Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #157: ‘Tonight … or Tomorrow … But For Sure This Weekend … Just Do This For Me’

[Poor Greg. He wanted so badly for John Carter to be a hit, and it just wasn’t. That doesn’t mean he can’t get a fun, short column out of it (which he published on 9 March 2012), and we get a bunch of comments about people who were or weren’t going to see the movie (including Edo pulling the old “It didn’t get released near me” card, because apparently the movie theaters in the Balkans don’t screen cool-ass movies, just films of people sitting around smoking unfiltered cigarettes and whining about the Turks; and hey, Ron Marz shows up, too!) and then discussing the bombing of it at the box office. Oh dear. It’s a perfectly good movie, and the poor marketing around it remains a bit of a mystery. Enjoy!]

Tonight’s column is very short.

It could pretty much be four words …

… Go see John Carter.

Seriously. Just go.

It’s not just a great movie. It’s the Edgar Rice Burroughs movie that all of us that read the books have been praying for, every time we hear news of a film adaptation of one of the novels.

And if you are a Burroughs fan, that’s all the review you need. Because we Burroughs fans have had our hearts broken …

… SO.



Of all of these? The one that really HURT was GREYSTOKE. I’m still bitter about what a letdown THAT was…. and apparently, so is its original screenwriter Robert Towne.

Usually with a Burroughs movie adaptation, you wonder why the hell they bought the rights at all, because the filmmakers clearly had no affection for the books.

Not this time. Seriously. Take it from me, and I know Burroughs and Barsoom.
Yeah, they changed some stuff. Dejah Thoris is a bit more of a modern lady, and there’s a brilliant rethinking of the original prologue from A Princess of Mars (I mean the one with Edgar Rice Burroughs himself reading the will of his adventurous uncle John, with his strange request about the crypt that only opens from inside.)

Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah has much more of an active role in the plot than her literary incarnation, even in combat; and former Spy Kid Daryl Sabara as the young Edgar Rice Burroughs also gets a more active role than his original one as narrator of the book, in a wonderful plot twist I won’t spoil.

But the important part here? Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon and everyone else involved understood that they needed to include the prologue with the crypt. And the Apaches. And Kantos Kan and the River Iss and Sola and even Woola the Martian dog (Woola is AWESOME, by the way.) They streamlined some things, they combined some things, they added a couple of new ideas … but it’s the book, it’s really Barsoom.

To clarify, it’s A Princess of Mars with a few bits of The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars folded into it.

There was just so much RIGHT with this …

What I’m trying to say about Disney’s John Carter is that it’s about as close to what I saw in my head, back when I was thirteen years old reading the old Ballantine editions with those amazing paintings by Gino d’Achille, as it’s possible for a movie adaptation to get. It’s the way Sherlock Holmes fans felt when they saw Jeremy Brett on television — or, closer to home, the way Marvel fans felt when they saw Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus fighting with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man while Aunt May dangled from a ledge. That moment of, “Yeah. That’s what that looks like.”

If this is your Carter, you will be delighted with the movie.

If you came to John Carter and Barsoom through the comics, or maybe the Frazetta paintings, well … you’ll still love it. It’ll still feel that close.

If this is your Carter, you will STILL be delighted with the movie.

I had a column I was kind of working on (we’ll get to it next week) about when you find that certain moment, that tipping point where you become not just interested, but a fan of something. Watching the audience tonight — hell, watching Julie, most of this was new to her and she was just transported — I am absolutely convinced that this movie is going to become that tipping point for people discovering the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Certainly, it reminded me of why I fell for them so hard, almost forty years ago. I envy those new fans the experience. Hell, they can even read them for free at Project Gutenberg if they want to, if that’s how they roll. (Not me, though — I assure you that the only way anyone gets my Frazetta hardcover editions will be from my cold dead fingers.) [Edit: That was a dead link, but the new one goes straight to A Princess of Mars, from which I assume you can find others.]

… sorry, drifting. Here’s the bottom line. If you have not read the books, John Carter will nevertheless leave you feeling pleased; it’s a wonderful ride, a good time for everyone. It’s a great superhero/fantasy/romance/action movie and really brings the FUCK YEAH! moments.

But some of you media-savvy, jaded youngsters out there might be saying things like, “This is kind of clichĂ©.” That’s when someone like me slaps you and say, “Burroughs INVENTED this clichĂ©, you ignorant jackass. This story is a hundred years old. Those other guys? They were all ripping THIS off.”

Burroughs led the way for almost everyone on this stuff. Edmond Hamilton, Robert E. Howard, even guys like Michael Moorcock have spent time working in the Barsoomian house Burroughs built. Comics too– ADAM STRANGE has a big hunk of John Carter in his DNA.

