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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

John Carter; Prince of Helium, Jeddak of Jeddaks. Warlord of Barsoom!

I and apparently about thirty other people in the world saw John Carter last weekend.

Before the show, I was lamenting how ubiquitous the marketing for this show had become. These last few weeks, everywhere I looked, I saw John Carter, John Carter and John Carter. It was a little bit disgusting.

Let me explain. I am a John Carter fan. I am a HUGE John Carter fan. The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Synthetic Men of Mars, to be exact) was the first science fiction that ever entered my brain through my eyes. I was nine, and it changed me.

These tales are not classic literature. They are not visionary science fiction. They are not bestsellers, and they are certainly not PC. They are full of shallowly justified ultra-violence, they are blatantly ethnocentric, and if a feminist read any one of them, her ovaries would actually detonate, spraying a ten-meter casualty radius with deadly stem cell shrapnel.

But you know what? The first book in the series was published in 1912. Think about that. That's 100 years ago. Things were different then. Science fiction was still a baby. Heck, science itself hadn't been in widespread practice but a few decades.

In 1911, the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) was working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler when he started writing "A Princess of Mars", which was the first John Carter story. He had read some pulp fiction in some cheesy magazine and is quoted to have said, "...if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, [I thought] that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines."

He wasn't wrong. If you know anything about pulp sci-fi, you know that it paid very little and authors who were successful had to produce a LOT of material. Also, these weren't novels. They were shorts, written in an episodic style, and had to be able to hook and hold a reader weekly and continuously. ERB did that, and for years on end. He also wrote some stuff about a gentleman who grew up in the jungle. Some guy named Tarzan who was, coincidentally, also a stone cold badass who could kill a lion using only a sharp stick, overwhelming aggression and sheer ferocity.

But John Carter was my guy. He was on Mars, dammit, and he wasn't the baddest mofo in the jungle. He was the undisputed master warrior of a whole damn planet full of eight-legged lions, four-armed apes, and which was populated by numerous races of Martian people who were all badasses themselves. Take a look at the title of this post. That is John Carter's title on Mars. You don't get a title like that unless you are the most dangerous, heroic and fearless son of a bitch in the entire world. That's John Carter. MY John Carter.

Back to the movie. They made another movie called Princess of Mars, with Antonio Sabato, Jr. It was a turd, but that's not why I couldn't finish it. I couldn't finish it because in that turd, John Carter had a tramp stamp. A TRAMP STAMP. MY John Carter! No, oh no, HELL NO! That's not My John Carter. That movie is dead to me.

When Disney's trailer came out, I was excited. When I saw the Disney logo, I was leery. They made Beauty and the Beast, and Little Mermaid, and numerous other travesties that betrayed the love I had as a child for Disney masterpieces like Fantasia (especially Night on Bald Mountain). But they also made The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I enjoyed enough to purchase. With a shrug and a glimmer of hope, I decided I would give it a chance.

So I got some close friends and family together (My sister is also a rabid John Carter fan, just like me. Yes, it's all my fault.) and we watched it.

Yes, I am a fan. I think I've made that clear. But I am also a hobby writer. I understand storytelling, plot, style and structure and all that jazz. I don't expect any film adaptation of any piece of writing to be the same as the book. That's just foolish. I know that the stories ERB wrote were a vast, elongated series of action packed episodes. If you are going to make a single film from all that, you'll change some things. You have to. It's just the way it is. If it's done well, change isn't bad.

They added stuff. They left stuff out. They did what they had to do. In the end, it was well done, and the change wasn't bad. They had a big job to do, and spent a stupendous amount of money to do it, and they did it well.

If you've never read the books, and if you never heard of John Carter until you saw the somewhat vague trailers, then this movie is a good introduction. There are weird multi-limbed creatures, savage Tharks, brutal Warhoons and The Incomparable Dejah Thoris is quite breathtaking, as she should be.

And John Carter? Captain Jack is in fine form. He is dashing and handsome, and in one scene in particular, he gives a taste of the sheer devastation he is capable of when he holds off the entire Warhoon army alone. That's the hero I remember! Warhoons are 12-foot tall savage badasses who kill for fun. They ride rhino-sized mounts called Thoats, and they have guns, too.

But this is John Carter! Their bodies pile up so fast and so deep that Captain Jack has to keep super-jumping until he is finally buried beneath them. Caked in the blue blood of his foes, a grim smile upon his lips, the Warlord of Barsoom killed an entire friggin army by himself. And there was no tramp stamp. Though The Incomparable Dejah Thoris (and her people) are richly decorated in henna-like markings, it only made them more savage and beautiful.

So, for those of you who are John Carter fans and have not yet seen this film, you should. It doesn't disappoint.

And if you don't want anything to interfere with your vision of Barsoom from the stories, well, I get it. There are some books I don't want to be adapted too. Still, change is usually good. Usually. If it's done right.