Sunday, June 19, 2011
Just take a gander at the IMDB listing of the cast of characters for a moment. What you see there is a listing consisting nearly completely of characters who actually appear in Barsoom tales written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Indeed, unless I am mistaken not a single named character of significance in the film is an invention of Stanton or his co-writers. Compare this to the similar listing of the cast of characters in the upcoming Conan the Barbarian, where, aside from the titular Cimmerian, none of the characters has any basis in the source material.
Let's go further. Among the characters listed in the cast of John Carter of Mars are several Apaches. Readers of A Princess of Mars may recall that Carter is attacked by Apaches while prospecting for gold in Arizona. It was this attack that led to Carter to seek refuge in the cave where falls unconscious and then wakes up on Barsoom. Apaches? Prospecting? Doesn't that suggest this movie takes place in the past? Why, yes, it does! Strangely, A Princess of Mars also takes place in the past, the late 1860s, to be precise. After all, as Burroughs describes him, "Captain Jack" is a Confederate veteran of the Civil War -- just as he is in the film! Shocking!
You'll also see that among the characters in the film is someone called "Edgar Rice Burroughs." Hmm, how odd. Now, as I recall, A Princess of Mars is presented as a true account left to Burroughs by his Uncle Jack to be published in the future. Could it be that the movie retains this narrative structure in some fashion? Why, what a crazy thought? A movie based on a book that actually takes into account not just the characters and story of its source material but even its framing device? That's madness! I mean, if John Carter of Mars does this, the next thing you know people might start expecting it of other films based on books and where might that lead?
Now, it may be that John Carter of Mars deviates in many ways, both large and small, from A Princess of Mars and I'll no doubt grouse about those changes, for such is my nature. But I must give credit where credit is due: Andrew Stanton has faith in his source material -- faith that it is not just good as a book but good as the basis for a movie that modern audiences might enjoy. Is it too much to expect that, one day, Robert E. Howard might get a writer or director who has as much faith in his stories?