|'John Carter' image from Walt Disney Pictures|
The summer I was 12, my mother would take my sister and me to the library in the next town over so we could get books to keep us occupied. (We had only three channels on the TV, no video games or Internet or even VHS. Barbaric conditions.)
|Frank Frazetta cover art.|
(You can read the original FIRST EDITION of the book on the Library of Congress website for free. If you set it for 2-page view, the reader allows you to turn the pages of actual scanned pages of the edition.)
Burroughs’ Tarzan novels had caught my imagination in fifth grade, thanks to the abridged and illustrated versions put out by Whitman Publishing. Later, in middle school, the Mars stories of Ray Bradbury enthralled me.
These “Carter” books were like a combination of the two: A man from Earth somehow finds himself on the dying planet Mars, where lower gravity means his Earth-born muscles and bones make him a virtual superman, and where he fights for his freedom and the survival of his new friends.
Thirty-five summers later, “John Carter” (“of Mars”) is on the big screen and pronounced one of the biggest commercial flops in motion picture history. It may never recoup the cost of production and marketing, although whoever got paid for the marketing owes Disney their money back.
|Airship landing in 'John Carter.'|
Carter’s is a classic “hero’s journey,” and although the film might go to dark places, it is light-hearted and carries a positive message.
|John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) of Mars|
The sequence in which he makes this decision and stands alone against a barbarian horde is simultaneously beautiful and horrific; we see him killing desert warriors in a brutal fight while his mind’s eye replays the agony of finding his family dead and burying them in a driving rain.
The film has been criticized as “derivative,” but only if you would consider a film of “Le Morte d’Arthur” derivative of “Star Wars.” Carter rode flyers before a Skywalker ever jumped on a speeder bike; went native long before the hero of “Avatar” did so; leaped tall buildings at a single bound decades before Superman’s debut.
|Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) Princess of Helium|
(This is my 'Undercurrents' column for The News Herald this week. A couple of notes for the uninitiated: 1) "Barsoom" is the native word for the planet we call "Mars"; 2) "Kaor!" is the native word for "Hello" or "Welcome" and is used here in place of my usual sign-off as a punchline to the metal bikini remark. My feeble attempt at a joke. Thanks for reading.)