Monday, August 31, 2009

FLASH...AHH

According to IMDB, a new film version of Flash Gordon is being produced. Originally slated for release next year, it's now set for release in 2012, the same time John Carter of Mars is hitting theaters. But John Carter and Flash won't be the only space heroes set for release in the next few years. Both set for 2011 (but currently stuck) is a new take on Buck Rogers (originally announced with Frank Miller attached to direct. Thankfully that seems to have stalled after The Spirit bombed) and the aforementioned Carson Napier film while 2013 will reportedly see DC Comics' space hero Adam Strange blast onto movie screens. Throw in the sequel to JJ Abrams' recent Star Trek reboot and space just got crowded.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Avatar and the fallout

So far unless you've been living on Barsoom you know that James Cameron's long waited science fiction film Avatar is set to come out this year. And I'm sure you've seen the trailer or if lucky the Imax Avatar Day showings. So far though the reaction has been more mixed than anything I've seen since George Lucas decided to revisit Star Wars.
I admit my first reaction to the trailer was somewhat underwhelming. It looked gorgeous and fascinating then the aliens showed up. And like many I thought, wait a minute when did this turn into a video game. They looked rubbery, even more so than such past CGI creatures like Jar Jar Binks. But afterwards reports surfaced from the Imax screenings that the film looks great and that Cameron does deliver.
The CGI might not be the only problem though. Several posters have suggested that the film resembles everything from Ben Bova's novel The Winds of Altair to the animated box office bomb Delgo. I am currently reading Mr. Bova's novel and while it does seem to have some similarities to Cameron's plot of Earthlings invading a peaceful planet for terraforming reasons, so does many other science fiction novels. In fact Cameron has been very forthright and admitting that Avatar was inspired by several novels he had read in his youth, including the John Carter of Mars series.
I think the problem besides the trailer is that it has been so long since Cameron has made a film that some people think he has lost his touch, that like Lucas he lost what made him a great director. On the other hand I also suspect some just want it to fail because of some sort of simmering resentment towards the fact that Titanic is still the highest grossing film of all time and we love nothing more than watching the mighty fall.

My own thought is I'm willing to give Cameron a chance. He has made four of the greatest science fiction films of the last 40 years (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and T2). He knows how to work with actors (some probably forget that Sigourney Weaver actually received an Oscar nomination for Aliens) and balance effects. He's also been through this scrutiny before with T2 and Titanic where it looked like it would end his career and then he got the last laugh. With that I'm hopeful that he will deliver. And honestly, even if he doesn't you will be there December 19 to see it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: A Fighting Man of Mars


Reviewer's Note: This review has been slightly changed.
Get ready for cannibals, invisibility and and true love in the seventh entry in the series.

After a brief prologue explaining how this story reached Earth (and a mention of Pellucidar) we meet Hadron of Hastor, one of the many soldiers of the army of Helium. Hoping to win the heart of Sanoma Tora, the daughter of a rich Odwar Tor Hatan, Hadron puts his heart on his sleeve and tells her of his love only to be rejected, sine Sanoma wants a rich man (kind of like Donald Trump's last few wives.) But it isn't too long though before our hero is off to rescue Sanoma and solve the mystery of how some ships in the kingdom are disappearing mid flight. All points lead to Tul Axtor, the Jeddak of Jahar and Hadron flies off. On his way he makes friends with Jaharian exile Nul An and Tavia, a woman who has fled Jahar and becomes Hadron's closest ally. But will Hadron finds Sanoma Tora? How many madmen are on Barsoom? All that is answered in 200 pages.

Again with this entry Burroughs has John Carter sitting on the sidelines but it works. Hadron is a noble warrior, blinded by what he thinks is love for the woman who rejects him but also loyal to his kingdom. This entry also introduces some sci-fi gimmicks that would pop up over and over again-including the first cloaking device (long before the Romulans invented it) and even one chapter is title "The Cloak of Invisibility" long before Harry Potter had one. What also gives this one juice is Tavia. First disguised as a man, she proves to be a warrior, helping Hadron fight off the cannibals of U-Gor all the while trying to help him accomplish his goal. In the end he makes the right choice. I know I would.

