Probably holds the record for having the longest period of "development hell" for any movie, at 79 years. Preproduction for a film version first started in 1931, when Robert Clampett (director of 'Looney Tunes') approached author Edgar Rice Burroughs to make an animated feature out of the first book in the series, "A Princess of Mars" (the same story that this film is an adaptation of). Had plans gone through, 'John Carter' could have become America's first animated feature, beating Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) (1937). The film finally left development hell in January 2010 when filming officially started in London.
Robert Zemeckis turned down the chance to direct, quipping "George already pillaged all of that" with the "Star Wars" films. In other words, most of the best elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars fantasies had already been "borrowed" for George Lucas' space operas.
"A Princess of Mars" was originally published as "Under the Moons of Mars" by Norman Bean (Edgar Rice Burroughs' pseudonym) in The All-Story (six pulp magazine issues February - July, 1912). Burroughs was originally afraid that he might be ridiculed for writing such a tale, so he decided to use a pen name. The pseudonym was supposed to be a pun "Normal Bean" (as in "I'm a normal being") to reassure people, but the man who typeset the text thought it was a mistake, so he changed it to "Norman". However, Burroughs' fears turned out to be unfounded: the story and its sequels, collectively known as the "Barsoom series", were almost as popular (and arguably more influential) as those of his most famous creation, Tarzan.
The first "John Carter" story by Edgar Rice Burroughs made its debut in 1912 in a magazine serial. Thus, the 2012 feature film marks the centenary (100th anniversary) of the character's first appearance.
The film was originally titled and marketed as "John Carter of Mars", but director Andrew Stanton removed "of Mars" from the opening credits and promotional material to make it more appealing to a broader audience, stating that the film is an "origin story... It's about a guy becoming John Carter of Mars." The entire title "John Carter of Mars" is displayed during the end credits.
In the arena, Carter fights a pair of white apes. Tarzan - the most famous creation of the same author Edgar Rice Burroughs - is sometimes nicknamed "white ape" in the book (although the name "Tarzan" itself means "white-skin", not "white ape," in a fictitious language).
The change in title from "A Princess of Mars" to "John Carter of Mars," and later simply to "John Carter" is the subject of some controversy. Conflicting reasons given include that the Disney marketing department or director Andrew Stanton wanted to appeal to a broader audience, or that the studio had hoped to create a film series with the "John Carter" banner title. Industry lore also suggests that films with "Mars" in the title tend to under perform financially, most notably Mars Needs Moms (2011) which was also distributed by Disney and proved a colossal flop for the studio. Ironically, "John Carter" would prove to be the biggest financial disappointment for Disney since "Mars Needs Moms."
Financially, the film was considered one of the largest box office losses in Disney history. Even though the film performed stronger than expected outside the US, it contributed to Disney's Studio Entertainment division reporting an $84 million dollar loss in the first quarter of 2012. Such a large loss was attributed to issues with the uneven marketing, management changes at the studio, and a lack of merchandising and film tie-in's normally associated with such a large budget film. As a result, any plans for the two sequels that were already in the first of development prior to the film's release were scrapped.
The music in the first theatrical trailer uses two instrumental arrangements of "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. The first (starting at 0:53) was performed by Australian/British string quartet Bond, the second (starting at 1:25) was performed by Corner Stone Cues (this arrangement is called "Ten Years Kashmir Mvt II (Orch, Choir & Perc Mix))".
Mario Kassar had the project at Disney in the 1980s, but it was also listed under his development projects during his deal at Paramount in the mid-'90s. In 2004--when the project was still known as "A Princess of Mars" after the book on which it's based--Robert Rodriguez had originally been signed and announced as director and had begun pre-production early that year (it would have been his largest project to date, with starting budget reported at $100 million). Rodriguez' most notable contribution was to hire fantasy painter Frank Frazetta (whose most acclaimed works have included striking illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, most notably the "John Carter on Mars" books) as production designer. However, when Rodriguez resigned from the Directors' Guild of America (DGA) the same year (due to a dispute over his film Sin City (2005)), Paramount was forced to replace him. The studio has a long-standing arrangement with the DGA in which only the organization's members may direct Paramount films. He was replaced with Kerry Conran, who had just finished Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004). In 2005 Conran left the project and was replaced by Jon Favreau just before the release of Favreau's movie Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005); Favreau was on-board to direct until around August 2006. At that time Paramount chose not to renew the film rights, preferring to focus on Star Trek (2009), and Favreau left to work on Iron Man (2008). In January 2007 Disney regained the rights (it had rights to film the story previously: in the 1980s with director John McTiernan), and enlisted Andrew Stanton from Pixar to direct.
Andrew Stanton has already confessed that he isn't too satisfied with how the movie turned out. He confessed that part of the problems came from a first-time live action director being "drunk with power" after receiving too much money and creative control.
Andrew Stanton denied assertions that he had gone over budget and stated that he had been allowed a longer reshoot because he had stayed on budget and on time. However, he did admit to reshooting much of the movie twice, far more than is usually common in live action filmmaking. He attributed that to his animation background.
Andrew Stanton often sought advice from people he had worked with at Pixar on animated films (known as the Braintrust) instead of those with live-action experience working with him. also was quoted as saying, "I said to my producers, 'Is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?'"
Andrew Stanton often rejected marketing ideas from the studio, according to those who worked on the film. His ideas were used instead, and he ignored criticism that using Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", a song recorded in 1974, in the trailer would make it seem less current to the contemporary younger audiences the film sought. He also chose billboard imagery that failed to resonate with prospective audiences, and put together a preview reel that did not get a strong reception from a convention audience.
Disney was sceptical about Andrew Stanton directing. He had never directed a live-action film before, and wanted to make the film without any major stars whose names could guarantee an audience, at least on opening weekend. The screenplay was seen as confusing and difficult to follow. But since Stanton had overcome similar preproduction doubts to make Finding Nemo (2003) and WALL·E (2008) into hits, the studio approved him as director.
The Teaser features the song "My Body is a Cage", originally written by Arcade Fire. The version used in the teaser is by Peter Gabriel, released on his 2011 album of cover versions, "Scratch My Back".
Although being based on the first book of the series, A Princess of Mars, the film was originally titled John Carter of Mars, but Andrew Stanton removed "of Mars" to make it more appealing to a broader audience, stating that the film is an "origin story. It's about a guy becoming John Carter of Mars." Stanton planned to keep "Mars" in the title for future films in the series.
Rich Ross, Disney's chairman, successor to Dick Cook, who had originally approved the film for production, came from a television background and had no experience with feature films. The studio's new top marketing and production executives had little more.
In September 2014, studio president Alan Bergman was asked at a conference if Disney had been able to partially recoup its losses on this and The Lone Ranger (2013) through subsequent release windows or other monetization methods, and he responded: "I'm going to answer that question honestly and tell you no, it didn't get that much better. We did lose that much money on those movies."
Jim Morris noted that although he had less time for pre-production than for any of his usual animated projects, the task was nevertheless relatively easy since he had read Burroughs' novels as a child and had already visualized many of their scenes.
Andrew Stanton lobbied the Walt Disney Studios to reacquire the rights from Burroughs' estate. "Since I'd read the books as a kid, I wanted to see somebody put it on the screen," he explained. He then lobbied Disney heavily for the chance to direct the film, pitching it as "Indiana Jones on Mars."