The just-released trailer for $250 million sci-fi epic John Carter is a visual storm of Martians and mayhem, introducing audiences to one of sci-fi’s oldest characters: a Civil War-era soldier named John Carter who awakens on a Martian landscape replete with warring alien factions and hungry predators. But the trailer whet our film geek appetite thanks to its distinct visual style--a live-action departure from the animated sleekness we’ve come to expect from director Andrew Stanton, the multi-Oscar-winning Pixar filmmaker behind WALL-E and Finding Nemo. With the dusty Martian landscapes and gladiatorial arenas full of towering sextuple-limbed beasts, the film appears to be taking a few visual cues from the legendary stop-motion visual effects maestro Ray Harryhausen than, say, the perfect pixels of John Lasseter.

It's just a sneak peek, of course, but this slice of Stanton's trailer hints at a stylistic sweet spot--the quality of a Pixar movie with the action-adventure and analogue feel of an old Ray Harryhausen flick from sci-fi's midcentury golden age. It certainly speaks to the source material--a series of stories brought to us by Tarzan-creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

As the award-winning innovator in visual effects and production of his time, Harryhausen established stop-motion as an iconic style in post-WWII Hollywood, bringing to cinematic life a host of incredible pre-CG creatures for decades: From the hulking cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) to pretty much every slithering, multi-limbed beastie in The Clash of the Titans (1981). Just last year, the 91-year-old animator’s storied career was even chronicled in the autobiographical photobook, Ray Harryhausen--A Life in Pictures.

It's a stylistic connection that Stanton, a meticulous craftsman and film fan, is likely well-aware: There’s actually a nod to Harryhausen in the Stanton-penned dialogue of Monsters Inc. Here are some of the Harryhausen-esque creature feature stylings we spotted in the trailer--with our film geek take.

John Carter faces off against a ferocious primate-like creature in a Martian arena. Though the heyday of stop-motion creature effects is long gone, Harryhausen’s penchant for the illusion of scale (i.e., large baddies sharing full frames with tiny protagonists) lives on in John Carter’s aesthetic.
Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion cyclops squares off against Sinbad and his crew in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
Mars’ towering race of four-armed inhabitants (performed by actors in motion-capture suits on stilts) greets Carpenter on the battlefield. Getting six-limbed humanoid characters to move fluidly and expressively within a four-limbed world that moviegoers can relate to will be one of Carter’s biggest SFX challenges.
Sindbad’s crew faces off with the goddess Kali in 1973’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. As an animator Harryhausen not only sought after natural motion for multi-limbed creations like Kali, but also active uses for the additional limbs.
Woola, Carter’s Martian equivalent of a faithful hound, looks on at his master. The 10-legged awkwardness of the creature is paired with the four-legged friendliness and expressive facial features of a common dog.
For Clash of the Titans (1981), Harryhausen created Bubo--a mechanical owl sent to aid the character Perseus during his journey. Like Woola, Bubo’s performance relied on small-scale expressions to create an air of charismatic companionship and occasional comic relief.
Members of the Thark’s less-hospitable sister tribe (the Warhoons) prepare to throw down. While many modern SFX-laden films hide their imperfections in shadowy environs (or nightfall), Carter’s Martian setting calls for believable "high-noon" fights between humans and intricate CG creatures.
Two stop-motion skeletons bear down on the titular hero of Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Harryhausen’s juxtaposition of the the unbelievable (seven sword-wielding skeletons) battling the believable (Todd Armstrong, left as Jason) made this daylight sequence one of the most noteworthy of the animator’s career.

Why The "John Carter" Trailer Pecs, No ... Piques Our Interest

If the film's half as alluring as the trailer, we might whip off our shirts and go buck wild, too. But the teaser isn't just about shiny effects—and chests. Here's a look at the geeky heritage behind the well-toned new Martian movie.

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