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Disney and Pixar release the first trailer for John Carter

For years—centuries even—dreamers have looked to the skies and gazed in fascination at our nearest celestial neighbor, Mars. From the comedic to the incredible, there have been countless stories about life on the Red Planet. Just look at the interest and scrutiny that surrounded the mere possibility of fossilized bacteria being discovered on Mars a few years back. But long before we were sending probes to the planet, and nearly a century before proposals to travel to there were dreamed up, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, wrote about a hero named John Carter, who one day woke up on Mars.

The upcoming film will be based on the first John Carter novel, Princess of Mars which was published in 1917 before even Tarzan. Carter, a Civil War veteran for the Confederacy, was prospecting in Arizona when he was attacked by rogue Native American tribes in the desert. When he regained consciousness, he discovered that he was on Mars, and that it was inhabited.

Named Barsoom by its inhabitants, Carter finds himself in the middle of a Civil War. The planet is dying, and the remaining Martians have become warlike and aggressive. Although he is first looked down upon by the Tharks, four-armed, green skinned beings, the lesser gravity of Mars gives him incredible strength and agility, which earns him the respect of the tribes. When a humanoid Princess is captured, Carter finds himself in the middle of the planet’s struggles.

John Carter marks the first live-action film from Pixar Studios. It will be directed by by Andrew Stanton, the director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo. Stanton also worked on several other Pixar films in roles varying from writer to executive producer to voice actor. If it proves to be a success, you can expect Pixar to invest more heavily in other future live action projects, including more John Carter films—Burroughs originally wrote 11 books set in Barsoom, although not all of them have Carter as the main protagonist.

Pixar seems to be taking the project seriously. Very seriously. The pre-production began in 2007, filming began in November of 2009 and principle photography concluded in July of 2010. The rest of the time has, and will continue to be spent in post-production. In fact, the history of this particular project goes back into the 80s. Disney originally wanted to make John Carter as its answer to Star Wars, and got far enough along that John McTiernan and Tom Cruise were hired to direct and star.  McTiernan eventually felt that the visual effects of the time were not up to the task, and so the film’s rights reverted to the Burroughs estate. Then in 2003, Robert Rodriguez signed on to direct with the backing of Paramount. Rodriguez planned to use the same technology he had employed for Sin City, but then Rodriguez came into conflict with the Directors Guild of America when the Guild refused to sanction Frank Miller as a co-director of Sin City. Paramount then turned to Kerry Conran to direct, but Conran was only attached briefly before Jon Favreau was hired in 2005. Once again the issue of the effects became a sticking point and Paramount eventually dropped the rights, which Disney once again purchased.

In 2007, Disney turned to Pixar to create John Carter as a proposed trilogy based on the first three Burroughs novels, depending of course on the success of the first film. This won’t be the first film adaptation of John Carter, which most recently saw life as a SyFy Channel original film, but it will easily be the biggest production.

Carter will be played by Taylor Kitsch, best known for his role in the Friday Night Lights TV series, and as Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The film also stars Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, Mark Strong and Bryan Cranston. It hits theaters on March 9, 2012.