When I heard that the studio had acquired the rights to produce a movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books, I was elated. If anyone could do these stories justice, it'd be Pixar. Looks like I may have been wrong. Andrew Stanton, who's writing and directing the film (slated for 2012 release), recently said this about his approach to the original source material: "I'm going to do what I remember more than what they [i.e. the stories] exactly do ..." Granted, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Film is a different medium than literature, so there are occasions where changes make sense.
Indeed, slavish adaptations are often very unsatisfying. Still, you want to feel that the people adapting the stories understand and respect their sources and that any changes they make arise out of that. Based on what Jim Morris, the general manager at Pixar, added to Stanton's comments, I'm not so sure this will be the case.
"Everything that's been out there has been an attempt to kind of capture this Deco-esque [Frank] Frazetta vision of John Carter, which I think feels old and stale," he said. "And where Stanton is going--from what we've seen so far--is very different than that. And I think that the people who really love the essence of the books will really dig it, but so will audiences in general."The "essence of the books?" That sets off alarm bells in my head. Whenever someone talks about the "essence" of something of long vintage, it usually means they're going to gut the thing of its core in the name of brand building.
And that's the thing that baffles me here. John Carter isn't exactly a household name. Compared to Tarzan, he's a nobody. There have been, so far as I know, no major Barsoom-related movies, TV shows, or cartoons. Most average people have never heard of Carter or Dejah Thoris and wouldn't know what a Thark was if it bit them. Given that, why even bother to adapt Burroughs if what you really want to do is tell something very different than the original stories. Again, don't get me wrong: there are aspects of the John Carter stories I can see some justification in changing for the benefit of contemporary sensibilities. But, really, what's the point in doing a John Carter of Mars movie if you're not going to base them on the books? It's not as if there's a dearth of planetary romance stories Pixar could mine in developing its own original story in that genre.
It's still early, so perhaps the end result will be better than I fear it will be, but I am not sanguine based on these early reports. Because Barsoom is not a household name, the Pixar film may be many people's first exposure to it; consequently, it should be treated with respect for the way Burroughs described it. If Pixar can't do that, they should just create their own story. They're clever enough to do that, right?