John Carter: A True Space Fantasy Epic Film

Producing an action fantasy movie adapted from a novel is a triple risk for movie studios. There are three things that they have to get right to make it a hit: 1) the movie has to at least be as good as the book 2) the movie resources–casting, story and SFX must hit all the right spots 3) the fan base must be appeased or there will be an uprising! When production stills and TV ads started to roll out, I’m sure the fans’ lukewarm reaction made Disney execs nervous about shelling out $250 million for an untried property helmed by an animation director. I was very skeptical myself. I read the novel A Princess Of Mars, loved it and hoped the movie did it justice. I saw the movie in a crowded theatre tonight. Just like an Olympic judge when the scores are read regarding the competitor’s performance, here is my score of John Carter . . . . TEN OUT OF TEN!!!!!!!!!!!

John Carter to me is one of the best adapted fantasy films of all time. It’s at least as good as the original book, the cast, story and SFX are superb, and thank goodness, there will be no fan uprising. It’s one of the most impressive sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen, because it’s a character-driven story with an emotional core. It’s also a movie with historical significance. John Carter’s first adventure on Mars was titled “Under The Moons Of Mars”, published in 1912 and that story and others were collected in A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB, creator of Tarzan). It was the first of its kind. It was the first novel that had a hero going to another planet, filled with aliens, airships and advanced technology. Action/sci-fi/fantasy properties like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Avatar, DC’s Adam Strange and Superman owe a lot of their borrowed inspiration from John Carter. None of these properties would have been made if it were not for ERB’s creation of John Carter.

 

Regarding the movie these are some of the great things about it: The cast was solid- they sold the audience with their performance. They made it believable. There was good chemistry and interplay with all characters. Production design was superb and top notch, ERB and Frazetta all the way. SFX was excellent The 3D conversion was……… excellent! I’m not a fan of converted 3D movies, but this one was very well done. As for director Andrew Stanton- that’s the biggest surprise of this movie- under his confident vision, he nailed it. He made sure this is a character-driven piece that made the audience care. This movie gave me the same feeling of great satisfaction that I felt with Star Wars Episode IV and V, Star Trek II, Lord of The Rings ROTK, Avatar, Superman, Spider-Man II, Iron Man and Thor. But the one thing I do hope they could do is offer more scenes when the move goes to BluRay. two hours and ten minutes in theatres was just about right, but now I want to see a little more. There are some that may point to this movie’s similarities to Star Wars and Avatar, well any fan will tell you that Lucas and Cameron ripped off ERB! Both of those creations were inspired by the John Carter stories. For example that scene in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones where our heroes have to fight those giant monsters in the arena was taken from John Carter. With Avatar, that alien planet is populated by six-limbed creatures just as on Mars in John Carter. Even the Nav’i being tall and blue are inspired by the tall, green martians in ERB’s work.

My one immature quibble about the movie is that Dejah Thoris is not as scantily clad as Frazetta and all fantasy girl artists often illustrate her- but that’s just a minor quibble. I guess for a Disney PG rated move, it would not have been possible, but Lynn Collins totally sells it as Dejah Thoris. Her long raven black hair, her piercing blue eyes and the fighter’s spirit convinced me that Dejah Thoris can work in a Disney movie. This minor quibble does not even make a dent in the immensely satisfying feeling I have for this movie. That’s the way I personally measure a movie I go see these days. It all depends on the overall level of satisfaction that I feel as I walk out of the theatre. When it’s this good, I need to tell others about the movie. And to think its taken all these years to get this ERB creation made as a movie. His other creation, Tarzan has many movies, TV shows, cartoons, comic books, comic strips produced. Tarzan had a lead over John Carter. But now, with movies being the top art form, with talent and technology that can adapt words into visual reality, the John Carter of Mars series has now broken the pop culture barrier. Now everyone knows what a select few original pre-movie John Carter fans knew- this is a great story!! The one thing I want to tell everyone is GO SEE THIS MOVIE! Go with your buddies, with your significant other, go with your family. It’s that good. I’m going to go back tomorrow, and maybe see it three more times. ERB, you finally get your due.

GEO

A Princess Of Mars Introduces John Carter, The First Space Hero

Art by Frank E. Schoonover

Before his famous Tarzan stories Edgar Rice Burroughs first came to the literary scene with his character John Carter of Mars. As the first modern space hero, Carter was introduced in a short story called “Under The Moons Of Mars”, which was published in the magazine The All-Story in 1912. The character returned in serialized stories that were later collected into the 1917 book A Princess Of Mars.

John Carter appeared in several other books detailing his adventures on the red planet and was an excellent example of a pulp fiction hero while being the prototype for the superhero and the space adventurer. Burroughs’ Carter books were filled with action, romance, intrigue and adventure. But to get a good feel of the character and setup start with A Princess Of Mars.

At first the novel reads like a Western due to its setting. As a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederacy, Carter moves out to Arizona to start anew. Before long, he runs into conflict with an Apache tribe (which parallels his adventures to come). These early parts can be a bit slow for a reader wishing to explore a science fiction world, but be patient. Before long, while seeking refuge from the Apaches, John Carter finds himself transported mysteriously to Mars or rather Barsoom as the natives call the planet.

Then the fun stuff happens. In the Martian desert he encounters the Tharks, a tribe of giant, four-armed, Green Martians who live a barbaric, nomadic existence. He has little regard for their savage ways but he earns their respect thanks to his prowess. It just so happens that the lighter gravity on Mars has granted Carter superhuman strength and agility. So he amazes the Green Martians with his Hulk-like leaps and fighting skills. Carter proves his worth to the Tharks and rises in the ranks by killing off several warlords and surviving ordeals.

Along the way, he earns the friendship of Tars Tarkas, a mighty Thark chief with a hidden sentimental side, Sola, an unusually kind female Green Martian, and Woola, a large guard animal akin to a dog but much larger and meaner.

But the most important relationship he develops is that with Dejah Thoris, the princess from the book’s title.

John Carter first meets her when she is taken prisoner during a raid on her air ship. Dejah Thoris is humanoid, part of a race of Red Martians at odds with the Green Martians and each other. While slightly more civilized than the Green Martians, the Red Martians are the remnants of a once-mighty culture that occupy decaying cities near the planet’s canals.

Art by Frank Frazetta

The sparks fly when the two meet. Reading about how fiery and beautiful she was can make any young teenage boy swoon with longing. And the passages detailing their blossoming love are quite well-written and don’t slow the story down at all; which is largely about Carter’s rise as a warlord and his attempts to protect Thoris and win her heart.

The entire fun read is full of swashbuckling antics where duels are settled with “long-swords” rather than ray guns, and dangerous encounter with giant monsters like the great white apes. There are elements of space fantasy and political intrigue. Despite the outdated notions about the Martian ecosystem the fantastic landscape is lovingly detailed and makes one sad knowing that such a world doesn’t exist.

Any astute sci-fi fan will spot the inspirations for the imaginations of literary and celluloid greats like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, George Lucas and James Cameron. So for those that may wonder who is John Carter (before seeing the film John Carter or afterwards) then A Princess Of Mars is an excellent introduction.

José Soto