On the evening of Thursday March 1, 2012, I went with perhaps a couple hundred other lucky Phoenix fen to see a sneak preview of John Carter of Mars. JCM is a film that I and a lot of other science fiction fans have been excited and hopeful about for years. I practically had to go to Mars to see the movie, as the sneak was at Harkins Arrowhead theaters, hidden in a jungle of giant shopping mall stores out at 83rd Avenue and Bell in Peoria. It took me well over an hour to find the place since I started with a wrong impression of where I was going, and then zigged when I should have zagged, but I didn’t give up, and I’m glad I didn’t. The movie turned out to be not only spectacular in terms of special effects, but much better than I thought it would be in terms of story. If you were hesitating, don’t. You must see this film.
(You don’t have to see it in 3D, however. The 3D effects were nowhere near as awesome as they were in Avatar.)
I scored a copy of this poster at VulCon 1, and it now dominates my living room.
I’m not going to issue any spoilers, or tell you anything you haven’t seen in the movie trailers, but I do want to make some comments about the film in general. By now anyone who cares knows that John Carter is the story of an earthman magically transported to Mars (Barsoom) where he meets strange creatures and wins the love of a Martian princess. People get sidetracked by the scenery. Way back in 1912 when Edgar Rice Burroughs first wrote “Under the Moons of Mars” for All Story Magazine, he was writing a romance. Yes, the setting was the exotic world of Mars, but the heart of the tale is the love story of John Carter and Dejah Thoris. This is what Disney and Pixar should have focussed their marketing on–not special effects with armies and giant white apes. A woman I talked to said there was “too much fighting”. She liked the humor, and the love story, and Woola made her laugh, but the movie had “too much fighting.”
One of the humorous bits in the movie comes near the beginning. During the first meeting of Tars Tarkas, jeddak of the Tharks, and John Carter, lost newbie on an alien planet, the green man thumps his chest and says “Tars Tarkas”. Carter correctly deduces that Tars Tarkas is his name. The earthman indicates himself, not nearly as strongly as he could have, and says “John Carter of Virginia.” From this, Tars Tarkas deduces that his name is Virginia, and he calls him Virginia for the rest of the movie. Even Dejah Thoris thinks his name is Virginia at the beginning of the film. The theater roared with laughter. It is a good joke on John. Hence our blog title, Virginia of Mars.
John Carter is a long film–over two hours. I loved it all, but it may be too much for some people. The special effects were out-fucking-standing. I especially liked the Barsoomian flyers, but I had a hard time finding a good picture of one on the web that I could use. This will have to do.
John Carter sees Martian flyers for the first time.
It’s a fantasy. We all have to suspend our disbelief, but Hollywood movie producers continually go too far. John Carter’s earthly muscles give him tremendous jumping powers on Mars. it is believable that he could jump perhaps 20 or 30 feet–which is about what Burroughs had him do in the books. The gravity of Mars is about 1/4 the gravity of Earth. The movie shows him jumping hundreds of feet at a time, practically flying. The plot depends upon it. Okay, he’s Superman on Mars. It makes for great action, but it’s going to hurt the crediblity of the movie with critics and anyone who knows even the slightest bit about Mars and astronomy. Hollywood should not bank on the stupidity of the audience. We’re not that dumb.
Look! Up in the sky! It's a . . .
John Carter gains a pet and a protector on Mars, a calot named Woola. He’s the Martian equivalent of a dog–a big powerful friendly dog. I think the film makers did the right thing by having Woola bark like a dog–just to help with the identification in the minds of the audience. However, Burroughs never said that calots had super speed. It’s funny when Carter tries to escape his guardian by leaping only to find the THING waiting for him whenever he landed. However, to show this critter moving at eye-blurring speeds during the rest of the movie, strains our sense of reality even further. Just another example of Hollywood going too far.
"Stay, Woola, stay!" Dog training on Mars.
