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John Carter

Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom series were, for me, part of growing up. A bunch of weirdly fantastic, metaphysically strange adventure stories where a relatively two-dimensional1 dude is thrust into a world of princesses, monsters, mystics and double dealing. And all of this takes place on Mars.

So, being the sort of chap that I am, I was pretty excited by Disney’s John Carter2, and having come in with low expectations3, enjoyed it immensely. It’s pretty flawed; a lot of the charm from the original novels has gone in order to update it to modern tastes, but at its heart, the feature stays with the essence of original books; Mars is huge, strange and filled with the profoundly weird and exotic.

Brought to you by the man who invented Tarzan.

The four-armed, green skinned Tharks, on which much of the original story revolves, are interesting and likeable. The martian princess4, who is essentially the central character, is interesting and engaging. Sadly, the actress cast for the role is pretty rather than strange-looking, but the performance is powerful and the character is strong and independent, as it should be.

As for John Carter himself? Meh. He’s eye candy and carries the story forward the way he’s supposed to, by being a proxy for the viewer. This is a true fantasy movie, and the books that inspired it have been huge influence on more familar films; elements of the Barsoom books can be found in big chunks of American Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories from Superman to Flash Gordon, from Star Trek to Star Wars.

Does John Carter does its legacy justice? Yes, just about. The sad fact is that by making a movie that would appeal to a larger market, they’ve cut away the true strangeness of the original work (which is just under a 100-years old), and we are left with a movie that fails to excite the average non-geek and merely teases the truly nerdy amongst it with a vision of what was almost great.

Also, the White Apes looked brilliant.


1: Lot’s of pulp-action heroes are relatively simply drawn. Critics pan the Twilight novels for a rather flat female lead whilst conveniently forgetting the vast army of near-perfect male heroes in all sorts of fiction aimed for boys. Flat can be fun, if the rest of the world is vivid and interesting.

2: Much has been made of the fact that the movie is not called John Carter of Mars. Thing is, that would also be misleading, as the movie is broadly based on the first Barsoom book, Princess of Mars.

3: It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first time the book has been adapted. Asylum got there first.

4: Hey, this is a Disney movie? With a princess? I demand that Dejah Thoris be added to the list of Disney Princesses. With any luck, she’ll team up with Mulan and kick the arses of the rest of them, drilling some self-reliance, confidence and self respect into Ariel, Belle and the rest.

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Categories: Geek, Movies
  1. March 19, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    John Scalzi (http://www.filmcritic.com/features/2012/03/john-carter-curse-of-mars/) puts it down to the ‘curse of the red planet’ which seems to suggest that any Hollywood film with the word ‘mars’ in the title will flop and so some producers avoid it like the plague…

    I was going to avoid this but now I am considering maybe seeing what it is like…

  2. Dan Walker
    March 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    For that matter, Disney can add Eilonwy from *The Black Cauldron* – unlike many of the others, she actually IS a princess….

  3. March 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I saw this last night and enjoyed it immensely. We are now considering seeking out the books.
    I am very disappointed that it has allegedly been such a great flop, but am intrigued that it did so whilst essentially trying (not very hard) to have it appeal to a wider audience. I suspect, from some previous Hollywood examples, had they gone more for the weirdness with the likes of Dejah etc, bosses wouldn’t have seen it as far as post-production.
    I’m sure I had a point when I started this, but mostly it’s that I enjoyed the film and hope they don’t throw a spanner in the planned sequels (which poor financial returns might).
    Also, did anyone else notice that it did the Star Wars: Episode 1 pod race and the Episode 2 arena battles, but arguably better? 🙂

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