Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter: the Movie, the Reality, and the Fan

How a story written in 1912 could seem so fresh today.

The other night I went to see John Carter, a movie treatment of several of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars novels.  Originally, I was trepidatious at best, with yet another Hollywood treatment of a beloved classic.  Face it, Hollywood has seldom done other than to mangle, misinterpret, and maul favorite science fiction stories.  The trailer did nothing to change my mind, with its endless hard cuts to CGI explosions and three second action sequences piled on each other.

However, a strange thing happened.  All my friends, those whom I trusted for their judgment, urged me to see the film and lauded it as a better than passable product.  Sure that this was some early April Fool’s Day joke, I went to see John Carter and was pretty pleased with the result that I was pleasantly surprised.

First, let’s take into account first of all that Princess of Mars was published in 1912 (that's a century ago) and therefore was pre-cliché because Burroughs created the alien world genre.  Burroughs not only had a story about planetary travel and encounter, but the aliens were believable and fully filled out as characters.   Although the film grazed information for a couple of different books and added an unnecessary backstory, it still managed to work fairly well.  The Tharks, specifically, Tars Tarkas and family, really had a lot of nuance and character for CGI figures.  Uh, lets don’t forget Woola either, he had lots of heart and many legs.

I’d like to retract my earlier skepticisms, and give an endorsement to this Mars movie.  Despite a few flaws and Hollywoodizations, the film comes off as a good reflection of this 80 plus year old classic.  By the way, I made a blog entry about John Carter back last summer, on 26 September 2011, that might prove to be good reading to Burroughs fans.  Interestingly enough, the entry made well before the movie release still holds up in the light of the movie.

John Cater was pretty heavily panned by film critics because of its obsolete heroic style and clichés.  Princess of Mars and the other subsequent books of the series pretty much predated most of what we consider golden age Science Fiction, it was from these books and others of this vintage that the clichés were created.  For those of you who want to read Edgar Rice Burroughs' works which are now copyright-free and available for download, here are the URLs from Project Gutenberg.        
Just click and enjoy.                       
Chessmen of Mars
if you don't like Mars, try the center of the earth: