Thursday, March 8, 2012

10 Minutes of John Carter

I suspect many of you have already seen this, but, with the film coming out tomorrow, I thought I'd share it in case some of you hadn't.



All things considered, it's not too bad. I very much appreciate that the film retains the book's framing device of John Carter being Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Uncle Jack," who left instructions to him regarding the publication of his recollections of his exploits on Mars. I also like that the film doesn't shy away from Carter's past as a Confederate soldier who went West seeking a prosperous new life for himself in the aftermath of the Civil War. I'm not as keen on the additions made to text, in particular the implication of a tragic backstory. Mind you, that's a longstanding pet peeve of mine. For some reason, Hollywood seems to feel the need to invent past tragedies in order to explain a protagonist's current life. It's notably unnecessary in the case of John Carter, who, in the novel, remembers little of his earlier life.

I'm still planning to see the film, of course, because, for all its likely deviations from the source material, it still looks to be more faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the Barsoom novels than any of the Conan films. Once I've had a chance to view it, I'll post my thoughts here.

35 comments:

  1. Clearly the movie's producers were worried that Carter himself would be an unsympathetic character to today's political correct movie-goer. An unrepentant Confederate veteran who starts the movie out shooting up "wild injuns" is the kind of thing Hollywood is leery of putting out there.

    Not, ironically, because I think much of their audience would be bothered by it, though. Because I suspect that they wouldn't be.

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    1. Of course not -- most of the audience will be children, who can't be blamed for childishness.

      'Politically correct' is a boring canard and your use of it says more about you than about 'today's...movie-goer.'

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    2. Heh. Nice.

      Actually, it played a very important role in the changes to both John Carter AND Dejah Thoris' characters in the movie.

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  2. Michale Chabon wrote the screenplay for the movie and here is in interview where he discusses the screen play, changes to it versus the novel, and other genre fiction topics:

    http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/03/michael-chabon-geeks-guide-galaxy/

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    1. Yeah, I saw that interview yesterday. I think Chabon makes a few good points, but he also says stuff I disagree with. In the end, I suspect I'll be largely happy with the film, though I'll still wish they'd have done a lot of things differently (Dejah Warrior Princess being one of them).

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  3. Andrea Sfiligoi, of Ganesha Games, got to see it and posted his mini review on Facebook and gives it "four green thumbs up." I'm stoked for it. ERB's protagonists have always been unpalatable to Hollywood as is. Can you imagine the original Tarzan of the Apes made today with the racism, etc. intact? I've alway felt Carter's 'blank slate' is one of the weakest parts of the character in the books. The idea that he might be some sort of immortal soldier is cool, but the idea that he has no real memories beyond a certain point seemed blah to me.

    I can't say yet whether I'll like the movie's version better, but I'm definitely seeing it.

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    1. Four_thumbs up? Is this guy a Thark?

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  4. I'd already seen the trailer too, but it made me want to see the movie again after my interest had started to wane.

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  5. Hollywood likes tragic backstories because it creates a simpler "arc" for the character to go through - he begins as an apathetic misanthrope who just wants to walk away from people in need, but then he gets dragged into the conflict and has a big Movie Moment in which he realizes that he really cares after all. Then he kills the bad guy, kisses the girl, and the credits roll and the audience (presumably) goes home happy.

    One thing that's really irking me about the movie (which I'm otherwise eager to see) is the implication that the Therns are some kind of intergalactic conquerors and that "EARTH IS NEXT!!!" As if saving Barsoom and Dejah Thoris because it's the gallant thing to do isn't good enough, you've got to make sure everything's bigger because it's allegedly more dramatic that way.

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    1. One thing that's really irking me about the movie (which I'm otherwise eager to see) is the implication that the Therns are some kind of intergalactic conquerors and that "EARTH IS NEXT!!!" As if saving Barsoom and Dejah Thoris because it's the gallant thing to do isn't good enough, you've got to make sure everything's bigger because it's allegedly more dramatic that way.

      We live in a hyperbolic age, so anything less than the Most Epic Ever is insufficient, especially when it comes to genre movies.

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    2. This is the industry that thought that the sinking of the Titanic needed a gun fight to, you know, really liven it up.

