Paramount Pictures has just optioned the 11-volume science fiction series John Carter of Mars, which includes the first published fiction by the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. Paramount got the option for the bargain basement price of just $300,000, which will balloon to $2 million if a film actually gets made. During the 1990s Disney spent huge sums to develop the John Carter books both as an animated property and as a live action feature that was to have starred Tom Cruise, but the mouse house was unable to bring John Carter to the screen in any form. Now Alphaville Productions, the company that produced the modern Mummy films (and The Scorpion King) for Universal, will attempt to bring ERB's creation to the screen under the Paramount aegis.
Paramount's interest in the property was no doubt piqued by the stellar performance of the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Alphaville execs even talked about the possibility of shooting three of the best John Carter books (Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, and The Warlord of Mars) at one time (a la LOTR). The increasing efficacy and declining costs of computerized special effects may have finally made the creation of a John Carter series possible, but the property's tangled legal history may make Paramount's job a difficult one.
The lure of a science fiction 'franchise' property must have been very strong for Paramount, which, save for the exception of last year's Tomb Raider, hasn't made many recent forays into to the now booming field of fantasy and science fiction. One of the studio's major concerns will be finding the right actor to portray the heroic John Carter. One possibility might be the Scorpion King headliner Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), though Alphaville honcho Jim Jacks mentioned in the press release that the producers didn't necessarily acquire the rights in order to create a new starring vehicle for The Rock. Perhaps they didn't, but if The Rock's cinematic career continues to pick up steam, don't be surprised to see him ensconced on the Red Planet and performing feats of daring as John Carter.