’s prologue narration was going to be Dejah [Lynn Collins]. And it was going to give anybody that hadn’t seen the first movie a little precursor of the history that got you to this movie. Shorthand, interesting imagery, whether it was artwork or whatever. And then you were going to reveal she was telling it to her baby. And you were going to realise, Oh my God, it’s the child. It’s Carthoris, this child of Dejah Thoris and Carter. And that story she’s telling, she’s telling the story of the father that this child will never know.
“Never know” because daddy disappeared on his wedding night and has been gone for we don’t know how many years. Stanton continues:
And then her dad, Ciarán Hinds’ character, Tardos Mors, said she’s been up too long, she’s tired, let her grandfather have a moment with the child and I’ll put her to bed. Then it was going to be revealed to be Matai Shang in shapeshifting mode. And he was going to steal the baby. And then it was going to go onto the opening credits. The next image after the opening credits was going to be Carter lying in his funeral suit in the middle of the desert, just looking like a dead body in a wake and just waking up.
So he’d return after the opening credits and things picked up from there:
Then he’s just going to take off his jacket like it was nothing and just start walking. And then eventually, just like out of Lawrence of Arabia, way out in the horizon, is going to come a Thark on a thoat. And he’s going to surprise Carter by saying he knows exactly who he is and there’s been somebody looking for you. He brings him to a camp and it’s Kantos Kan which is James Purefoy, who’d been searching forever off of any river where this guy went. And so shocked that he’s found him. And then he says, ‘You have to get back now to heal him.’ And he gets back and you think it’s going to be a reunion, only to find out that there’s been some time between the prologue and the main credits.
So how old is the child at this point? How has Barsoom dealt with the kidnapping? And how will they react to John Carter’s return? That’s only part of what the movie is about.
Now Dejah’s gone missing. She’s convinced that the Therns took their child and if Carter ever comes back, she went down the River Iss to try and find him. And then, like Beneath the Planet of the Apes, it all takes place, everybody going into the earth to find out who’s really been controlling the whole planet. There’s a whole race down there that has been with high tech. Basically, it’s been a third world without anybody knowing it on the top of the surface and the first world’s been inside the whole time operating the air, the water, the everything to keep the world functioning.
So the film would have had Carter’s return to Barsoom only to find his princess missing, child kidnapped, and a whole new world below the surface of the planet. Pretty epic. “And yeah, I can keep going,” Stanton concluded. “But I’ve never told anybody the beginning of that. You can hold that dear.”
Fans of John Carter need to head over to the Wrap to read the rest of the piece. There are stories of Disney taming down Dejah’s character, the moments when the cast and crew realised it wasn’t going to be a hit, as well as the full history of the production, and more. Definitely check it out.