Last Friday Laura and I were able to get away for the evening to see the new movie John Carter. Unless you are a fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian Tales you probably have no idea what this movie is about (something the marketing for this movie did little to help). In short the movie is based on the first installment in a series of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of another series of books about an orphaned boy raised by apes in the wilds of Africa that you probably have heard of. That boy is named Tarzan. The John Carter story was first published as "Under the Moon of Mars"; a six part serial in the All Story Magazine in 1912 under the pseudonym Norman Bean. It was later published as a book titled "A Princess of Mars" which was rather inexplicably re-titled "John Carter" for the movie. Doesn't "A Princess of Mars" sound more interesting and adventurous?
This series revolves around a Civil War veteran - John Carter - who stumbles on a pathway between Mars and Earth and is unexpectedly transported to Mars (a Mars as the author imagined based on the knowledge of his time). He encounters a variety of strange creatures and not so different human inhabitants and the stories in the series describe the adventures he encounters with the creatures he finds on this new planet. They are good fun (or at least that is how I remember them - it has been a few years).
I first encountered the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs during a rather rain soaked vacation to Minnesota in the late 1970's. It started with the first Tarzan book, and after I had devoured that series, purchased 2 or 3 at a time to read during the downpours, I raced through the Martian tales. Below is the cover art from the Del Rey series I read published in 1979 (I still have every book in this series and the Tarzan series from that summer - thanks Mom). I don't think that I have read them since, but you can see what might have drawn the interest of a fourteen year old boy.
When I heard that a movie was being made of these books I was excited. I have thought for quite a few years that if they could make Star Wars they certainly could make a decent movie with this story. I had hoped that this effort would not fail my expectations and for the most part I have to say it was all that I had hoped it would be. It was great fun. In particular, the characters were much as I had imagined them, probably greatly influenced by the cover art of Michael Whelan. I highly suspect the designers of this movie were greatly influenced by his interpretation of the characters as well. In particular, the four-armed green men (Tharks) in the illustration above look just like those in the movie.
The movie is exactly what it should have been - an imaginary adventure to strange places with a basic plot of doing what is right. With lots of great action scenes and believable aliens all rolled into the mix.
I hope that there will be sequels to this first go-around but I am afraid that the poor marketing (which appeared to assume that everyone knew the premise of the story, not just middle-aged men) and the large price tag of production of this movie no matter how well it does will doom more John Carter adventures on the big screen. That will be a shame. These are good stories that I feel I can share with my boys at the movies. At least I still have the books though and perhaps that will be enough. They too can enjoy the written words and make their own mental movie like I did so many years ago. The movie has certainly gotten me interested in going back to Mars with John Carter again.