Yesterday my son Arthur and I went to see a matinee of the Disney Studios film ‘John Carter’. I must say right off the bat: I really enjoyed this movie. And the day after viewing it, with the images and characters still bubbling around in my mind, I’d have to say that I loved it! Perhaps partly because I read the first three Barsoom novels as a teen, and this film wonderfully captured for me that nostalgia; the feel of reading the Burroughs stories for the fist time.
If you’re not familiar with ‘John Carter’, the movie, (as opposed to the rookie doctor from ‘ER’) it is director Andrew Stantons adaptation of the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novels, ‘A Princess of Mars’. Burroughs, who also wrote the ‘Tarzan’ series, created a bunch of stories about the world of Barsoom (that we call Mars) about a hundred years ago. The first novel is about Civil War veteran John Carter who is mysteriously transported to Mars and his adventures with Dejah Thoris, Princess of the city-state of Helium.
Since the movie first came out I kept hearing about what a disappointment it is; how it didn’t make a billion dollars the very first weekend it premiered. I read a couple of reviews that said the story was incomprehensible; the acting was bad, and so on; even though the previews looked pretty darn cool to me! But Arthur wanted to see it very badly, so I went with not very great expectations. And I was very pleasantly surprised. The movie was just great fun! I actually liked the actors and how they portrayed their characters. And it was apparent to me that the filmmakers spent a lot of time and attention to detail. The scenery and special effects are gorgeous; from the ancient cities, the details of Martian airships and machinery, the costumes, to the amazing CGI creation of the four-armed, green-skinned Tharks. I think Stanton’s film did an admirable job capturing that steampunk/swashbuckling/science fiction-fantasy spirit of those Burroughs stories, while actually improving on the original (like the explanation for Carter’s transportation to Mars, and bringing in elements and characters from the second Barsoom story, ‘Gods of Mars’). I thought the pacing, the interaction of the characters (even the computer-generated ones) and the story-within-a-story was very well done. It’s got battles, action, romance! It takes itself quite seriously, but with a nice balance of humor in just the right places. And I loved the ending! Every change that was made to the movie definitely improved the overall story.
I don’t know: maybe people who didn’t like or understand the film were not familiar with the source material; or maybe they were just a lot younger than I and found elements of the story too familiar? Even though the original story is the template, along with the works of Robert E. Howard and a few other writers, for most of the Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery stories that have come out in the past century! Edgar Rice Burroughs and others inspired much of the books and films that have come after them, not the other way around! I think ‘John Carter’ is a worthy homage to the spirit and imagination of those early pioneers of imagination.
So please go see the movie while it’s still in theaters (we did not see the 3D version, and it was breathtaking). Because the ending made me really hope that they make the next movie in a proposed trilogy about John Carter of Mars. I enjoyed my time in that mythical Mars called Barsoom, and would like to explore it further. (I like to pretend that this story takes place in an alternate universe where Mars still harbors life). Also the possibility of the Therns making mischief on Earth of the 1880s could be a lot of fun!
Update: Because I received a comment on this post with links to a Facebook page and a website of people who loved ‘John Carter’ and, like me, want to see another film made in this series, I’m adding these two links: https://www.facebook.com/groups/backtobarsoom/ and http://backtobarsoom.com/.
Below I’ll leave you with some of the numerous favorable reviews that really do more justice than I have here.
The new ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movie opened this weekend in theaters. I’ve read several reviews from widely divergent on-line sources, and the great majority of them say the film is pretty bad. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from the previews I’d watched recently I already had a bad feeling about the new ‘Conan’. The reviews so far have confirmed my fear that this movie is another special effects gore-fest that’s big on visuals and severely lacking in character development, story and dialogue, as I’ve come to expect from ‘Hollywood’ films.
And you know, it really pisses me off!
When I read many months ago that a new Conan film was being made, and that it’s creators wanted to get back to the spirit of the original Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, I started to get excited! I rather enjoyed the original 1982 ‘Conan the Barbarian” film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a little trippy, a little cheesy; but it had a good heart. It had humor as well as bad-ass sword fights. It had violence and gore (in the spirit of Howard’s stories) but not the totally over-the-top CGI buckets of blood that everything these days seems to employ (ie; Spartacus: Blood and Sand; The 300). It had one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time by Basil Poledouris. And, I think Arnold did a decent job playing the stoic Cimmerian; speaking little and only when he had something to say. But still – the idea of a modern movie that could better capture the true spirit of Howard’s iconic character and the dark sorcery and wild diversity of the eldritch world of Hyperboria really got my hopes up for this new film. Only, it seems, to be dashed once more!
When I was in my late teens back in 1973-75, I loved Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. They were the pinnacle of swashbuckling, testosterone-stirring adventure! (And the genesis of the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ genre, I would later learn). I also loved the Conan comic book series by Marvel in the 1970s. But more than that, I loved the atmosphere of Howard’s stories. They took place in a vast and mysterious prehistory that was completely unknown; ripe with magic that seemed like ancient vestiges of a forgotten science. A kind of post-apocalyptic Dark Age reminiscent of Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ stories or Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun’ about a far future Barbaric Age where the glories of a superior technology were almost, but not quite, forgotten. So really, anything was possible! It was a world as wild and untamed as imagination; both strangely familiar and utterly mysterious.
“Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” That kind of says it all.
For a few years before I discovered Robert E. Howard, I had been immersed in reading the great science fiction authors like Asimov, Arthur Clarke, James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Philip K. Dick, etc. The myriad possibilities of the future and life on other worlds; and how science, politics and religion might shape human destiny were what I grew up on. And most of these writers were scientists and wrote about what might be theoretically possible. So when I found this new genre of primal savagery, heroic exploits and sinister sorcery (not to mention scantily-clad babes) it appealed to another aspect of my adolescent psyche that had been previously unattended-to. And the stories of Conan’s adventures are just plain fun! As were other authors I soon discovered who inspired or were inspired by Howard; like L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
It looks like it could be interesting, and hopefully more in the style of the books than the Conan movies have been so far. One can only hope!
But there’s one thing I must realize: A movie is never going to be as good as a book. And that’s just the way it is. A motion picture is a completely different animal than a book. And that’s OK.
But I really wish someday someone would use one of Robert E. Howard’s wonderful stories to base a Conan movie on. Or combine a couple of stories. Conan was a well-developed, interesting character who changed and evolved over many years and adventures to finally become a great king. Heck, there are a wealth of great Conan stories by the man who created him; why not attempt to base a film on that?!
Alright, my rant is coming to an end. For now. I just wanted to let whomever may read this know that Conan is much more than what you see in the movies. And Robert E. Howard was a writer of great talent who found a niche and launched a new literary genre. And tragically, he died way too soon, by his own hand. Below I’ve arranged a few links about Howard and his life. Check them out; I think he’s worth getting to know.