This review is short so I say just read this book. It's the best of the series that doesn't have John Carter as the lead. Rating: **** out of 4

Monday, August 24, 2009

More supporting actors for John Carter of Mars

Returning back to the big budget version, Barsoomia.org, via the Hollywood Reporter, has just confirmed three more have been cast for Andrew Stanton's version. Samantha Morton, who has appeared in films like In America and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, will play Sola; Dominic West of HBO's The Wire will play Sab Than; and Polly Walker, who has appeared in HBO's Rome and such films like Patriot Games with Harrison Ford, is playing Sarkoja. With them in place, Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas and the possibility of actors Mark Strong (who will be soon seen in Sherlock Holmes) and Thomas Haden Church the supporting cast is looking strong.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review: The Master Mind of Mars


Reviewer's Note: This Review has been modified

Back to Barsoom....Only this time with a different visitor.

Ulysses Paxton is a US soldier off in the battlefields during WW1. When a mortar shell ends up killing his men and causes him to loose his legs, Paxton begins to reach out towards Mars and before he knows it, he's on Barsoom. Actually he ends up landing in the house of Ras Thavas, an elderly scientist with great powers-he can change the brains of those aging for younger bodies. Trapped there, Paxton, called Vad Varo, becomes Thavas' assistant and learns his tricks. What ends up turning against his former teacher is Valla Dia, a beautiful specimen whose body is switched with the wicked and aging ruler of Phundahl, Xaxa. Teaming up with three others who have been sold to Thavas-the assassin Gor Hajus, Dar Tarus (whose own body has been switched with that of Xaxa's second in command) and Hovan Du, whose brain resides in the body of a Great Ape-Paxton rushes off to reclaim the body of beloved. And that's where the fun begins...

Looking back at the whole series as a whole, I guess my mind has changed (no pun intended) with Master Mind. I had written earlier that it rank pretty high in the whole series for me but know having reread it since the original review, I find it somewhat lower. What works here is the villain-Ras Thavas in fact might be Burroughs' best villain of the series-an intelligent scientist who doesn't need to have super powers. (A possible Lex Luthor influence?) In fact Thavas is a more interesting figure than Paxton is which probably explains why Burroughs brought him back for Synthetic Men of Mars since he still has much to offer. Another point is the religious satire that permeates the novel. From Ras Thavas' almost God-like view of himself to the backwards religion of the Phundahls-Tur is Tur after all-it provides a biting look at what happens when people are mindless and led easily.

Now if only it had a stronger hero. Sadly Paxton lacks John Carter's charisma and even falls a little short compared to Gahan of Gathol or Tan Hadron of Hastor. While I do like the setup of him being familiar with John Carter's previous adventures he just doesn't do much for the first third of the novel except plan for restoring Vallia Dia back to her body. When the action finally does take place, well a talking Great White Ape will likely upstage anyone.

Ultimately this one gets a ***1/2 out of 4 thanks to having the best villain in the series. Maybe if the film series gets this far we can see Thavas center stage. Heck he's a lot better than Matai Shang.

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar trailer

Probably the film I'm most interested in coming out this fall is James Cameron's along waited science fiction epic. Here's the first glimpse of it. (A longer preview is set for IMAX theaters, if you could get tickets.)

http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The Swordsman of Mars


Another version of Mars then? Okay.

Harry Thorne is the outcast son of a wealthy East Coast family. His fiancee has just eloped and he's about to end his life when a old man approaches him with an interesting offer. The man, Professor Morgan has developed a way using astral projection to switch bodies with men from Mars. His first attempt however has caused a problem as the person, Frank Boyd has allied himself with a group plotting to take over the red planet. Thorne agrees to help and switches bodies with Borgen Takkar, the Sheb of the Takkar kingdom. Once there Thorne has to avoid Boyd, now called Sel Han, the Ma Gongi, a race that used to live on our Moon and the new Dixtar (or ruler of Mars) Irintz Tel. Of course there is battles, two beautiful women-Thaine the daughter of the former Dixtar and Neva, Tel's troublesome offspring, and a final confrontation by our hero. And at one point a flower pot attacks him.

As mentioned in the opening essay of the edition put out by Planet Stories by writer Michael Moorcock, Swordsman author Otis Adelbert Kline is probably known if it all as a former editor of Weird Tales magazine and as the agent of Robert E. Howard. His other reputation is apparently as competition to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Indeed Kline had created Jan of the Jungle (a Tarzan clone) and a series set on Venus. Burroughs replied by creating Carson Napier of Venus and then Kline headed towards the red planet. Only two books were ever written though-this one and The Outlaws of Mars.

