John Carter: A trailer of (not) Mars

Anyone who knows me knows that one of the movies I am most looking forward to in 2012 is John Carter, an adaptation of a story written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) almost 100 years ago. It bothers me a little that the adaptation is not being called “John Carter of Mars,” because the moniker “John Carter” is just so… blah. The flick has been flying mostly under the radar despite being released by Disney, which has not turned its marketing department loose on the property. Well, until recently, when the studio released a couple of teaser images, and finally an actual trailer. And now I can say the short clip was worth the wait!


Everything I see here is positive, and points toward director Andrew Stanton (WALL*E) keeping his promise to maintain the spirit of ERB’s books. This movie is based on A Princess of Mars, the first of 11 novels set on an imaginary version of the red planet dubbed “Barsoom” by its natives. Here are my impressions of the trailer:

1)      I like that the movie is sticking with the conceit that the Burroughs himself is the nephew of John Carter and instead of making up the story; he is publishing a manuscript passed on to him by his uncle.

2)      The locations look a lot like Barsoom should look. The book makes much of Barsoom being in decline, and the empty, arid vistas seen here play that up.

3)      In keeping with our much more enlightened modern sensibilities, it appears that hostile soldiers – rather than the novel’s Apaches – chase Carter at the beginning of the story.

4)      In a concession to modern movie ratings, the characters all wear clothes. ERB stresses throughout his novels that his characters are completely naked except for certain pieces of armor and ceremonial jewelry, etc. That’s not gonna fly in a mass-market Disney pic.

5)      I was pleasantly surprised by Dejah Thoris’ look: The tattoos that appear to cover her body are great. The red skin tone that ERB described looks subtle onscreen, and right on the money. As a bonus, she also seems to be handling swords a lot more than she did in the book.

6)      Carter’s costume looks like it came straight out of a Frank Frazetta painting (left)!

7)      What’s up with the beams of bluish light that emanate from that cup-like object?

8)      The Thark (presumably Tars Tarkas, voiced by Willem Dafoe) looks similar to ERB’s description, but the eyes are not what I expected. I always pictured Thark eyes as being something like a chameleon’s, and mounted on the sides of the head. At least the warrior is holding his “radium” rifle.

9)      That Arcade Fire song, “My Body is a Cage,” is strangely fitting for a story about a guy who actually sheds his body to travel to another planet.

10)   Seeing mention of “3D” at the end makes my stomach uneasy. I wish I didn’t see that part. I’m not a fan of 3D lately.

One of my fears for this movie was the casting: I’m not the world’s biggest Taylor Kitsch fan, and I worried that he “reads” too young to play Captain Carter. And I wasn’t impressed with his turn as Gambit in the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But here looks okay – even if we don’t hear him say much. He’s got the look of John Carter. Conversely, I was concerned that Lynn Collins, who plays Dejah Thoris and co-featured with Kitsch in Wolverine (as Kayla), might look too old to match up well with Kitsch. Well, my fears have been allayed by what I see here. Of course it’s impossible to judge the actors’ chemistry, which will be so very important in the finished product, but at least they look good together. Dejah Thoris is supposed to be the most beautiful woman on Barsoom; a “Helen of Troy”-type whose love motivates Carter to fight his way across the entire planet. I have my fingers crossed that Collins can pull off that feat.

The rest of the cast (not seen) includes a lot of talented people: Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston and Thomas Hayden Church.

The official synopsis of the movie goes like this: From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes “John Carter”–a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). “John Carter” is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

John Carter opens March 9, 2012.  The photos and trailer can be seen in high-def at iTunes now, and you can also check out the official movie site,  JohnCarterArrives.

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3 thoughts on “John Carter: A trailer of (not) Mars

  1. I agree whole-heartedly with most of what you’ve said here. Though I do not know the novels as well as you, I am acquainted with them and can’t imagine why Disney left out “Of Mars” in the title. Some beautiful imagery in the teaser/trailer and the vision seems consistent with that of Burrough’s. But I am surprisingly unmoved by what I see as far as anticipating the movie’s arrival. I need something a bit more exciting.

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    • I have heard two explanations for trimming “of Mars” from the title. One is that Disney wants to distance this movie from the trainwreck that was “Mars Needs Moms.” The other reason is that we know so much more about Mars than Burroughs did when he was writing the first story in 1911. Since our probes have sent back photos and videos, we know what the planet is like — and it ain’t Barsoom! (Sadly…) So Disney didn’t want people scoffing at the obvious fantasy elements.

      For my part, I’d love to see “Mars” returned to the title. The planet can be called Barsoom while he’s there, and a few clever lines could suggest that Carter has shifted in time as well as space, meaning the inhabited Mars could be from a bygone age.

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  2. I actually downloaded and read the first three books of the Barsoom series just because of this article. If Disney can recapture the swashbuckling romanticism of the stories this could be a great movie.

    I tend to agree that dropping the of Mars is probably a good idea. Modern sci-fi writers scoff at the fanciful, unscientific nature that Burroughs creates on Mars. Better to leave it in fantasy. I’m not as down on Taylor Kitsch as you. I hope he can pull it off. He did lovesick really well on Friday Night Lights.

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