The Martian world portrayed in "John Carter," a film based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, includes towering green creatures with four arms, tusks and prickly tempers.

The Martian world portrayed in "John Carter," a film based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, includes towering green creatures with four arms, tusks and prickly tempers. (Frank Connor, Walt Disney Co. / April 30, 2010)

When Walt Disney Co.'s "John Carter" opens in theaters this weekend, the science-fiction adventure may encounter obstacles as formidable as its hero faces on Mars.

The film brings to the big screen a century-old fantasy tale, from Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, that has inspired generations of filmmakers and science fiction writers including James Cameron, George Lucas, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. Its sweeping scope and $250-million budget suggest director Andrew Stanton's ambition to create a cinematic adventure on a par with movies such as "Avatar" and "Star Wars" — works that were informed by Burroughs' original pulp fiction.

Pre-release surveys of potential moviegoers, however, prompted Hollywood's biggest tracking company to revise its domestic opening weekend ticket sales estimates downward, from $30 million to $25 million. Typically projections rise as marketing campaigns reach a crescendo before a movie opens. Tracking numbers indicate that, as awareness of "John Carter" has risen, desire to see it has remained flat.

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