As a writer Kline is pretty good, but not up to Burroughs or his famous client. Indeed Swordsman gets bogged down in some cases with Star Trek-like techno babble. His planet also lacks many alien lifeforms, except for a race of little people called the Ulfs. In one sequence Thorne does rescue the life of the Ulf king's daughter Erine and she gives him a magic ring (wonder if Tolkien ever read this). Where the book does succeed is in grounding Thorne as a normal person-no superpowers, he gets clumsy with the Martian gear he is given and almost dies. Also refreshing is the portrayal of the female characters. Thaine is a trained warrior and Neva is a femme fatale in the best sense. Rating: *** out of 4

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coming Soon-A Princess of Mars The Movie (The Other Version)

Being reported on both the IMDB message board for John Carter of Mars and on Barsoomia.org, The Asylum has recently began production on their own version of A Princess of Mars. As some readers might remember Asylum produced a recent version of The Land That Time Forgot. Oh well.

A quick update...their website is now listing former model turned soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr and the infamous Traci Lords as being in the cast. The film is set for release December 29. YIKES!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Book Review: Gullivar of Mars


A return back to Mars but a different type of Mars.

Gullivar Jones is a United States Navy man, dealing with regular problems. Bills are mounting, his true love Polly is off with her parents and his detail is currently stateside. One day though his life turns around when a strange man seemingly drops out of the sky dead, leaving a strange rug. Too late to save the man, Gullivar takes the rug homes and discovers its secret. It's magic and when Gullivar suddenly proclaims he wants to go to Mars, well be careful what you wish for. Arriving he suddenly is introduced to the Tither people, a race of people who seem to worship laziness. After several days of wining and dining Gullivar begins to fall for the Princess Heru when she is suddenly captured by the Whither people, an ape like society. Gullivar takes off to rescue his love but has to make a trip down the River of Death and several more villages before finding her. But will a closing comet end his quest. And will he ever pay his bills?

Published in 1905 under the title Lieut. Gulliver Jones:His Vacation, author Edward Lester Arnold's novel was apparently unknown to most readers until the 1960s when Ace Books published a paperback edition with an introduction by writer Richard Lupoff (who wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure) where Lupoff speculated that Burroughs' Barsoom and Lester's Mars share many similarities. Some balked at the comparison while others saw it as a possibility. Indeed Gullivar of Mars does have several striking comparisons with Burroughs' novels. Our hero is a military man who arrives on Mars and immediately falls in with a local tribe. He risks his life to rescue a beautiful princess who is worshipped by her people. Even the River Iss is predated here with the River of Death and the beliefs of the people that's where you go when your time is up.

On the other hand there is much difference as well. Gullivar Jones isn't some sword wizard like John Carter nor does he gain super abilities. The Tither people (who Lupoff in his intro to the edition I read suggests seems inspired by the Eloi of HG Wells' The Time Machine) are almost pre-hippies, doing nothing but smiling and completely unwilling to raise arms against their enemies. By comparison The Whither people are not the Tharks, creatures that our hero eventually wins the trust of but rather just brutes. Even Mars is portrayed differently. Instead of the arid desolate planet Burroughs' describes, Lester's Mars is a lush planet filled with rivers and vegetation.

But the novel is still a fascinating fun read, owing more to Jonathan Swift (why else would the hero be named Gullivar?) than the pulp writers of Burroughs' era. Fans of John Carter of Mars will at least enjoy the novel and see the beginning of the Martian adventurers that would become commonplace later. Rating: **** out of 4.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book Review: The Warlord of Mars


Reviewer's Note-This review has been changed from the previous review.

When we last left our gallant hero (as they say in old serials) John Carter had seen his beloved imprisoned in the Temple of the Sun, a revolving tower that no one can enter for a full year. But the treacherous former First Born Thurid had learned of a way in from the now dead Issus and strikes a deal with Matai Shang, the fallen leader of the Therns to get entrance to rescue his daughter Phaidor and reek his revenge by offering Dejah Thoris up for defilement. With that John spends the next 150 pages in one long chase, entering the kingdom of Kaol and meeting both its ruler Kulan Tith and Thuvian Dihn, the leader of Ptarth and Thuvia's father before ending the chase in the cold outpost of Okar where their vicious ruler Salensus Oll also plans for John's defeat. Will our hero win the day, rescue his princess and defeat the forces of evil?

