Teasing John Carter (possibly of) Mars

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!”

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3 thoughts on “Teasing John Carter (possibly of) Mars

  1. Joe,

    I have been a major major fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs for years and have read all of his 80+ books at least 3 times each (even the westerns!)

    Once I even met Danton Burroughs, ERB’s grandson, at his office in Tarzana, CA. He gave me a copy of a book that I had lost, The Lost Continent (originally titled Beyond Thirty) which I highly highly recommend !!!!!! (It takes place 60 years after WWI, when PanAmerica has cut off all contact with the Eastern Hemisphere. When one of the ships patroling the 30th parallel ends up in Europe, it is just amazing what he finds there !!)

    The Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series, is my favorite, and I have been waiting for a film to be made for years, hoping that Adrian Paul would play John Carter (sadly, he is too old now).
    At one time a Disney subsidiary, Synergy, I think, kept turning down scripts… The guy who had the job of reading the scripts was an ERB fan, so he rejected them all because they were all pretty bad.

    And, of course, there is so much in Burrough’s novels that it is so difficult to put them on film. At least that was the case in the past with the limited technology. Remember those films with Doug McClure:: from the Caspak series: The Land that Time Forgot & The People that Time Forgot; and the Pelucidar film: At The Earth’s Core. Those were sooo bad, and don’t get me started on the special effects !!

    Not to mention how often the Tarzan story has been butchered over the years.
    (The 1996 TV series, Tarzan the Epic Adventures was the closest to the books.)

    But now, with the excellent work that has been done with the Harry Potter books, I am confident that a Barsoom film can be done properly.

    So, it is with great excitement, and trepidation, that I await the release of John Carter of Mars.
    (The recent SyFy channel film, A Princess of Mars, was unbelievably bad. Again, don’t get me started.)

    Thank you, Joe, for keeping on top of this. And I do recommend you read all of Burroughs books, including the Venus series, the Pelucidar series, and the Tarzan series, which is not what you would expect. Although, I do have to note that since these books were written between 1912 & 1970, you will find that Burroughs was not very Politically Correct. But his books are so full of rip-roaring action that you have to forgive him that.

    Also, I am hoping that they portray the “ships” on Barsoom just as they are in the book, rather than make them look like modern airships. That is part of the fun !!

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    • I was shocked to realize that that I had read very little ERB, and set out to remedy the situation, starting with the Mars books. (I was able to pick up all 11 on eBay for a reasonable price.) I was surprised at how fast-paced the books are, and ERB’s gift for description. He has that in common with another pulp author I enjoy, H.P. Lovecraft. I tore through the first three volumes, and now I’m finding the fourth a little bit more of a plod, focusing as it does on Carthoris. But I’m sure it will pick up. Thanks for the recommendations, as I wasn’t sure how the Venus and Caspak books stack up against Mars.

      Director Stanton and his crew should be able to do a good job visualizing Tars Tarkas and all the rest of the denizens of Barsoom. I’m a little worried about Kitsch being too young to play a seasoned war veteran, but I’m keeping an open mind. (My morbid curiosity is urging me to watch the Antonio Sabato/Tracy Lords version!) I picture the Barsoomian airships as looking something like Jabba’s sail barge from “Return of the Jedi,” but really large. Everything would look very art deco, in my imagination.

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  2. The new trailer looks good. http://youtu.be/b8xblwyKtfo

    Turns out the movie will be released on the 100th anniversary of the book !

    I’m kind of glad that it took so long for the film to be made, because we now have the technology to do it right. Plus, I hope that the example set by Harry Potter has encouraged Disney to stay as close to the book as possible.

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