There is a lot in this movie. Maybe I’ll do a second blog about it in a week or two just about the characters. The acting was very fine, I thought, and the characters all deserve description and analysis. But I don’t have time. I want to come back to my point that Pixar/Disney is blowing the marketing by focussing on monsters and battles. To be successful a movie has to appeal to American women, and for the most part, they like romance. They don’t like monsters and battles. Star Wars uses the romantic triangle of Luke, Han, and Leia to bring the audience into the film. The great Star Wars movie posters always show Leia. Dejah Thoris is incredible–as beautiful women go she’s a 20 on a scale of 10. She fights like an Amazon. She’s a briliant scientist, a patriot, and a princess. She’s perfection. They should be emphasizing her role in the movie. They aren’t. In my opinion, this is the trailer they should be showing the most, and the emphasis should be on interplanetary romance in times of peril.
Don’t let anyone tell you this film is bad! It’s amazingly great–with a few minor quibbles because Hollywood always goes overboard on things. I will be going to see it again, maybe more than once.
If you like John Carter, sword and planet stories, or just alien monsters, please leave a comment.
I’d like to know what’s going on. Suddenly (within the last year) not one, but two companies are publishing John Carter of Barsoom comics. The movie doesn’t come out until next summer, and 99% of America has no clue who JC is, nor do they care.
- The essence of Barsoom in one picture–swordsmen, naked women, and monsters in an exotic setting.
Dynamite Comics has been doing a lot of licensed properties lately. They got Red Sonja away from Marvel and have been running the swordswoman through all sorts of fantastic adventures with onlyt the sketchiest connection to Howard’s Hyborean realms. They picked up Vampirella, and Zorro, and the Lone Ranger, and the Green Hornet, and I didn’t really care about any of these titles. I followed Sonja for a while because I’m a raving Robert E. Howard fan, but Dynamite’s Sonja was so different from Marvel’s Sonja (and neither was much like Howard’s Sonja who never met Conan at all) that I eventually let it go. But then they announced that they were doing a John Carter of Mars adaptation, and my heart sang, and I vowed to get them all. The only science fiction/fantasy author I like as much as Robert E. Howard is Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Heh! I guess middle names were important in the first half of the twentieth century when these writers flourished.)
The Dynamite books feature cover art by Joe Jusko. I talked to Joe for a few minutes at ComiCon in Phoenix last year (2010), and told him I admired his art, and had collected his trading cards featuring Tarzan, and expressed the wish that he would be the interior artist for John Carter. Joe said “no way” to that. He would get bored if he had to draw sequential art, which is often basically the same picture seen from a different angle–the same character again and again and again. Joe likes the splashy stuff like the picture aboev, and I don’t blame him.
The Dynamite series about John Carter seems to have done well enough. They just released issued #9 which ends the storyline for A PRINCESS OF MARS–the first book in the series. The previews in the back say there will be a #10, but featuring Dejah Thoris in a murder mystery–who killed the guardian of the Atmosphere Factory? Tfhey are also doing two other series. One features Dejah Thoris, and the other is a mini-series about the destruction of the old white Orovar Martian race and the creation of said Atmosphere Factory.
Dejah Thoris just lounging around.
Even though it means I’m spending more money, I’m really happy that Dynamite is doing multiple Barsoomian titles. Barsoom is by far my favorite location for Sword and Planet fantasy adventure. Then, a couple of months ago, I see an announcement that Marvel is going to do a John Carter comic. What the . . . (I avoid gratuitous profanity, but you know what I mean.) Dynamite is doing a fine job with John Carter. Why is Marvel horning in on the act?
Marvel had a John Carter comic once before. (So did D.C. and Dell even earlier.) Back in the seventies Gil Kane and Dave Corcorum created an outstanding comic that lasted for some 28 issues–not nearly long enough, with original story lines that really expanded the scope of Barsoomian adventure. It looked like this:
You can see that Gil Kane and Joe Jusko were on the same wavelength. Swordsmen, naked women, and big green monsters--the combination for happiness.