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    3. The inclusion of the Therns in this regard, coupled with the "new" way JC gets to and from Earth, eats up so much dang time in this film that it pretty much cripples what could have been a very classically-handled adventure love story (which it was originally). A good 40+ minutes of the film are related to issues that never existed in the book, and it should have stayed that way.

      I pretty much tore this issue apart over at Tankards & Broadswords this morning.

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  6. Actually I heard from someone who saw an early cut that they do have a uncle jack reference. Will see...

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  7. A question to the Carter fans: does it look to you like JC is a little too strong, and jumping a little too high? He seems to be making 50-60 foot leaps when I always thought it was around 20 or 30. Plus he seems to be swinging a 3 or 4 hundred pound rock (or heavier) around like it was a big nerf ball. Maybe a tad nit pickey, but I just never pictured him as Spider-Man (who can lift around 10-15 tons and jump upwards of 40 feet).

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  8. That's the problem with Hollywood. You could cobble a whole film out of the huge trailers they release.

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    1. ...that in many cases would be better than the actual film.

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  9. Remember too that movies are different from books, and that the audiences are different. Movie audiences with no experience with Barsoom are going to want a reason to root for John Carter. If you just drop him on Mars without a backstory, why should people care about him?

    I too am glad that ERB didn't waste a lot of time on the backstory - he got right to the action. But remember he was writing a pulp-fiction book, and that's kind of what people expected. Movie audiences want to cheer for the hero, and you have to know why he's a hero. If you don't, then you get an action movie that no one really remembers.

    Big-budget movies are made to make money, not to service a small subset of science fiction geeks (like me). Sure, I'd love a slavish interpretation of the books. But, frankly, most people wouldn't.

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    1. Now always true, though - what did we know about the crew of the Nostromo in Alien?

      Part of the pulp idea of not telling us much is to allow the viewer to project onto the character more easily, I think.

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    2. Well of course there are exceptions! There always are! I'm not sure Alien is a good example, though. We knew nothing much about the crew. We might have liked them, but that's all. And they all died, except Ripley. In a horror movie you root for the person being pursued just "because". Ripley had a huge backstory in Aliens, where she was the hero(ine).

      A better example of an unfleshed hero (to argue against myself (a devil's devil's advocate)) might be Indiana Jones in the first movie. All we really knew about him was that he was an archaeologist. But he was awesome! In the books, John Carter is kind of a goody-goody (by today's standards, anyway)(and don't I use a lot of parentheticals?).

      Cheers!

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    3. "If you just drop him on Mars without a backstory, why should people care about him?"

      By his words and (more importantly) his actions? That's how they used to do it...

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    4. Also, Ripley does not have a huge backstory in Aliens. All you find out is that she has a daughter, who is now dead. She has nightmares and has problems finding work. Despite her struggle for survival in the first film, she might have been better off dead. That is, until the happy ending of Aliens, when she has a new daughter (Newt) and a potential boyfriend (Corporal Hicks). Then Alien 3 arrives and takes all that away from her again, so she would have been better off dead after all. Then in Resurrection, she's part of an experiment and part alien. Better off dead again. Grim films.

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  10. Actually in Alien and India Jones, their backstories were addressed and you got a pretty good idea who these people were early on. John Carter is a bit different, as he just wakes up one day on an alien planet and embarks on a big adventure with any clue how he go there. It personally doesn't bother me as tha twas part of the mystery to the JC books, but for the average moviegoer might be irritated if they don't reveal how he got there--and with a budget of a reported $250 million dollars, they're gonna need every butt they can irmly planted in a theatre seat.

    The picture is not tracking well and people are saying it could be a dud at the box office which would be a real shame as that could harm any chance of a sequel or even another classic fantasy story made into a feature. Hopefully it will fair better then Conan.

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  11. John Carter was imagined by ERB as some kind of immortal warrior who has lived through various time-periods before the Mars adventures. It's hinted at fairly heavily early on in the first story, and I think expanded upon somewhere later. But I think his whole point was to have him be some mysterious, timeless persona. Yeah, Joe Sixpack and Jose Mendoza at the movies probably won't appreciate that much. But we can!

