Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Movie: John Carter

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 27, 2012

Evidently, the original books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (more famous for his “Tarzan” stories) about John Carter and Mars were a source of inspiration for James Cameron for his movie Avatar. Avatar had stunning and beautiful 3D graphics (and IMO not much else going for it), and the movie went and sold a gajillion tickets.

Disney’s movie John Carter, directly taken from original stories (primarily the first, A Princess of Mars) is in my opinion far more deserving of massive ticket sales than Cameron’s movie. Sadly, I think the marketing budget for John Carter must have went up the noses of the marketing department, as they did a terrible job selling it. I waited for a couple of weeks to see it, hesitant after seeing pretty mixed reviews. But then many of my fellow-geek friends saw it, and almost every one reported loving the movie, so I gave it a chance. I’m glad I did. It was well worth seeing on the big screen.

Yeah. It gets cheesy. Maybe it even revels in its cheesiness at times. But while it doesn’t take itself too seriously,  it doesn’t make that an excuse not to play things straight. Most of the time, at least.  It’s a swords-and-sandals (and airships and laser guns) movie, pulp-fantasy action with classic old-school flavor. In my opinion, this is what George Lucas wanted the Star Wars prequel to be like, but he failed to achieve. Star Wars lost something between the trilogies. John Carter found it.

No, it’s not Lord of the Rings or anything like that. But it’s a solid four-out-of-five kind of action movie that makes up for many of its weaknesses with audaciousness. Though I enjoyed it from the get-go, it truly won me over about two-thirds of the way through a movie, in a tremendous battle between Carter and an advancing horde. Near the end of the battle, a particular image evoked a couple of Frank Frazetta paintings, specifically Conan the Destroyer.  Most likely, this was deliberate. I freakin’ grew up on this stuff.  That was my fantasy, back in the day before they actually drew the line between fantasy and science fiction.  Howard and Lovecraft were as much my foundation in fantasy as Tolkien.  And who inspired them? Oh, yeah, Edgar Rice Burroughs…

So yeah, this movie struck a chord with me.  Mighty-thewed warriors. Arena battles with giant four-armed apes. Naval warfare in the sky.  Sexy women with swords.  Mysteries of ancient ruins. Swords, six-guns, and disintegrator rays all mixed together.  Maybe some people will balk at all this, but it resonated pretty well for me. And while there were times that the dialog got a little mired and repetitive, and the characters weren’t quite portraits of complex motivations, it was all “good enough.” It delivered exactly the kind of experience I was expecting.

In fact, it motivated me to finally read A Princess of Mars, downloaded from Project Gutenburg, over the weekend. While I’d read about John Carter since I was a kid, I’d never actually read any of the books. My exposure to Burroughs – with the exception of a single Tarzan book I’d read back in the sixth grade or something – was always secondhand or through some other media. And you know what? I enjoyed the book just as much. It was originally pulp fantasy doled out in monthly installments in a magazine, and had that kind of cliff-hanger-y pacing to it. Like the movie, it was pretty dead-on what I was expecting.  The movie had some pretty significant deviations, but overall it was pretty faithful to the source material.

Unfortunately, it looks like the movie’s story likely ends here. The word coming out of Hollywood is that the movie is a flop. I blame marketing rather than the movie itself, but maybe I’m just too much of a niche audience. I guess the only hope of a sequel (originally it was planned to be a trilogy) is if word-of-mouth gets out there and the movie proves to have legs. It ain’t much to go on, but I figured I’d share my own recommendation.


Filed Under: Books, Movies - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • slenkar said,

    I saw the movie of the book starring Antonio Sabato which wasnt very good, but I will go see this if I can now I know its good.

  • Melissa said,

    I loved it far more than it probably deserved, but WAY more than the critics believed it deserved. Also, apropos of our discussion about the title being part of what hurt sales, I remembered that Hugo did very well despite having an obscure title, and it was also based on a book, but their marketing was so much better at conveying what the movie was about. Though I imagine its being based on a book that’s less than 90 years old helped too.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I’d suggest it’s doing fairly well for a film based on a book (or series of books) that very few people will have heard of, let alone read.

    One major problem was the amount of money they spent on it. The total budget (including marketing and such) is rumoured to be as much as $350 Million. They took a massive risk, and it didn’t pay off. There are precious few films that gross enough to pay off those sorts of investments (and it’s usually DVD sales, merchandising and such that will truly pay for a film).