I know for some fans of the series The Warlord of Mars is a weak entry in the series. But for me Burroughs really rips this one out of the park. Not having to spend time establishing the characters or locations the story starts fast and keeps moving. The action scenes in this one are top-notch-especially the sword fight between John and Okarian Solon near the end. It also keeps John's focus on one thing only-the rescue of Dejah Thoris. No destroying whole cities or bringing down false idols or prophets.

Not to say its perfect-in fact one of the most notable aspects seems to be Matai Shang's cowardice which makes him a rather weak villain in the overall scheme and makes you wonder why Andrew Stanton has decided to rewrite him as the major villain of the upcoming film (and hoped for trilogy). It's probably the one spot where Burroughs could have improved (even though I don't think shape shifting is an improvement.) I also lost count of how many times John is captured because Thurid pulls off his disguise.

In the end though it is still a rousing conclusion. If Burroughs had never went any further this book would have been a satisfying conclusion. I know some fans prefer the first two but for this reviewer I'll take Warlord over Gods of Mars any day. Rating: **** out of 4.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Religion and Science Fiction Part II (Or why does God need a starship?)

Following up yesterday's post about the concern over the portrayal of religion in The Gods of Mars this piece asks the question is there any religion in science fiction and fantasy? The answer is yes.

To some that would seem an unlikely. After all religion and science has been at odds for centuries, probably ever since Columbus proved the world was round and the first apple bonked Issac Newton. Even recent years have seen attempts to ban the teaching of evolution from classrooms. But science fiction has a strong track record of working religion into its narratives, sometimes positively, sometimes not.

Indeed some of the basic plots of sci-fi and fantasy seem almost drawn from the Bible. There is what can be summed up by (of all people) Ed Wood:He tampered in God's Domain. This sub genre seems more a cautionary tale not to meddle in things man wasn't meant to know. That has ranged from don't attempt to build life out of the dead, otherwise the creation will kill those you love, don't clone dinosaurs otherwise you might get eaten and whatever you do, don't mock religious artifacts or you face will melt off (sorry for the humor).

Another sub genre is the metaphor genre. Indeed sci-fi and fantasy has had their own version of Jesus Christ, from Klatuu to E.T. to Neo. The most famous comic book character ever Superman has had his story reworked to an almost biblical proportions, especially in the first Christopher Reeve film where Brando's Jor-El tells him "I've sent them you, my only son." On the flip side the Devil has also gotten his due from Sauron's big flaming eyeball to Voldemort. George Lucas meanwhile gave us two devils, The Emperor Palpatine who combines both the Devil from Faust and the serpent in the Garden of Eden and Anakin Skywalker whose fall from grace mirrored Lucifer's expulsion from Heaven. (In fact Revenge of the Sith maybe the most religious sci-fi flick in recent memory, complete with it's own version of Hell where Anakin falls.)

A spin-off of this type is The One story, where some ancient prophecy foretells of a saviour that will arise to save his people. This has ran from the Kwistatz Haderach to The Boy Who Lived. On the flip side is the False Prophet plot where the prophet turns out to be evil or falsely leads his believers. Gods of Mars with Issus and the Holy Therns fits this type.

Of course sometimes religion is portrayed in a negative fashion. One show that constantly flirts with this (and let the hate mail flow here) is Star Trek. Any time the Starship Enterprise comes upon a godlike being or something claiming to be God, in the end its usually some insane creature, a spoiled child or a false prophet. The most notable of this (and where I got the sub quote for this piece) is the 5th film in the series. After agreeing to let the Vulcan Sybok go on his religious pilgrimage what they find is not God but a creature with malicious intents. I don't want to say or lead readers to think that Gene Roddenberry or anybody involved with the series doesn't have beliefs but it does seem the series relied on this a lot. On the other hand author Phillip Pullman has made no secret of his atheism or the fact that his own belief has influenced the His Dark Materials trilogy or its central villains The Magisterium. The first movie, The Golden Compass did dial this back to a degree to avoid inflaming more controversy but while the film was well made it still made less than such Catholic backed fantasy films like Chronicles of Narnia. Even True Blood producer Alan Ball has made no secret of equating the Church of the Light and it's anti-vampire stance to the Church's stance on homosexuality.

