Friday, August 21, 2009

Some thoughts on Asylum's Princess of Mars

As was reported earlier, The Asylum has begun production of their own version of A Princess of Mars with Antonio Sabato Jr and Traci Lords starring. Not surprisingly the news has caused a smattering of feelings on the message boards. Some are willing to give them a chance and wait and see the result. Others are ready to dismiss it and wait for Andrew Stanton's big budget version.

Some of the questions that have popped up though probably need to be addressed. How can Asylum make their own version if Disney owns the rights to the series? Will this version affect Stanton's? And will it be any good?

For the first one, well that's easy. A Princess of Mars and several other Edgar Rice Burroughs novels (including several of the John Carter of Mars series) have lapsed into public domain. Public domain means that the copyright on a work (in this case a novel) has expired and the work can be distributed or translated into another medium without having to get the permission of well anyone. If you want to see if a novel is in the public domain, the easiest thing is go to Amazon and see how many different versions of said work pops up. But there is one catch reportedly. ERB Inc, which is the company run by Burroughs' heirs do have copyright on the characters and those rights have been given to Disney. As has been reported, Asylum already has a character called Sarka listed but their site still lists the main character as John Carter. I guess they're figuring that the name is so common that there is no legal repercussions if they use it (I guess ER producers won't have much to sue for.)

The second one is will this version affect Disney's. I would say probably not. I'm not even sure if Stanton or Disney is even aware this version is in the works. Indeed if Asylum was planning on riding Stanton's coattails the film would be coming out in 2011 or 2012 when Stanton's will be. Instead it seems more likely Asylum is hoping to cash in on James Cameron's Avatar, which some have suggested has been partially inspired by John Carter of Mars. Also this is nothing new. Back in the 90s B-movie king Roger Corman actually released Dracula Rising, his own take on the Bram Stoker character on video mere weeks before Francis Ford Coppola's big budget version. A year later Corman even beat Steven Spielberg to theaters with his dino flick Carnasaur. And Asylum's main goal has been to make "mockbusters" as they call them to cash in on Hollywood's big budget efforts. Some though don't appreciate the mocking. According to a recent article on Variety's website, Fox actually sent cease and desist orders to Asylum to prevent the release of The Day the Earth Stopped, a mocker of the Keanu Reeves Day the Earth Stood Still. Asylum still released theirs and at this time Fox never followed suit with any legal action. If Disney is unhappy with the film well again public domain will probably prevent any stopping it.

Finally is the real question-will it be any good? That's a judgment call. Asylum's output seems to fall between the "so bad their good" category of Ed Wood films and Showgirls and the "this is unwatchable-where's the Mystery Science Theater guys?" of films made by Uwe Boll or Manos The Hands of Fate. The film's director Mark Atkins is an employee of the company who has been cinematographer and occasional director on films like Allan Quartermain and the Temple of Skulls. While he obviously doesn't have the critical admiration of Andrew Stanton I guess for his defense he has worked on more live action films than Stanton has. The question of the script and how faithful it will be is also open but I've haven't seen anything, even though budget constraints I think would make it hard to recreate the 1860s. Finally is the two main actors. To be honest I never considered Antonio Sabato Jr much of an actor. Mostly he's been hired for his looks, not much of a surprise since he began as a model (in a weird connection to the big budget version, so did Taylor Kitsch, Stanton's John Carter.) As for Ms. Lords, well I don't know what to say. I mentioned here earlier I wasn't sold on Lynn Collins, Stanton's choice for the part of Dejah Thoris, mainly due to what I feel is a lack of screen presence and being a actor with little range. In this case, Ms. Lords does have screen presence but that has more to do with her history than anything else. As for her range, she did show some comic chops in Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri with Seth Rogen but mostly like Sabato has been confined to the low budget spectrum. Well if anything at least she might be in skimpier attire than what Disney will allow for their PG-13 version.

In the end we'll know December 29 when it is released. What a way to ring in a new year.

1 comment:

Tars Tarkas said...

Although it will probably be terrible, it might only be partially terrible. Traci Lords is a choice I shutter at, but the guy playing Tars Tarkas seems to have a sense of humor, so hopefully the movie isn't ruined in the directing/editing process as many of Asylum's recent films have been.