John Carter

The story is that after reading the material in the pulp magazines, Edgar Rice Burroughs decided that he could write better and despite never having written a story before did exactly that.  I always wonder about this story, since I’ve heard it before.  James Fennimore Cooper supposedly was similarly inspired by Sir Walter Scott.  The tale has a certain formulaic tone to it that suggests that it may be apocryphal, something an adventure writer might tell an interviewer to spice things up. And since Burroughs not only got published but became incredibly popular and rich, largely due to the Tarzan movies, you wonder just how much of an amateur at writing he was at the beginning.  Burroughs is a link in a chain going back to Scott, Cooper, H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger Series, arguably Wells and Verne, Robert E. Howard and the rest of the early pulp writers.

So naturally Hollywood turned to him for material. Except for a fondly remembered adaptation of The Land that Time Forgot,  they never really got beyond Tarzan which would be fine but Burroughs had several other beloved series too.  Chief among them was his Mars or Barsoom series which has been in development hell for some time.  It’s passed through the hands of many a creative team and nobody’s been able to crack it.

John Carter is based on A Princess of Mars, the first book in the Barsoom series, which is about Civil War veteran John Carter, played here by Taylor Kitsch, who is whisked away to Mars by a powerful amulet.  He falls in love with Princess Dejah Thoris, played by Lynn Collins, of the city of Helium and gets involved with its life and death struggle with the mobile city of Zodanga.  In the process of saving her several times ,of course falls for her.

It’s a pretty film with great CGI effects that are seamlessly integrated with the live action.  Everything looks real and the world has a lived-in feel to it.  The problem is the script.  It is poorly paced and holds few surprises.  It’s the kind of movie where you wait for daylight scenes so you can check your watch.

Perhaps somewhere there is a young filmmaker who will watch John Carter and think, “I can make a better film than that!”  And he’ll probably be right.

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