Copyright 2002

[ April 12th 2002 ]

Paramount Pictures sees green in the red planet, inking a deal to acquire rights to an 11-volume science-fiction adventure series written decades ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the original Tarzan legend. Under the deal, Paramount has agreed to option the John Carter of Mars serial for a 300,000 upfront fee and to pay a 2 million sum if the studio brings the work to production.

Paramount-based producers Jim Jacks and Sean Daniels' Alphaville Prods. plans to turn the first book into a movie. Although Rice Burroughs is best known for having penned the iconic Tarzan of the Apes, the English writer's first book was A Princess of Mars. Written in 1912, it was serialized in All-Story magazine under his nom de plume, Normal Bean.

Jacks told Daily Variety that three of the best-known books (which include "Gods of Mars" and "The Warlord of Mars") are likely to be made into films of a scope "akin to 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars,' but were impossible to make before, because CGI (technology) wasn't there." The massive scope and special-effects demands of the project weren't the only reasons the film was not made previously.

For almost a decade, Disney spent millions developing the "Mars" books as both a live-action and animation franchise for Cinergi, the production venture of Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna. Disney showered millions on the projects, developing for Tom Cruise to star and John McTiernan to direct. The Mouse House ultimately failed to greenlight production of either incarnation. Jacks acknowledged that there "is a complicated legal situation and significant rights (still) need to be acquired."

Still, the deal is interesting for Paramount. Other than its Star Trek franchise, Paramount is not usually the home to pricey effects-driven fantasy films, though it found success with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Studio brass obviously take comfort in knowing Jacks and Daniels are on the job - the duo made Universal's wildly successful The Mummy and The Mummy Returns movies, which have a combined worldwide gross of more than $840 million.

An offshoot of that franchise, The Scorpion King, which Alphaville also produced, opens this month - though Jacks noted the Mars books were not necessarily intended as a starring vehicle for King star Dwayne Johnson (aka the Rock). Coupling science-fiction and romantic derring-do, A Princess of Mars is the first adventure of John Carter, a veteran of the American Civil War who, while resting in a cave, finds himself transported to Mars.

Instead of a dusty, lifeless rock, Carter finds Mars populated with giant (predictably green) men, and creatures both friendly and ferocious, disembodied and embodied. Along the way, Carter must save a princess, Dejah Thoris.

Danton Burroughs, grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs and a director of the rights holding company, noted that Disney was hardly the first to have tried to create an animated film from the John Carter series. In 1936, Rice Burroughs collaborated with Warner Bros. animator Bob Clampett (who as a teen in 1930 had developed the first licensed Mickey Mouse doll for Walt Disney) to make a cartoon feature from the Carter books.

Deal was brokered by attorney Sandra Galfas on behalf of the Rice Burroughs estate; she was not available for comment.

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