Ever since I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs I’ve had a love affair going with Sword and Planet fiction. There’s a reason why three out of the four novels I’ve written fall into that genre (The Talera series). There’s a reason why I’ve spent hours upon hours of my time drawing maps and making up worlds for my own Sword and Planet concepts. As I’ve said before, I consider the genre to be the purest reading fun one can have.
And so I was eager to see the first big-budget adaptation of ERB’s seminal novel. Lana and I watched John Carter on pay-per-view last night. Here’s my thoughts.
First, I want to be clear that I enjoyed the movie and consider it well worth the price I paid to see it. I thought there were some very good things about it. There were also some things that didn’t work as well, and a few things I didn’t understand.
Characters: Generally, the characters worked. Dejah Thoris was well cast. She came off a bit too modern in her dialogue to me, but that is to be expected considering the book came out a 100 years ago. I also liked the casting for John Carter himself, although I didn’t care for the attempts early in the movie to reframe him as a kind of anti-hero. I see that as a nod to modern young audiences and I didn’t think it was necessary. Tars Tarkas was a wonderful character for this movie, but was, perhaps, only about seventy percent the Tars Tarkas from the books. I also liked the Sola character and the loveable Woola! Kantos Kan was well cast as well, but didn’t have enough to do in the movie. They changed the basic way in which love develops between Carter and Dejah Thoris, and I thought the novel did a better job with that. Still, I bought the love affair and thought it ended up being very touching.
Plot: A Princess of Mars was a very open ended adventure novel and I knew they’d have to change that for the movies. They needed a more coherent plot. The one they chose, having the Therns as super science types who are manipulating the politics on Barsoom, was pretty thin, but there was ‘some’ justification for that in ERB’s Martian series. They could have done better at explaining why the Therns were doing what they were doing, though. I’m still not quite sure on the matter. That said, I liked how the movie brought that plot around at the end to explain how John Carter returns to Mars.
Scenery: Beautiful scenery. I totally bought the world and both the ancient and modern cities. I thought the flying ships were very well done, and the ‘wildlife,’ such as the White Apes and the Thoats were believable. This was a solid strength to the film.
Action: The action was good and generally believable within the context of the story. John Carter’s jumping skills didn’t always seem to be equivalent from one section of the movie to another, but I was OK with that. I would have liked to have seen more sword fights. John Carter is the best swordsman on two worlds after all. A little more “Errol Flynn” would have been good with me.
Missteps: I was a little irritated early in the movie at how they changed up the character of Powel and how they came in contact with the Apache. It seemed a little tacked on. I also didn’t like the addition of a dead wife for Carter. That was just far too cliché. They made good use of the idea later in the story but it would have been better without that element.
All in all, though I wish it would have been better, I still liked it a heckuva lot and found it much more enjoyable than most of the movies I’ve watched lately.