Now Marvel has gone back to Mars/Barsoom. I bought the first issue of the Princess of Mars 5-issued limited series yesterday. I’ve forgotten who the scripter/adaptor is, but he takes extreme liberties with Burroughs’ story. Dynamite didn’t follow it letter for letter, but was a lot closer to the original. They have brought in some new artist name Filipe Andrade to do the art. I won’t say it’s bad–apparently Andrade is gaining a good reputation for his work on Captain America and Onslaught Unleashed. But the art is nowhere near the quality of material currently appearing in Dynamite or previously appearing back in the 70s when Marvel did it before. Instead it is twisted and distorted–gives the impression that the whole adventure is a drug-induced hallucination. Tars Tarkas comes out as an 8 foot pickle for andrade. Dejah Thoris is malnourished and rather pitiful–hardly the indomitable figure that Jusko portrays.
Marvel's latest version looks like this. I prefer the Gil Kane version.
I have done a little digging for info on the internet. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the bottom of the story yet, but this is what I’ve learned. Dynamite decided to do John Carter when they found ou t the original novels were in the public domain. So did IDW comics, but they didn’t get nearly so good a start. ERB Inc. had a licensing deal with Marvel in the past, but they pulled it, and killed the 70s comic. They weren’t happy that independents were making money off the John Carter property–I’m sure Disney has paid ERB Inc. handsomely for the rights to do the movie next year. If there is going to be a John Carter comic, ERB Inc. wants a part of it. So they went back to their old pal Marvel and licensed it to them again. Marvel knows that the movie is coming, and they love to capitalize on such events–so they agreed to the deal. However, Marvel is overtaxed with producing the huge line of comics they are printing already. John Carter is a rush job for them. They signed up a production team that’s ok, but doesn’t really have many credits–big opportunity for the unknowns doing the production of John Carter, but small loss to Marvel if the series flops. A story that took Dynamite 9 issues to tell is being crammed into 5 issues for Marvel. The art is not very realistic, and so can be rushed to get it all done before next summer’s movie release. Marvel also got the license to do the movie version of the comic–that starts next month in October. This one they care a little more about, so they got Peter David to do the adaptation. There is not a better script writer in all of comics than Peter David. It will look like this.
What's wrong with this picture? The sky of Mars should be pinkish-red, not blue.
The art on this one will be better (imho), but that’s because the artist is going to try and make it look like the actors in the film. Based on the trailers, the John Carter movie won’t be any closer to Burroughs’ John Carter than the Conan movie was to Howard’s Conan. Still, i will buy it. It could still be a good movie and a good comic. With Peter David scripting, I’m sure it will be a good comic.
While I was gathering material to do this blog, I saved several pictures. John Carter is the nominal hero of this series, but it is Dejah Thoris that we’re all in love with. It is Dejah who haunts our dreams, and it is Dejah that we pay to see. At least that’s who the heterosexual guys in the audience like. Like Tarzan, there is a strong homo-erotic undercurrent to the Barsoomian tales of naked swordmen running around, male bonding, and carving their way from one side of the planet to the other. John Carter and Kantos Kan were imprisoned together in Zodanga for months and became great friends–read whatever you want into that. Carter spent a lot of his time naked on Barsoom, and though our politically correct artists always draw him with his loins covered, that isn’t what Burroughs wrote. Burroughs was apparently an equal opportunity erotic dreamer–the nudity and sex appeal is there for both men and women. So, let me close with some pictures of Dejah Thoris for those of us who like women to dream on.
Dejah Thoris in chains. Nudity, bondage, swordplay. Kinky.
Where did all those clouds come from on Mars? Dejah Thoris with sword and pistol. The chains are part of her clothing, but the suggestion of bondage is still there. Very big breasts on that lady and in royal purple. Still kinky.
Andrade's Dejah Thoris. Malnourished, sad (and who could blame her--the Tharks just killed all her friends and imprisoned her) and still in chains. Still kinky.
Ted McKeever did some Barsoomian art for IDW before that series got cancelled. His Dejah Thoris is totally raping that green warrior. Is he in agony or ecstasy? That pistol in his hand is about to go off. It's a combat scene, but it is also an amazing eroitic image. Kinky.
Ah, well, no matter what ciriticisms or observations I may casually hurl in this blog, I am very happy to see John Carter and Dejah Thoris appearing in comics once more. If you like this kind of stuff, you should not miss out on the John Carter comics–I don’t think they will last more than a year or two.