Wednesday, June 6, 2012

movie review: John Carter of Mars

I really needed to write this review a week ago, because the details are already starting to drain away. On the other hand, longer reflection has added some new insights into my movie-going Burroughs experience. First off, I really REALLY enjoyed the movie. And hadn't expected to. It was in my opinion actually an improvement on Burroughs in many ways, although in other ways not. I talk of Burroughs, because this movie is based on a book (rather series of books) by ERB that I read as a youngster. Actually, rather young, perhaps 12 or 14. As a sci-fi friend of mine noted, the title was very unfortunate. The books were titled such things as "A Princess of Mars" and "Gods of Mars" and "Warlord of Mars." My friend insightfully said that just about any of those titles would have been better. However, I respect their choice, which suggests to me their acknowledgment of their own artistic retelling of Burroughs, which I find very honorable. However, I have no idea if that was the actual reasoning, and I suspect flawed marketing. Buroughs wrote adventure stories. Sometimes he was dismissive of his own writings as not artful and even "dampool tales". But this feeds directly into why I don't mind seeing his stories retold by moviemakers. His intention was never art for arts sake, but fun entertainment. The improvements were as follows: 1) A needed humorist element added to his works, which is perhaps merely a modernist updating. 2) A needed personality added to the character of John Carter. The hero of the Mars books was rather one-dimensional, as I recall (only vaguely--remember I read these books in my childhood). In fact, all of ERB's heros across many storylines are pretty much the same. Which, I suppose, might not be a criticism but rather saying Burroughs knows what he writes well, and stuck to it. However, I do criticize. 3) A desperately needed modern heroine for the Mars story. In the books, she was little more than a royal damsel in distress, as I recall (perhaps mistakenly) 4) A personality and charater for the above heroine. 4) A modern interpretation/solution to the whole "astral projection" thing in the origial Burroghs books. You see, they were written in the 1910s or thereabouts, as I recall, and can't be held accountable for their errors of the period. Remember, at one time blood-letting was a widely respected medical practice. The creators of the movie seem to have been wider Burroughs fans that merely the Mars books, or of books at all. I am pretty sure a story point was solved using a device from the black-and-white Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies, the Escarpment. There may have been another, relating to the Elephant's Graveyard. But that one I am rathat dubious of. Hardly worth mentioning. And yet I did mention it, didn't I? Things I didn't like: 1) The toad-dog 2) Burroughs as a character 3) The introduction of the John Carter character, with the telegraph office, just didn't seem a good early introduction of his charater (my thoughts).


  1. i had heard the reasons for not using "a princess of mars" as the title were two-fold: 1) desire to avoid any confusion with the disney princess franchise; 2) desire to avoid association in movie-goers' minds with previous flops with the word "mars" in the title.

  2. Thanks for the info Divers! That adds a new layer to all the strange marketing.