Monday, March 12, 2012

Movie Review: John Carter (of Mars dammit)

Down in the basement, through the folding doors, and to the left, back in the shadows, made creepier for how little it was visited, was Dad's book collection. In a worn box that appears to have survived numerous moves was a pile of yellowed, brittle books. One the spines of these book were the words "Edgar Rice Burroughs" and a number. This was his Tarzan and Mars collection of books. I didn't read these books for a long time. I meant to, but they were fragile and I had other things to read.

In the Tarzan book Burroughs was able to write great adventure fantasies about a part of the world of which little was known. But he was still restricted by what little we did know. So he found another, even more mysterious world, for his next series - Mars. Remember now, that the serial that would eventually became the first book, was published in 1912. Mars was still, in their minds, a distant red dot. The best telescopes of the time led them to believe it was a planet without clouds or seas and was crisscrossed with canals to best use whatever water remained. A dry, dying planet.

I did read the first three books in the series (available at Project Gutenberg - Proper order here) but that was so long ago that much of what I read is now forgotten or confused with other stories. So I can't tell you how much the movie holds true to the first book "A Princess of Mars". But I can tell you that the movie is awesome.

The studio fucked up with those trailers. They completely failed to provide a compelling reason to to see this movie. They cut much of the action sequences in favor of the subdued scenes looking at glowing lights, graceful flying ships, and sweeping panoramas. They neglected to mention the source material assuming, I suppose, that everyone knows who John Carter is.

John Carter is a veteran of the American Civil War. He fought for the South, lost, and headed for the western territories to seek his fortune. There the Army tries to forcibly recruit him for their ongoing conflict with the natives. For reasons you'll need to see the movie to find out, he finds himself in a strange new place that he eventually finds out is Barsoom - known better to us as Mars. There he finds himself unwillingly drawn into a civil war and a side conflict with the natives. But Carter has an advantage over the giants and advanced technologies he finds there. The lesser gravity of Mars means he can leap great distances and has seemingly greater strength.

Watching this movie you'll see elements borrowed from some of the great sci-fi, fantasy, and super hero movies, novels, and comics. This is only fair since they borrowed from Burroughs work in the first place.

This is not science fiction. The movie benefits from 100 years of extra knowledge about Mars that the source material didn't have and wouldn't have wanted. The story is straight up fantasy.

I will be getting this on DVD and will be looking for audio versions of the books so I can finish what I started a couple of decades ago.

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