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    1. a precursor of sorts to Lazarus Long, eh? Interesting. I've read Howard extensively, but now I'm thinking I need to pick up ERB.

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  12. "I also like that the film doesn't shy away from Carter's past as a Confederate soldier"

    Actually, the whole Confederate past angle is pretty much cliche now, from Josey Wales right on up through AMC's Hell On Wheels. Of course, such characters never actually owned slaves, and were just fighting to keep the sinister Yankees from destroying their idyllic traditional existence...

    As you can probably tell, the whole concept generally bugs me, but I can let it slide for Burroughs since he did it "before it was cool".

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    1. Of course, such characters never actually owned slaves

      Interestingly, Burroughs makes it clear that Carter did own slaves. He even notes in his foreword that his slaves "worshipped the ground he trod." I rather suspect that won't get referenced in the film.

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    2. Let me correct myself: the slaves referenced above are actually those of the fictionalized Burroughs's father, not John Carter's. I'm not sure if the text gives much indication about Carter's life prior to the Civil War, now that I think of it.

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    3. Hmmm, interesting nonetheless. A shame the local library's Burroughs doesn't go beyond Tarzan, I find myself compelled to investigate. I think I still have a few paperbackswap credits kicking around...

      Fun fact: when I was little, the route I walked to get to the local Hobbytown USA led right past Edgar Rice Burroughs' childhood home. It's vaguely odd that I haven't read any of his stuff yet.

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  13. I'm gonna stay away from this one... I like the books and the pictures in my head just fine. What I saw of the trailer looked like it was just the usual 'more, more, MORE' that Hollywood goes in for.
    If it were the David Lynch version I might be up for it.

    On the other hand I'm excited that Jason Durall's planetary romance supplement for BRP, 'Interplanetary', might be on it's way to finally getting done. So I'll save my pennies for that instead.

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  14. On a side note regarding immortal warriors --- Another immortal warrior I enjoyed reading about was Casca. He was cursed with immortality after stabbing Jesus on the cross. Quick reads. Reminded me of the Destroyer series.

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  15. So today is my birthday. I will be watching "John Carter" soon, as a birthday present to myself. I like bio-pics and had no idea the former president had such an interesting life.

    8P

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    1. Now that would have been a far, far better movie. I'm saddened that John Carter is such a missed opportunity but if Abe Lincoln vampire hunter has potential then so too does Jimmy Carter of Mars.

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  16. I went to the midnight Imax showing near me last night. Like a lot of the audience here I've read and reread the books since I was 9.

    I liked the movie. Its not perfect but nothing is. There are some bumps and warts but there were moments that were straight out if the book and filled me with with that "wow" from when I was a kid. The flyers, from 2 man to capital ships, are splendid. The ruins of ancient cities are breathtaking. Woola is solid and better than I had hoped.

    I'm taking my 7 year old son today. He'll love it. (The violence is mostly off screen.) Its a fun movie for adventurous kids. Its certainly more kid friendly than the foul mouthed last Transformer movie.

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  17. It was a terrible adaptation. They turned John Carter and Dejah Thoris into the cookie-cutter clones that movie-goers expect to see at every big-budget, special effects extravaganza. John Carter holding up a store clerk? Dejah Thoris swinging a sword around? Can't a hero be noble from the get-go? Can't a female character be written so as to forego the obligatory "I don't need a man" moment? Oh yeah, and let's not forget the two minute Thern soliloquy that's supposed to darkly remind us that we'll be just like them if we don't start caring about the Earth. And this isn't just a matter of the book being different from the film. I know that the book is always different from the film. It just shouldn't be 180 degrees out of phase. Disney definitely didn't grok the book....

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  18. I Disagree. While the movie had problems, I really enjoyed it. Lynn Collins made a GREAT Dejah Thoris.

    If anything, they were *too* faithful to the original (as far as movie adaptations go) and tried to cram in too much too quickly. Pity it couldn't have been an HBO series ... then again, considering it had half the cast of "Rome" it might as well have been.

    When I remarked on this to the critic friend I saw it with last week, he surlily replied: It's Rome ... as written by L. Ron Hubbard." Ok... that made me laugh.

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