As a lifelong Edgar Rice Burroughs fan in good standing, I could not live with myself if I didn’t haul my butt out to the theatre to catch the movie based on his first story, A Princess of Mars. Non-ERB fans would know the movie by the uninspiring title John Carter.
Despite the lacklustre showing at the box-office and its inevitable failure to make money for Disney, I think that the movie is a success for anyone who bothers to actually see it. It could be my standing in the ERB fan club which has coloured my opinions, but I don’t think so.
Many critics have complained that the story is unnecessarily complicated and I’d have to agree with them. I think the scriptwriters worked hard to create a backstory to explain how a 19th-century American ends up on Mars, but they were perhaps a bit too clever. They could have stuck closer to the source material which may not be as sophisticated for today’s audience, but would certainly simplify the story.
If you ignore some of the more convoluted plot points, the movie delivers on visuals and action that should have made this a slam dunk for the blockbuster-loving masses, but I guess the poor marketing couldn’t save it.
For those of you not familiar with Burroughs’ Mars series, it is a sequence of adventures of a former Confederate soldier on Mars. The lower gravity on the Red Planet gives him near-super-human strength and he uses this advantage to great effect in various battles that pit him against monsterous foes.
Along the way he befriends an 8-foot-tall, green-skinned, four-armed Martian and falls in love with a red-skinned Martian princess. In the movie, and in the book, he has encounters there is much swashbuckling as John Carter slahes and swordfights his way across the dying planet, wheter it be in the vast deserts that are now dried-out seas or high in the air in ornate flying machines that more closely resemble flying sailing ships.
Some of the scenes are reminiscent of the most recent round of Star Wars movies, specifically an arena battle and some of the flying sequences which look like they could have been outtakes from the Phantom Menace pod race. I don’t take that as a negative and you have to take into account that Burroughs’ stories pr-edate Star Wars and, pretty much every other, science fiction story by several decades so the reality is that most of them were stealing story ideas from ERB and not the other way around.
I’d readily recommend this movie to any science-fiction fan who wants to turn their brain off for a few hours and be entertained by a grand spectacle that will transport them magically to another planet.