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.