If you love the books and have been waiting nervously for this movie, the way we all did before Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and then Iron Man, and Thor, and all the other movies that adapted something dear to you? You will be weeping with joy. Burroughs himself would have loved this. It was almost worth the century-long wait, to finally see an Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptation from someone who gets it.

Anyway. You still here? What are you waiting for? Go.

See you next week.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    I didn’t see it in theaters, but did on DVD and loved it. I was skeptical of the pretty boy lead, but he handled it well and I greatly enjoyed the visuals and the story…and Dejah Thoris. My intro was one of the early chapters in the DC Tarzan, with Murphy Anderson clothing Dejah just enough to get past the Comics Code. Humina-humina-humina! The Whelan covers always intrigued me, in book stores and I eventually bought the first and devoured it, then the second. Never got to the third or the rest, though, although I bought them. Just kept getting distracted. I believe I was in college when I came across a copy of the Marvel comics and saw the Dave Cockrum cover with Dejah Thoris chained and dressed in that style he used for the Shi’ar, in X-Men. I chuckled a bit when A Princess of Mars went into the public domain and we suddenly got other publishers putting out editions and my store got in the Penguin edition, which has that Cockrum cover. Then, we got a 3-book omnibus of the first three novels, with Tom Yeats end papers and illustrations. After 20 years of bookselling and another 10 or more of buying, before that, I accumulated a ton of books. I purged a lot of that in a couple of moves, but I hung on to that omnibus edition.

    The movie was fine; the marketing department should have been fired and reviewers should have been forced to justify their negative reviews by actually discussing the film, not the production or the marketing. So much film writing is about the business of film, not the craft or whether the film is enjoyable or not. Death Race 2000 was made on the cheap and didn’t change film; but, it is funny, has some wicked social commentary in it and is a fun, gonzo experience. And critics just talked about it being violent. Well, duh; it’s a car chase film, with a twist.

    I’d love for someone to tackle Fafhd and the Gray Mouser; but, I have this feeling that they would see it as Conan and mess it up (worse than they messed up Conan) or look for Game of Thrones moments and miss that it is a buddy comedy-adventure, in a fantasy setting, originating a lot of those tropes before Hollywood ripped them off.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    ps I liked Greystoke, warts and all. It was about as close to Tarzan as Hollywood was capable, until the more recent Legend of Tarzan.

  3. In agreement with Jeff and Greg, this is a wonderful movie. I wish it had sparked a franchise but it’s still the Barsoom I always wanted.
    The screenwriter (IIRC) says on the commentary track that he wrote Dejah Thoris to be the woman he could fall for today, not the one he fell for at 10. Smart decision.
    My BFF loved it until the ending. Not knowing the books she didn’t think John being away for 10 years during which ANYTHING could have happened constituted a HEA and she insists on those.
    Disney’s Tarzan is one of the best Tarzan movies. Come to think of it, I have Disney + now …

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Re: “(…) because apparently the movie theaters in the Balkans don’t screen cool-ass movies, just films of people sitting around smoking unfiltered cigarettes and whining about the Turks.”
    Hey! They don’t *just* whine about the Turks, they whine about a lot of other stuff, too…

    In point of fact, though, movie theaters here are mainly clogged to the gills with international (mainly American) features. It causes no end of complaints (one may even call it whining) by those in the local film industry and film critics as well.
    However, I don’t think John Carter ever got a theatrical release here, or if it did, it wasn’t for very long (there may be something to the conspiracy theories about the studio deliberately sabotaging the movie).
    I did eventually see it, though, on DVD (which I have). And yes, count me among the ranks of those who love it unreservedly.

    And like Jeff, I also have some fondness for Greystoke, although for me, Legend of Tarzan blows every other Tarzan film out of the water.

  5. I got to talk with Andrew Stanton about the film while we waited in line at the Radiator Springs Racers ride in Carsland at Disney’s California Adventure in June 2012. He was justifiably proud of the film, but pretty angry about all the negative press concerning the budget and production time. The film came in on time and under budget. By the time it was done, every executive who was there when they started the film was gone, and none of their replacements knew what to do with it and didn’t want to support a previous regime’s project.

    I think the film was hampered by having been looted by countless later writers and films, including AVATAR and STAR WARS; that’s Deja Thoris’ costume on Princess Leia in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. As Greg pointed out, all of Burroughs’ innovations have become clichés, so the story that pioneered the genre feels derivative. Stanton did about as well as anyone could have, but the marketing completely failed, from the title on down. I do think some judicious trimming could have improved the pacing; it felt longer than its 2:12 run time, and not in a good way.

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