Mayes C. Rubeo – John Carter

March 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s tough working as a costume designer in Hollywood these days, especially if you want your work to be noticed. Although there is endless competition in the industry, there are only so many films out there that will really get a costume designer noticed. There’s even less if a director stays loyal to a designer he or she has worked with in the past.

“We all want to design the cool movies, but sometimes you can’t,” costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo told me during an interview from Los Angeles to promote her new sci-fi action film “John Carter.” “Every costume designer wants to design wonderful things and get acknowledged and rewarded.”

At the beginning of her 24-year career, Rubeo started as an assistant in the costume and wardrobe department on such films as “Total Recall” and “Born on the Fourth of July.” Her first film as head costume designer was on the 1996 sci-fi film “The Arrival” starring Charlie Sheen. She went on to design costumes for the 2006 Mel Gibson-directed film “Apocalypto” and James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster hit “Avatar.”

In her new film, “John Carter,” Rubeo helps director Andrew Stanton create a new world first imagined by author Edward R. Burroughs in 1912. “John Carter” tells the story of a Confederate captain who is mysteriously transported into the center of a major conflict on Mars.

During our interview, Rubeo, who is of Mexican descent, talked about the vision behind the film and why she doesn’t allow her Latina heritage to influence her work as a costume designer.

How much of the original text by Edgar R. Burroughs did you explore to start on a project as massive as “John Carter?”

I think our director Andrew Stanton used a combination of his books for the film. We didn’t follow just one book like “A Princess of Mars.” We included others.

As a costume designer, do you usually do a lot of research on the film’s subject?

Yes, but in this case we wanted to be more original with the design. There is a huge background of artistic influence in these stories. The character of John Carter has been around for 100 years. There have been many attempts to make this movie by many filmmakers. Many of those had their own artwork and were different from each other. Andrew really knew what he wanted to do with the film. It was very easy for me to work with his very specific and creative ideas.

How does the process begin for you when you sign on to do a new film? Does it start with a meeting with the director?

Andrew knew me from my prior projects, which were “Avatar” and especially “Apocalypto.” “Apocalypto” is a project that has brought me a lot of exposure. It was a high-caliber design movie. We manufactured every single thing that existed in that movie. That was a good guarantee that I could help Andrew create the new world he wanted. I was asked to come and interview for the job, which is a normal procedure. We wanted to see if we were on the same page from the start. From there it was only constant and creative dialogue between the two of us. Andrew always kept me in the creative circle even in post-production. It was a great collaboration.

The John Carter series has a huge fan base that has been waiting a long time for this movie. Do you feel like those fans are going to look at this new film under a microscope because they want everything to be perfect? Does that worry you?

I think it’s natural to feel a little pressure and feel exposed to the expectations of so many fans. It would be the same if people were waiting for a new Superman movie. Everyone would be waiting to see if he had on the right cape. I think John Carter fans are going to have fun with the movie.

Do you ever let your Mexican culture influence any of your costume designs?

I try not to because I don’t want to be a designer that people will tap just to do ethnic stuff. A costume designer should be able to do any kind of costume for any kind of period that is put into their hands by a director. That’s the kind of costume designer I want to be.

John Carter

March 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collings, Mark Strong
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E,” “Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”) and Mark Andrews (debut) and Michael Chabon (“Spider-Man 2”)

Science fiction seems like such a modern art form, perhaps because it routinely deals with concepts we see as being on the horizon; things we see as staples of the future. It’s all about robots and spaceships and aliens, all things we hope to one day perfect or discover. Maybe that’s why it seems odd that Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, was writing science fiction novels 100 years ago. He started with “A Princess of Mars,” featuring interplanetary hero John Carter.

Directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”), “John Carter” adapts several of Burroughs’ novels to tell the tale of Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Confederate Civil War veteran on the hunt for gold in Arizona. After dodging both a conscription effort at the hands of Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) and an Apache attack, Carter finds himself transported to the planet Mars after clutching a strange amulet and uttering an even stranger word: Barsoom. Carter’s other-worldliness grants him fantastic abilities on the Red Planet, making him a sought-after warrior in the clashes between Mars’ warring races. After rescuing a princess (Lynn Collins), Carter chooses his allegiance, taking on villains Sab Than (Dominic West) and Matai Shang (Mark Strong), in a battle for the ultimate fate of Mars.

“John Carter” has several significant hurdles on its path toward blockbuster status, not the least of which is the century of blockbusters that have been influenced by its source material, causing “Carter” to come across as a faded copy of countless other science fiction stories. Outsider who acquires amazing powers after venturing to another planet? Sounds like “Superman.” Or how about the outsider who becomes part of a native tribe of really tall aliens? Looks and sounds an awful lot like “Avatar” to me. And that coliseum in the middle of a desert full of screaming aliens watching a human fight giant creatures to the death? It looks like a deleted scene from “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.” Add that to the dense mythology the film doles out, featuring goofy sci-fi names like Zodanga, Jasoom, and, uh, Helium, and casual audiences might think they’ve stumbled into a cheapo SyFy Channel knock-off that somehow made its way into a theater.

Thankfully, though, the spectacle ends up muscling away the pulpier elements of the story. Gorgeous steampunk airships glide through the air like gear-driven dragonflies en route to massive walking cities. Giant, green-skined Tharks seem as real as the human actors they stand next to. And Kitsch, best known for his role on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” doesn’t bother with nuance and instead just plays the tough guy when it comes to his portrayal of John Carter. Its probably no coincidence that Carter’s costuming and skill with a sword evoke images He-Man. He’s a sci fi/fantasy action figure punching and slicing his way through hordes or marauding Martians. It’s an epic nearly a century in the making, and Stanton has set the table for more grand adventures to come.