The white apes in Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel aren't a main narrative force, although that has changed in Andrew Stanton's adaptation. Here's what the director had to say.
"No, they're sort of an oversized gorilla in the books, and they're kind of ubiquitous. They're littered everywhere through at least the first several novels. They were always cool, just from a visceral standpoint, [but] they don't really have a narrative function in the first book. So what we did is we made the White Apes a formidable creature that you kind of hear about throughout the movie, but you never really witness. There's a subtle sense of anticipation for what these things might be like. Then Michael Kutsche - who did a lot of the designs on [the Johnny Depp movie] Alice in Wonderland - came up with this design on his own, for just their scale. He made them nocturnal, almost like moles - they stopped using their eyes, and just had a heightened sense of smell. We just love that. We needed a scene where Carter was going have to get out of his execution sentence in order to move the story forward, and we thought what better than having to go up against this formidable creature?"
The director also talked about the title character's "Superman-like" ability in this sci-fi adaptation.
"He's not Superman. He has this one Superman-like ability where he can leap farther than we can here [on Earth]. But it's like being a man on the moon. It can't be forever. He can build up momentum. This green species called Tharks, they know his one special jumping ability, so they chain him to a rock. It's entertainment. It's entertainment to watch this execution. They give him a nice long length of chain, so he can bounce around, but he can't go out of the arena. It's an interesting problem to have for that guy."
John Carter was released March 9th, 2012 and stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West. The film is directed by Andrew Stanton.