Why I Loved John Carter

It's been well publicised that Disney's John Carter movie adaptation has not been the big success they had hoped for. It's still done impressive business nonetheless, bringing in so far about $179m worldwide against the reported (exaggerated?) budget of $250m. This doesn't take into account the future DVD sales and rental profits which are sure to match, if not exceed, the theatrical takings. I don't see John Carter as a flop by any standards. And, if I'm honest, I think it's fared better than I could ever have hoped. And I'm a huuuuge fan.

Let me explain.

Flash back twenty-four years. I'm sitting reading a paperback edition of George Lucas's original Star Wars scripts. Every so often the footnotes mention Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter books. These books, the footnotes tell me, were a huge influence on Lucas. Edgar Rice Burroughs? The chap who wrote Tarzan? Really? At that time I often frequented a local second-hand bookstore, so, intrigued by the notion of sacred texts which had been a major inspiration to one of the most influencial movie series ever made, I made a special trip down there to see if there was anything by Burroughs. By a stroke of luck, I came back with a New English Library paperback edition of A Princess of Mars, first in the Barsoom adventures.

And I loved it.

I loved it so much I went back to that old bookshop every week until I had every book of the series (as well as a copy of Carson of Venus, the 'spin-off' series) and I read every single one of them, one after the other. It was Star Wars, but more. It was Flash Gordon, but grittier. It was a glorious mix of swords and airship battles and lost kingdoms and mad scientists and beautiful, intelligent, courageous princesses; action, adventure and pure escapism all grounded in an alien setting so vivid and so compelling I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye to this day. I can remember thinking back then, I would love them to make movies of these books, but that's NEVER gonna happen. EVER. And even if they did they'd never be able to really do them justice.

How wrong I was.

For me, Andrew Stanton's movie captured all of this better than I could ever have dreamed.

I have the DVD pre-ordered on Amazon. If they never make another John Carter movie I will still have this one. I've always been of the opinion that favourite movies, the ones I truly cherish and revisit time and again are movies that feel as though they were made just for me. That's the feeling I have about John Carter. When I first heard that Disney was actually making a movie of the John Carter books I couldn't believe it. I didn't believe it. I watched with a sceptical eye as big name actors like Willem Dafoe and Cairan Hinds joined the cast and just thought, the production's gonna fold any day now. Bound to. Then came the teaser trailer with that amazing Peter Gabriel track and the first glimpse - the first real promise of how amazing this film could be, followed some time later by the full trailer which was just . . .  fantastic. But even then I couldn't believe that a major Hollywood studio had spent massive amounts of money creating something so insanely . . . I don't know, the only word I can think of right now is retro - and quite possibly uncommerical. [Ryan Lambie over at Den of Geek summed up this strange phenomenon in this recent article about Hollywood blockbusters.]

Is Disney's John Carter, the movie, uncommerical? Did it ever stand a chance of being a box office smash? I don't know. I would love, more than anything, to see a sequel - heck, multiple sequels, or at the very least the initial trilogy comprising Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars - but I just don't think it's going to happen. And why? It is the grandaddy of all science fiction/fantasy adventures after all. And I think Andrew Stanton and screenwriters Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon (another hero of mine) could not have done a grander job of making it work for today's cinema audiences. But unfortunately its source material is one step removed from 'the modern moviegoing experience'. By this I mean that modern successes like Star Wars and Avatar and other science-fiction/fantasy smashes - which all took their inspiration from Burroughs' Baroomian tales - did so with a much more direct route to modern moviegoing audiences. These ultra- modern movies are complete in themselves. That is, there are no century-old texts to wrangle with to better understand the universe presented on-screen. But maybe I'm wrong. I mean The Lord of the Rings managed it without too much trouble.

No matter what the future holds, the arrival of this movie has made me believe in small miracles - that sometimes the impossible, or at the very least the improbable, can sometimes happen. It's as though Andrew Stanton convinced Disney to spend over $200 million on an arthouse movie. And that's a pretty amazing achievement right there. And for that, I want to salute Andrew Stanton and all the other people that made this movie event possible. You are my heroes!

(Now, to make my life really complete, someone hurry up and make The Dark Tower books into a movie series. Pleeeeeease?)

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