Whether or not Andrew Stanton even makes the second film is still to be decided. If he does decide to dial down or eliminate things that some might find offensive it won't be much of a surprise. If he does embrace the plot, hopefully it will remain faithful to the story Burroughs written but maybe show that sometimes people have faith and do what is right (John Carter for example has faith in his loved ones and his friends) and that sometimes faith can be violated for the wrong means. In either case it will be an interesting thing to see.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Book Review: The Gods of Mars


Reviewer's Note: This review has been changed from the previous review.

Having lived for 20 years on Earth, John Carter finally achieves his dream of returning back to Barsoom. But instead of waking up back in the Atmosphere Factory he ends up an unexplored part of Barsoom where he is immediately set upon by monstrous Plant Men and the Great White Apes. He then rescues a green warrior from death only to discover it is his friend Tars Tarkas and that they are both where no Barsoomian has returned from...down the River Iss and into the Valley Dor...or in Earthian terms Heaven. But instead of angels and clouds he finds that it's all a ruse first setup by the Holy Therns to trap unsuspecting travelers and then by the Black Pirates of Barsoom, men who serve Issus, the Goddess of Life Eternal, a vengeful woman without much holy about her. Its not too long before John decides to leave but he has to fight his way through two sets of armies and two not exactly to be spurned women. Oh yeah he also meets his son, Carthoris. Once clear our team makes it back home only for John to discover his beautiful Dejah Thoris, heartbroken over the loss of her son and unwilling to become the wife of Zat Arras, the Jed of Zodanga has went down the Iss. And John might not be able to save her...

As the second part of a trilogy, The Gods of Mars follows the basic setup of the middle chapter to a tee. We get new characters introduced, including Xodar the noble member of the Black Pirates who sides with John, Carthoris and Thuvia. We get rousing action scenes from the beginning. The creepy Plant Men are an interesting addition to the creature life of Barsoom. And we have a cliffhanger at the end to bring the reader back.

But looking back at the first three books as a complete trilogy I feel Gods is the weakest chapter. Part of it is that Burroughs over stuffs the book with too many characters. Having the Therns, the First Born and Zat Arras as adversaries just weighs down the book too much (it's the same problem that ultimately killed the Batman film series-too many bad guys and our hero gets left with nothing to do.) Not to say some of the characters aren't interesting-what can I say, I think Phaidor adds some heat-but it makes John Carter almost a supporting character in his own story.

Rating:*** out of 4.

Religion and Science Fiction Part 1

I'm about finished with the second installment of the Barsoom series, The Gods of Mars. While I've been reading discussion has popped up on message boards concerning this novel's portrayals of religion and the concerns some have as to whether or not religious groups will have complaints about this material.

For those who are unfamiliar with the novel, Gods finds John Carter discovering that what many Barsoomians take to be the final voyage to their version of Heaven to be a lie, perptrated by a race called the Therns and the Black Pirates of Barsoom who follow the goddess Issus, a withered evil old woman. What has caused some question is whether or not Burroughs, whose own beliefs are ambiguous at best, was attacking organized religion through his work. And will Disney and director Andrew Stanton keep this plot when and if they make the second film in their planned series.?

This is a good question. As reported by one poster on a board, a person on the Pixar Planet website apparently won't even see a movie or read a book called The Gods of Mars. Of course that's nothing new. Many films or books that have been attacked by religious groups, from Monty Python's Life of Brian to The Last Temptation of Christ, without being seen. Even conservative writer William F. Buckley assumed that Monty Python himself was going to be cruxified at the end of Brian. In recent years Hollywood and filmmakers have played a balancing act. On the one end was Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, where Gibson wooed Catholics with free showings of the movie and a grass roots marketing campaign that paid off, even if it enraged Jewish groups who felt the movie would raise anti-Semitic feelings. On the other end was Ron Howard's film version of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. The film with its plot twist revelation was roundly criticised by The Catholic League and even the Vatican itself. That didn't stop moviegoers from going though.

With The Gods of Mars, if there is controversy it will be interesting to see how Disney plays this since the studio has had it both ways. A decade ago while still under the reign of Michael Eisner the studio forced former Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein to dump Kevin Smith's religious satire Dogma because of outcries from many groups. A few years later however the studio followed Gibson's game plan with The Chronicles of Narnia. We'll have to wait and see what happens and whether or not we even get that far. As for that poor Pixar Planet person, well if Disney and Stanton have no problems changing the name of the first novel in the series, I'm sure they'll come up with a less offensive title-John Carter of Mars 2. Next time my thoughts on Gods and the second part of this.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Review: A Princess of Mars


A Reviewer's Note: This review I decided to keep as is.