    Comparing it with Avatar is tricky, since that was a bit of a special case. The hype was massive, James Cameron seems to know exactly how to make a film for a mass audience, and it rode into town with the promise of the New 3D. A lot of people went to watch it just because of the 3D and special effects. Now, the hype surrounding stereoscopic 3D is fading, there’s a backlash against the additional ticket price.

  • Xian said,

    When I was ten or eleven I found boxes of books in my Grandmother’s basement that my Uncle had packed away when he had moved out of her house years before. There was a lot of pulp fiction from the late 40s and 50s, but what caught my eye was “At The Earth’s Core”. I read that, then found the rest of the Pellucidar books and went through them. I started looking for more Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Barsoom series was the next I started reading. I pretty much read all of the ERB books I could find after that. There were many more that my Uncle had left, such as the Venus, Kaspak, and Moon Men series along with many other titles.

    That discovery started me on a path towards reading science fiction and fantasy, which eventually led to RPG gaming after I got a computer in the early 80s.

    I wanted to see the movie, but these days I wait for the DVD release.

  • Corwin said,

    Haven’t seen the film, but I own almost every ERB book that has seen print. I bought A Princess of Mars when I was about 12 years old and loved it so much I spent all my pocket money every week buying all the ERB novels then in print. Later I searched out copies of any I hadn’t been able to buy new. I like all that old pulp stuff and have heaps, like all the old Shadow novels for example. Can’t wait for the film to be released here.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    The failure of the movie lays ENTIRELY on the marketing department. I’m a science fiction nerd and a book geek – I should have been the primary audience for this, but the trailer did NOTHING for me. Well, I take that back. It made me not want to see the movie. The trailer made it look like a gladiator rehash with green people and a chowder-headed muscle man fighting for his freedom. Yawn. Boring.

    Two weeks ago I was stuck at the mall and ended up needing to kill a few hours before meeting a friend, so I decided to see a movie. None of the movies on offer really appealed to me, but I decided on John Carter as the least dreadful choice. Color me surprised when the movie opens up in period London! And what is this? Our hero is a Confederate cavalryman – and an interesting mystery unfolds immediately? And he is clever and noble?

    I ended up really liking the movie. It had it’s flaws, but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

    The problem is the marketing team didn’t clearly market its genre. Is it an action movie? Science fiction? Fantasy? Adding the “of Mars” to the title would of cleared that up quick. I was struck by the end of the movie when they DO display “John Carter of Mars” and they have a REALLY clever logo for that title. One that is super marketable. I could immediately see that design on fast food combo meals and T-shirts. But for some reason it is only used for a few seconds at the end of the movie.

    Secondly, I couldn’t tell what age group the movie was targeting. I mean, it LOOKED like it might be targeting young men – there is the violence, and bikini clad woman in the trailer. But then you get the title DISNEY’S John Carter. I immediately thought upon seeing that Disney was using that label to release the movie that all the violence would be toned down and the promised sexual imagery would never materialize. I would have thought Disney would release it under one of their labels they use for more adult films.

    It was just mixed and bland signals all around with the marketing, and it was SCARCE. I saw the trailer once, and a TV spot exactly once. And nothing else.

    They should make a master class on how much of a failure the marketing team’s strategy was with this movie.

    Of course, as Andy_Panthro points out, the poor bastards were doomed from the start. There was no way the movie was going to be profitable with 350 million used to make it.

  • Andy said,

    There are some theories that the movie is tanking because Disney’s management sabotaged it. The gist is that there was a management changeover in the movie department last year and the marketing chief also quit a few months before John Carter was released. The result is that the incoming people had no investment in the film – the assumption was that John Carter was just another Prince of Persia or Tron Legacy and was going to bomb just like those – so instead of making an effort to sell it, they let it wither and then rushed to declare it a bomb only a week after release (it’s actually doing very well overseas) so they could get their fiscal quarter numbers sorted ASAP.

  • shaf said,

    I too loved the Movie, I have read all of ERB’s Barsoom and Tarzan books. Although I thought the Tharks should be more muscular but that was based on the Bantam covers from the Paperbacks in the 70’s.

    I’m a huge fan of Pulps mainly Doc Savage and Shadow, but Box Office sales have shown that Pulp Characters unlike Superheros do not do well, look at Phantom and The Shadow for example. It’s unfortunate because most Comic Characters are based on Pulp Characters.

    A few examples:
    Doc Savage – Superman (Doc had the Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic first).
    Lensmen (E.E. “Doc” Smith)- Green Lantern ( The Lens before the Ring)