Fact: I have never, to my knowledge, read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I definitely haven’t read Burroughs since I started my epic quest of reading as much SF/F as possible back in 2003. I’ve been tempted, but I assumed it’d be too much old school action that glorifies the male action hero in a dated SF style, and I decided I wasn’t interested.
And to be honest, I wasn’t much interested in Disney’s adaptation of The Princess of Mars. The trailers looked to be sheer spectacle, and I was content to wait until I could catch the movie on HBO.
But some friends of mine wanted to see it, so I said “why not?” and joined them for a matinee. I had complete and total LOW expectations, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad.
Much to my surprise: I loved it.
When I say I loved it, I don’t mean it’s a perfect film. I mean it entertained me so much that I want to go buy the soundtrack. I mean it entertained me so much that I’m actually seriously considering reading Burrough’s work now, just to see how the adventure continues (and what liberties the film made in comparison to the source material). It entertained me so much that there were moments at the end that had me at the edge of my seat, genuinely concerned for the fate of the characters, and despite how much I love the ending, it left me with a genuine fear and desire to find out what happens next.
I sincerely hope Disney gets to make a sequel, and the same actors come back.
For those of you not in the know, John Carter is based an old, classic SF property which begins with A Princess of Mars and is penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs. One of the later trailers for the film states: “Before Avatar, before Star Wars, there was John Carter.” And oddly, that helped encourage me to see the movie more than anything: Star Wars is a great love of mine, flaws and all, and Avatar was a visually-spectacular movie, despite having some story issues. I felt rather honor-bound to at least see the movie, to see if I could catch a glimpse of what’s made Burrough’s work last for so long, to see why it’s been so inspirational to the stories of Star Wars and Avatar, just to name a few.
And if you’ve ever heard of the subgenre “planetary romance,” it’s Burroughs’ work that’s often synonymous with this term.
Of course, I can’t compare the movie to the book. But the movie itself was just the entertaining fun I wanted: visual spectacle (that makes sense), pretty leads (yes, I’m shallow), but an entertaining story that’s got adventure, romance, mystery and even humor. The humor was what surprised me so, how well it was utilized in the movie. There’s a, well, dog-like creature that entertained me so much that I turned to my husband at one point and said, “I want one.”
I was also pleased that the female lead, the Princess of Mars herself Dejah Thoris (played by Lynn Collins of Wolverine fame), wasn’t completely a damsel in distress, nor an empty-headed princess. She’s a scientist, a scholar, and cares deeply about her people and her world. She had fabulous chemistry with John Carter (played by Taylor Kitsch, of Friday Night Lights fame). John Carter, the character, had moments towards the beginning where I wasn’t quite clicking with him, but I was being entertained nonetheless (thank you, humor), and there’s a backstory there that if Burroughs did it first, then Hell on Wheels borrowed it for the background of their own lead. No matter. The movie also featured Jimmy McNulty (okay, that’s really Dominic West, but he played Jimmy on The Wire, which is an amazing show, and he plays Sab Than here), which was pleasing.
At any rate, I’m babbling. I don’t know what fans of the source material will think of this movie, and I’m sure that others will find all kinds of flaws with the story, casting, and whatnot. Critics haven’t been happy with this, but I came to be entertained, and I was. I got more than I bargained for, actually, and I think that if you enjoy special effects spectacle in films that have great heart, you’ll have fun with this.
For those of you hankering for a trailer, here’s a fan-made one that puts the story in better context than those official trailers Disney released: