The Carter Center


John Carter – Originally called John Carter of Mars, and that’s still the title that appears at the end of the film, but apparently a focus group or something decided it would get more of an audience if they left out the Mars part. That seems so contrary to my own way of thinking, but even more importantly, the name wouldn’t mean anything to anyone not familiar with the source material. And they’d already know it was set on Mars, so what were they aiming for? “Oh, you know what movie sounds good based entirely on the title? This one that’s just some generic guy’s name!” The film was a flop, but I have to wonder if that was at least in part due to people thinking it was a Star Wars rip-off, when it’s actually Star Wars that was heavily inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series.

That’s not say it was without its flaws. The plot could easily have been more streamlined, but it seems like no one can make a movie under two hours long these days. And the lead never really seemed to pull off the rugged, handsome thing he was going for. Overall, though, I was impressed by how much of the source material they were able to work into it, especially visually.

In some ways I think it might have tried to work in TOO much of the books, particularly when it came to scenes that didn’t make a whole lot of sense without knowing the original narrative. This pertains to such things as why Carter is suddenly able to speak the Martian language with hardly any explanation (all sentient beings on Mars possess some level of telepathy) and why Burroughs was a character in it (the conceit of at least the first book is that he was writing the story based on a memoir by Carter). They also brought up the cult of Issus without doing much with it, although maybe they intended to use that in a sequel. The plot is mostly that of A Princess of Mars (which is even name-checked by Carter despite not being the title of the film) with other elements mixed in, like the different races of Barsoom uniting against a common menace. Since I’ve only read the first three books, I don’t know if Burroughs ever offered an explanation as to how Carter was transported to Mars and back; it just sort of happened. In the movie, there was a bit of a subplot about planet-hopping Therns using medallions to transport between worlds. I also have to say that I appreciated the film making Dejah Thoris a more active character, a scientist and warrior in her own right.

It wasn’t a great movie, but I mostly enjoyed it.

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