Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nerd Hope: John Carter (Andrew Stanton, 2012)

Here is me being cautiously hopeful for the pending Disney release of John Carter, based on the character from Edgar Rice Burroughs.

John Carter's adventures on Mars, or 'Barsoom' in the language of the books, span decades of writing and are in my opinion the most influential science fiction stories ever produced. They are easily accessible pulp fiction that call back to the time of knights and chivalry. The first book, A Princess of Mars is the semi-basis for this movie, detailing Carter's advent on Barsoom and his meeting/falling in love with Dejah Thoris, the titular Princess. Likely, most of you have already heard of the film, and Burroughs fans are likely with me in a sense of anticipation mixed with the deep-seated assurance that it will be woefully inaccurate. Here is my plan for going into the film.

First, as the John Carter stories are so ingrained in the science fiction genre the hero is now more archetype than character. Just as Superman and Batman can be molded by different artists, so can John Carter. As long as Disney sticks to the basic attributes we should be fine. Carter is honest, brave, trustworthy, fierce, loyal and kind. I worry they will try to give him a bad-boy edge, but since he inspired both Conan and Elric I guess it is not completely out of line (just mostly). Fortunately, writer/director Andrew Stanton is a Disney institution with writing credits for most all of Disney's recent hits including all three Toy Story films. I think if he can make Woody and Buzz Lightyear true-blue good guys which the public adores, he will not have a problem with John Carter. So, while I hope they keep Carter in character I do not intend to nit-pick.

Second, I am going to go into this hoping that Disney and Stanton honestly want to make a great film of this. For all his ubiquity, John Carter was not on everyone's radar in recent years, and most of the books, I believe, are not in print. The stories were started one hundred years ago, and people have been trying to film them ever since. I think they were wise to copy the Michael Whelan style for the tharks, or Green Men of Barsoom (pictured right). There are certainly things that must be avoided. For one thing, most everyone runs around Barsoom nude, and not even the pulp artists who have done book covers go all the way with this, but from what I have seen the visuals are much of what I see in my head.

Lastly, we finally have a big screen, big budget attempt and a beloved character. I know I will not say "it was just like reading the book" at any point, but movies are a different medium. Frankly, I refuse to think it will be horrible, and even if they stray wildly from the book, if they can keep the basics in line I think we will have an enjoyable re-telling of a great story. Hopefully it will engender a new love for the old books and bring new fans to the Burroughs world.

If you are unfamiliar with Burroughs, he is also the creator of Tarzan. You can find many of his works free in various formats at Project Gutenberg, here.


Shon Richards said...

I was pretty skeptical about a John Carter movie until I read a few interviews with the director. Man, my hopes are way too high for this movie. I feel like all my pulp nerd heart is riding on it.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I don't think it will be a classic, but I don't think I'll be as disappointed as people have been with other movies, say The Fantastic Four. I doubt it will match Flash Gordon in awesomeness because of all the inherent cgi, but will likely be more memorable than Avatar. If it is an utter failure, that will just reinforce my disdain for Hollywood.

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