April 25, 2012

John Carter

By Andrew at 11:47 AM


When writing, I can only cover so many “serious” topics before I need to switch gears and consider something a little more lighthearted. That is one reason why you will see me addressing such a wide variety of topics here on my blog. Another reason is that I have a very broad range of interests, and the topics that I select each week tend to be topics that I am currently considering, reflecting on, or discovering myself. And today’s topic is a movie I recently saw called “John Carter.”

“John Carter” is a Disney film based upon the “John Carter of Mars” stories by the author of “Tarzan,” Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film itself is widely considered to be a financial catastrophe, not even covering the cost of producing the movie. Yet being the fan of sci-fi that I am, I thought that the movie looked interesting and that it should at least be entertaining, if nothing else.
“John Carter” is essentially the story of a Confederate soldier who turned archaeologist/prospector in the years following the Civil War. He ends up traveling to Mars via a technology that he accidentally discovers while being attacked inside a hidden cave. From that point on, the concept that moves the story forward seems to be his unwillingness to become involved in any fighting for anyone else’s cause, at least until he realizes that the only way to “get the girl” will be to engage in battle to save her people.
The most unique element of the film to me was the intriguing alternate interpretation of technology by the Martians. Instead of utilizing ocean-going ships for transport and combat, the Martians utilized “solar” airships, presumably powered by solar energy and flying on rays of light rather than on air or water. Unfortunately, the most troublesome aspect of the film was how easily John Carter seemed to abandon his convictions regarding staying out of battles that were not his own. While I am not saying that he made what I would perceive as the wrong decision, his reasoning and convictions definitely seemed rather muddled and weak once he became a part of the Martian struggles. Aside from that though, I thought the film was relatively well produced, and not quite as poor as most reviewers and audiences would seem to indicate. It was a fun movie to watch, and I would definitely compare my enjoyment of it to “Prince of Persia,” another Disney movie that I enjoyed which was also widely considered to be a failure.
Throughout the movie, I could not help but make comparisons to another story of a human space-travel to Mars. I read C. S. Lewis’s “Out of the Silent Planet” several years ago, and I have noticed an uncanny number of general similarities between that story and John Carter. Many aspects, including alternate names for Earth and Mars, mysterious beings governing the many planets, multiple species of Martians inhabiting Mars, and so on, make me wonder if Lewis, whose story was published twenty or more years after John Carter, was influenced at least partly by the works of Burroughs.
I would definitely recommend this movie to fans of science fiction, although I will warn that it is not a great movie for young audiences. I would say that it is not necessary to see this movie in theaters, but it is definitely worth seeing once it is out on home video.

Comments »

  1. Brendan — May 1, 2012 @ 6:27 PM

    For the first third of the movie I was pretty much convinced that Tolkien had rewritten the space trilogy without Lewis noticing and secretly it was, in fact, that “lost manuscript” that Stanton was adapting to the screen…

    Disagree with the analysis of Carter’s convictions changing, however – I’d argue he made the later battle(s) his own – no change of conviction(s) necessary.

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