On March 9, 2012, audiences will finally see a film adaptation of the science fiction tale that inspired them all, Princess of Mars, first in the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first book, published in 1917 (can't wait for the Dowager Countess of Grantham to reference it on Downton Abbey), follows civil war veteran John Carter as he finds himself transplanted to a mysterious location, soon discovered to be what we know as Mars. He befriends aliens, he falls in love, he gets super super violent and most importantly, he inspires a hundred years of Science Fiction, perhaps being most directly ripped off by 2009's Avatar.
When I first heard that Princess of Mars was being adapted, I was thrilled. When I realized the studio producing it was Disney, I became filled with trepidation. I trust Pixar and Andrew Stanton, for the most part, but something was off. To me, any take on John Carter's adventures needs to be whimsical and pulpy, yes, but also completely grounded in reality, something Disney isn't exactly known for. I went to D23. I saw the questionable footage. I heard the cast awkwardly talk about the experience. And now, with a new image released and the marketing push on the horizon, we decided to dissect its chances of succeeding - and it doesn't look good.
Why It Could Fail
Based on the footage we've seen, the acting is all over the map. Taylor Kitsch seems to be barely doing anything, and yet doing way too much, and his inactivity against Julliard trained Lynn Collins makes her look like Overacting McGee. Yes, John Carter should be stoic, but he shouldn't be awful, and he needs to be on the same page as his Dejah Thoris.
Phony Looking Aliens
For any studio, creating the Tharks would difficult. They are 15 feet tall, tusked, green and have two sets of arms, yet communicate and interact just as easily as humans do, though in a different language and with different customs, of course. But with Pixar, it's almost as if the aliens looking like cartoons was the end-game, because cartoons are what they do. It hurts my heart ever so slightly to think of what WETA could have done with them, or what Tars Tarkas would have been like with an Andy Serkis at the wheel. And although the actors portraying Tharks were suited up, acting on set alongside Taylor Kitsch, the finished renderings look utterly ridiculous and as far from reality as it gets. If we can't take the Tharks seriously, how are we supposed to take the movie seriously?
But ... She's Not Red!
Why isn't Dejah Thoris red? WHY?! Were the effects of red skin just not added yet in the footage we've seen so far? Come on. She *needs* to be red. This isn't debatable. It's green men vs red men. Don't do this to me. Fingers crossed her skin tone changes in the finished cut.
Oddly enough, I kept thinking of John Carter during last month's release, Drive. Ryan Gosling's lead character, Driver, reminded me intensely of a certain facet of John Carter. Quiet, stoic and strong, but not someone who would ever seem violent until out of nowhere, he beats someone to death with perfect precision. My reaction to Driver's violent outbursts was exactly how I felt when John Carter would go from zero to BAMF in two seconds flat. This to me, is a really interesting avenue of possibility, one that I can't see Disney capitalizing on. Does Pixar really have the balls to get as violent as this material calls for? This film should have an R rating, but I wonder if it'll even have a PG-13, or if it will somehow be marketed as suitable for kids, as most Disney live action films are, and do away with almost all of the violence altogether. One of the clips they showed seemed to be more focused on the romance anyway, adding in details that otherwise didn't exist, in order to up the swoonworthyness of the material.
Let's be honest - how much of the movie going public would actually know this film is based on a book written well before all of the things inspired by it? I suspect your average audience member would leave the theater thinking "well, that ripped off just about everything ever" or after seeing the trailer, not even bother, deeming it "unoriginal."
Why It Could Succeed
Stanton LOVES John Carter. The presentation at D23 proved that, if nothing else. He's been a huge fan his entire life. Making this movie is a dream come true for him, and from what I hear, the studio, while perhaps not yet thrilled with certain aspects of what's coming out, remains hopeful that Stanton knows what he is doing. Faith in the director is huge, and who knows, maybe he will defy our expectations and deliver exactly what he and other fans of the series want to see.
The Story (again)
Classic, epic, entertaining, while it might be considered old news for the uninformed, the story is a fantastic one and if the film embraces it whole heartedly, the final result at least has to be not terrible, right? Plus, I'm extremely thankful that the creative team elected to keep Carter a former Civil War soldier, and not updating him to a Vietnam or Afghanistan vet, as was once rumored. It's integral to this story that Carter come from a world without things like television shows, movies, comic books and video games about aliens. The film is also maintaining the conceit that Princess of Mars is a manuscript found by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself, that belonged to an uncle of his.
Perhaps it's possible that this kind of old fashioned storytelling with strike a cord with audiences yearning for a simpler time before every story had to have a major twist to be considered well written and characters had to have deep, dark secrets in order to be compelling.
He co-wrote the screenplay. Need I say more?
So what to take away from this? Obviously, I'm feeling rather negative at the moment. I adore Princess of Mars and nothing I've seen feels correct to me. I'm all for taking some liberties in adaptation, I don't need a movie version of any book to be word for word, but tone and characters are quite different. Fingers crossed Stanton comes through in the end and delivers. Maybe the movie will turn out to be so good that none of us will care that the aliens look fake? I hope so. Because as much as I think it's going to fail at this moment, boy do I want John Carter to succeed.