Published in the pulp magazine All-Story with the original title Under the Moons of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs' first entry in his 11 book series introduces us to John Carter, the former Captain Jack Carter of the Confederacy who as our story opens has set out with his fellow calvaryman James Powell to seek his fortune. After finding a vein of quartz Powell departs to get equipment only to be killed by savage Indians. When John attempts to save his friend he is pursued into a cave where a strange gas renders him unconscious. Awaking later he finds himself separated from his body and then suddenly astral projected across the universe (sorry couldn't resist) and discovers long before David Bowie asked, that there is life on Mars.

Once on the red planet, John discovers he can leap tall building in a single bound and has the strength of several earthmen. That helps when confronted by the Tharks, a vicious race of six limbed green Martians. John earns his way into their tribe and gains the respect of Tars Tarkas and Sola, a female assigned to watch after him. Before arriving into the kingdom of Thark, the green men capture the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. With plans to turn her over to their leader Tal Hajus, John attempts to rescue the princess whose he has fallen for. But before happiness can be found, there is escapes, an arena of death and an arranged marriage to prevent in order to be together.

I'll say it now. A Princess of Mars is one of my favorite novels of all time. A combination of adventure and romance it was a welcome find when I was 12 years old when space fantasy was confined to the first Star Wars trilogy. Obviously if you are reading this site you must either love the book and series as much as I do or just wanted to know more about it. Hopefully Andrew Stanton and his team can do the same justice that Peter Jackson did to The Lord of the Rings.

Some thoughts and ideas

--First up the copy I read is the Penguin Classics series version, which uses a piece of comic art from the Marvel series. As typical for a lot of art it portrays Dejah Thoris as a scantly clad white woman in chains. No wonder so many were up in arms at Stanton's comment that the film will be rated PG-13. No hot babes in chains.

--Also included in this copy was an essay by Penguin editor John Seelye. Among his comments there is notable comparisons of Burroughs' Mars to HG Wells' Martian invaders, its influence on Star Wars and Superman and his comment that we have our own John Carter on the big screen, a man named Harrison.

--From the prologue credited to John Carter's nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs "our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he walked on." I doubt that will appear in a Disney production.

--Some discussion has popped up about who Thomas Haden Church who has been rumored to be attached to the film will play. Some have suggested casting him as Powell. Considering he's dead 3 pages in and has no dialogue that would seem a waste of his talent.

--As stated on page 10, "I stood but naked as at the minute of my birth." Yep John Carter arrives on Mars starkers. The question is will he show up in the movie that way or wearing his bvds or fully clothed. I know a bunch of Friday Night Lights fans will show up just to see Riggins' Riggin if they read that.

--He can leap tall buildings...I wonder if ERB ever joined the list of other writers and publishers who dragged DC and Siegel and Schuster to court for copyright infringment.

--A complaint about his female characters is that they are weak or just objects to be objectified or won as spoils of war. While it's true Dejah Thoris is no Ellen Ripley she isn't like the heroines portrayed in Robert Howard's Conan stories or other pulp stores. She delivers a rousing speech hoping to convince the Tharks to join her people to save the planet. Plus Sola is a strong character and Burroughs even has a villian Sarkoja who would love to seen torn apart as Tars Tarkas vows at one point towards the end.

--The one real sexual event of the novel is Tal Hajus' threat to have his way with Dejah before returning her body to Helium. That's it you pervs.

--At one point John Carter learns about the birth cycle of Barsoom. Its not many men who can say they fallen in love with a woman who was hatched.

--Woola stuffed dolls. Coming soon to the nearest Disney Store.

--Tusk to the groin and the bloody aftermath. Again I doubt that will show up in a Mouse House flick.

--Is it just me or does Than Kosis sound like some medical condition.

--How many things did George Lucas borrow from this. We have Jeddaks, Padwars, John Carter's ability to avoid having his thoughts read (a la the Force has a strong influence on the weak minded) and even at one point Dejah's ability to avoid mind reading. In an earlier version of Star Wars Princess Leia was supposed to be able to do this.

Rating: **** out of 4