I have a relatively new passion: the Mars novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is most famous for creating Tarzan. Burroughs wrote 11 books in the Mars series dealing with American Civil War veteran Capt. John Carter, who finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet Mars, where he becomes embroiled in a number of armed conflicts and a sweeping romance that takes him (literally) from pole to pole of the red planet its denizens call “Barsoom.” I recently devoured the first three books in the series (A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars) and am now reading the fourth, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.
Casual SF fans are probably more acquainted with the Frank Frazetta paintings of a sword-wielding Carter battling giant monsters to protect his red-skinned princess, Deja Thoris, but the novels are about a lot more than swashbuckling. The action-packed A Princess of Mars has long seemed like a natural for movie adaptation, but the demands of creating lost cities and 12-foot-tall, four-armed Tharks (not to mention the eight-legged thoats) have long stymied budget conscious-producers. But now, Disney is finally producing a big-budget, live-action affair, directed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), and released in March of 2012. And the veil of secrecy surrounding the project is slowly being lifted at last. Originally called John Carter of Mars, the Disney movie was recently retitled simply (and blandly) John Carter. Some believe the name was changed in a bid to distance the flick from the animated flop Mars Needs Moms, while others think the studio is trying to distance itself from the early 1900s, when the novel was written and much less was known about our neighboring planet. ERB’s work was heavily influenced by the fanciful imaginings of astronomer Percival Lowell, who helped popularize the idea that dark lines on the surface of Mars were water-bearing canals. ERB’s tale regularly refers to the scarcity of water and value of the canals. Modern audiences, who have seen the actual surface of Mars, might find such ideas…quaint. (My solution: Simply refer to the place by its “local” moniker: Barsoom!)
Strangely, our first glimpse of the project was a very dull teaser poster featuring half the face of star Taylor Kitsch (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) and the stylized initials JCM – for “John Carter of Mars”? What the–? Maybe the title is being changed back; who knows? However, no matter what the title, the poster sucks, because it conveys no hint of how the property is being handled, nor even any clue as to what movie it is promoting! Then, this past week, eager fans got a peek at some concept art for the production, and it looks…fantastic! One image is a wonderful city (I’m going to guess it’s Zodanga, one of the bickering Martian city-states), and the other is an airship festooned with banners. ERB describes thousands of airships being involved in battles in the sky while legions of warriors engage on the ground. This movie needs to look and feel epic – and I think these images hint at that being the case.
After my initial disappointment with the poster, I am back to being excited about this project thanks to the concept art. The first three Barsoom books would make a wonderfully exciting, kick-ass film trilogy if handled correctly, and I hope we can look forward to many years of adventure on Barsoom. As John Carter himself might say, “Kaor!”