Mar 19, 2012

John Carter Review

Sorry for the absence as of late, midterms and other distractions came up. But that doesn't mean that there wasn't shenanigans to be had. I still haven't finished Mass Effect 3 and that blog post will be a long time coming, as it is a very emotional story that I have been living with for years. But that is nether here nor there. I would like to take is time to talk about another glorious example of great science fiction: John Carter.

The original short story was written by Edgar Rise Burroughs and was first published in 1912 as a short story, and then again in 1917 as a novel under the title The Princess of Mars. That is how I know the film and all of the stories surrounding Barsoom. I originally read Princess as assigned reading in 7th grade and instantly fell in love with the escapism and grand adventure John Carter always seemed to find on the planet of Mars Barsoom. It was one of my earliest exposures to science-fiction in the form of writing, the other being my absolute favorite book of all time, Ender's Game. Now of course all story telling transcends their mediums and I was fully aware of the exploits of Han Solo and company, but Princess was my first time I really enjoyed reading what the teacher had allowed me to read for an assignment. This could also be argued for my turning point as viewing education not as a thing that we participate in, but as an experience of spiritual growth and self definition.

The cluster that is Disney's adaption if my favorite novels comes from two places, one of love and one of confusion. The book translates mostly well from my hazy memory from my younger years, but seeing a story play out on the big screen that was nothing more than a fuzzy dream rekindled my love for story telling. That being said there were still some things that were changed to make certain elements of the story flow better for the medium of film. First, the Thark Sola doesn't discover her lineage in a few brief moments, but instead over the course of the entire novel, with the mystery surrounding her differences in attitude compared to a normal Thark used to outcast her from the horde. Minor complaint, I know, but for a 2 hour film there will always be somethings that would be condensed.

The big change was an 'update' to the character of Dejah. In the time of the original stories conception Dejah was a very strong female character while still acting as a damsel in distress. The original story had her as a scientist, which for the original time of publication, was an unheard of profession for a female. In the film she is also a skilled warrior. This is a minor change to the character on paper, but it seriously messes with the execution of the term 'adaption'. I understand the modern woman is stronger than her counterpart in the early 1900's and I understand women's rights and the desire to be treated as equals when compared to a man, but I seriously believe feminism is destroying the power of story telling.

Now before you get all angry and turn the last few sentences into a crusade against me because 'He hates vaginas!' or 'He is a sexist bastard!' hear me out. It is possible to have a strong female character without stepping on the toes of a male character. The original Princess had Dejah as a character that was capable of taking care of herself without picking up a sword. Or what about one of the most successful movie franchises of all time that has cited The John Carter series as inspiration: Star Wars. Princess Leia is one of the strongest female characters of all time and her character had great depth and power. Now lets look at the flip side of the same coin. The character of Elizabeth Swam from Pirates of the Caribbean. In the first film she is awesome and fun and a strong feminine character. When we get to the second and third films though she instantly becomes just another flat two dimensional character who knows how to use a sword. Characters can be defined by their actions, but I seriously think it is better to define them by their limitations, as it creates a three dimensional living breathing character instead of a do-everything action figure. Dejah is a great character in the books and an okay character in the film.

The second part if this rant comes in the form of hope. Disney dropped a ton of money to make this movie and right now it is looking grim that we will see a sequel, despite there being 9 other books to draw from. I honestly blame Disney for this. All the trailers look like they are for different films. The title is too ominous and broad, giving the casual viewer no clue what it is about. Half of the marketing released last year sported the title "John Carter of Mars" which does a better job telling you what the movie is. I personally would have gone with "John Carter and The Princess of Mars" for a title as it really gets the story across without creating false expectations. Heck Harry Potter followed that naming scheme for a good reason.

John Carter is a great example of science fiction story telling, but I have a feeling virtually no one will see it because of bad decisions on Disney's part. I hope it will continue to get exposure via word of mouth and more people can be exposed to a great example of character, story, action and heart.