A Week ’til John Carter

So a little while ago I gushed about how awesome A Princess of Mars was and how I’d definitely be rushing out to read the second and third books before seeing the film adaptation due for international release March 9. I just finished the second book, The Gods of Mars and I’m sad to say I’m a little disappointed. Here’s why…

Let me preface this list by saying I know these books were written a hundred years ago and that definitely has an effect, but some of the issues I have with the story has nothing to do with the date of publication. Also, there are *SPOILERS* below.

1. Plausibility. I willingly suspended my disbelief when Carter was magically transported to Mars. I even believed in his superhuman strength, loosely explained by Mars’ lack of gravity, but there are some issues I just can’t wrap my head around.

a) John Carter’s son is less than 6 Mars years old and yet he single-handedly slays a gazillion adult warriors and even flies navy aircraft without a problem. Huh? I felt like I’d missed something and Burroughs didn’t offer any explanation of the ageing process for people who apparently live thousands of years.

b) Carter gets locked up as a prisoner for over 300 days in a lightless pit and fed on gruel. When he escapes after more than a year he bounds straight back into action. He’s not malnourished, diseased, suffering atrophied muscles or in dire need of a shower. Nope. He’s just as awesome as ever.

c)John Carter suffers numerous injuries, all explained in pretty gruesome detail, and he doesn’t receive any medical care, yet he continues to slay a gaziilion warriors without so much as flinching. Now I know he’s meant to be das uber-human-mensch-from-Earth, but come on! There’s a limit. A guy can only lose so much blood before DYING!

2. Consistency. It honestly seemed that if the science was convenient, Burroughs included it. When it didn’t suit the plot, Burroughs skimmed over it, in places just completely forgot about it entirely. Maybe this is a symptom of 1912 SF and maybe I’m just a bit of a stickler for detail, but this damaged the story for me. If Carter can snap chain with super human strength one moment, and then spends a year in chains the next, I’m going to lose trust in the storyteller.

3. Plot – or lack there of. Book 2 is about racism and the dangers of authoritarian rule by religion. These themes could have been dealt with in far more sophisticated manner and yet Burroughs resorts to battle scene after raging battle scene with intermissions of badly timed exposition. And the battles scenes start to get boring because no matter how many wounds Carter suffers, no matter how many monsters take a bit out of him, he’ll always be saved just in the nick of time by some strange twist of fate that smacks of deus ex machina. Despite how much I hate George R R Martin for killing off his characters, I think Burroughs actually needs to let a few people die to up the tension. Even the cliff hanger isn’t so cliff-hangery because I just know this story has a happy ending – Burroughs doesn’t let anything really bad happen, and that’s annoying.

Ok, whinge over. I still love John Carter and will read the third book before seeing the movie. Not so much because I’m enthralled by Burroughs, but because the film continues to impress – at least visually. The dialogue in the trailers and clips leaves something to be desired, and I certainly hope they didn’t make the film Disney-kid friendly by turning it cheesy. A few of those one-liners and long dramatic stares has me worried. I’ll reserve judgement until I see the film though. Here’s to hoping Andrew Stanton fixed the glaring inconsistencies in Burroughs’ works and made a more engaging story out of it. If not, there’s always eye-candy thanks to Kitsch and Collins in 3D.

Lastly, in just about every interview (including the featurette below) with Taylor Kitsch, he emphasizes how character-driven the film is. I’m not convinced since his loincloth is bound to distract from any introspective monologues he might deliver, but here’s to hoping for a more human and less non-spandex-clad-but-just-as-ridiculous super-hero version of John Carter.


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