Monday, March 19, 2012

Disney's "John Carter" Not this Generation's "Star Wars" -- Review

My family and I finally had the chance to see Disney's John Carter this past weekend. While I enjoyed it, it was not the Edgar Rice Burrough's tale that I love. Several seemingly small changes were made; however, these "seemingly small changes" added up to a story that was not A Princess of Mars, nor the characters and world created by ERB.


Please stop reading here, if you do not wish to know some spoilers.

After viewing the theatrical trailers released prior to the movie hitting theaters, I was apprehensive walking into my favorite mega-theater-complex. There was a scene in one of the trailers in which it is mentioned that if John Carter doesn't stop the threat that is menacing Barsoom, that Earth will be next...Huh?, I thought. I don't remember any universe shaking threat from the first three books that were a potential threat to the universe, so what is this about?

However, what really raised my hackles was the phrase spoken during a television commercial for the film: THIS GENERATIONS STAR WARS! I have heard this moniker attached to too many science fiction films over the years, and they always fail to deliver. There will never be a "this generations Star Wars", not even the three prequels made by George Lucas himself measured up as "this generation's Star Wars". Please Hollywood, stop making promises you can not deliver upon. I tried to stay objective and to quiet the nagging of this statement in the back of my mind while viewing the film. I thought to myself, "don't let a bogus Hollywood marketing scheme cloud your vision". I feel that I succeeded.

As I mentioned earlier, there were several small changes made to ERB's original story for the film that I did not approve of; understand, that I am not THAT GUY. You know THAT GUY. THAT GUY insists upon absolute purity to his favorite story whenever it is switched from one media to another. THAT GUY is still pissed that there was no Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings movies. I recognize that when one of my favorite stories is made into a movie or adapted to comic book format, or any other type of media other than its original conception, it will be based upon my favorite story, and most likely not a strictly shackled reformatting for another media medium. Some things just don't translate well from the written page to the large screen, it is a fact. Also, some stories are so lavishly long, that cuts must be made; for instance, the cutting of Tom Bombadil from the LotR does not change the over reaching story line.

These are not the types of changes that I am here after complaining about. So, at the risk of being THAT GUY, here we go...

First up, the character of John Carter, as presented in the movie versus the character presented by ERB is not the same. The John Carter created by ERB is brave, chivalrous, decisive, honest to a fault and craves combat. Yes, he is written like some sort of impossible man, but this is what makes him special. He is everything most boyhood fantasies dream about one day becoming and that was the point. ERB's Carter is even seemingly ageless! Burroughs goes out of his way to make him more than human; however, Hollywood does everything possible to make Carter more human.

The Captain Carter of the movie is a survivor of the Civil War, he fought for the South, and while he survived, his wife and daughter did not...wait?...what?...yes, I said "wife and daughter", you know, the wife and daughter that ERB never made mention of, but Hollywood felt compelled to add to make the character of John Carter more sympathetic and human. Furthermore, the John Carter of the movie, re-imagined as a war ravaged loner haunted by the death of his loved ones, wishes to be left alone so he can find the fabled lost gold of the Spider Caves (another slight alteration made for the film). He seeks the gold of the spider caves not out of a sense of adventure (as ERB's John Carter would have), but because he wants enough gold to live his life out in comfortable solitude (which, I must admit, is a sentiment ERB's John Carter might share). Both ERB's Carter and the Carter of the movie are good in a fight, but ERB's Carter is amazingly good in a fight and seeks the thrill of combat, while the Carter of the movie is good in a fight, not amazing, the Dejah Thoris of the movie is seemingly his equal, and I got the sense that while he wouldn't back down from a fight, he does not crave combat in the same way Burrough's Carter does; however, I must make mention of one very Burroughs like scene in which Carter fights off wave after wave of enemies.

The other slight alteration made for the film, I all ready alluded to. In the film, the Zodangans have been given the 9th Ray, which makes them a threat to all of Barsoom. The 9th ray was given to them by the Therns, which for the movie have been given magical like powers and it is assumed that they have travelled across vast distances from world to world, shaping those worlds to their liking while hiding in the background. This change, I believe, was made to give the film an epic feel. Burrough's A Princess of Mars was not epic. The story is more episodic and there is no arch villain of the book. Later, in the subsequent novels The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars, there are presented arch villains in the guise of the Therns and their false goddess Issus. I can understand why it was believed that having an overall bad guy would appeal to the modern movie goer, so this sin, I forgive.

There were several other changes, but overall I did enjoy the film. No it is not this generation's Star Wars and it was not a faithful adaption of A Princess of Mars, but it never promised to be the later; however, it was an enjoyable film. I will purchase it on Blue-Ray when available, and I am willing to see any sequels.

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