Sunday, September 19, 2010

Script Review: A Princess of Mars 1991

Tharks singing. That's right.

When we last left off, it was March 1990. We now jump ahead a little to August and Disney has announced a director for the film-John McTiernan who was coming off of three successful films (Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.) About this time writer Bob Gale was brought on board to rework the script and that's the script I'm about to review. What's interesting about Gale being brought on board was compared to the previous writers he had some major blockbusters under his screenwriting belt with the Back to the Future trilogy. He was also more of a comedy writer, co-writing such films with Robert Zemeckis like Zemeckis' Beatles-inspired I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Steven Spielberg's infamous 1941. And that in fact is probably the major difference between the Ted Elliot-Terry Rossio script and this one-a lot of comedy. And that's the biggest problem. I don't know if Disney thought going down this route was a good idea or not but it's there.

As for the major plot, actually very little has changed from the previous script. So here's the major differences I've noticed compared to that script:

-The script is a "fourth draft" dated January 1991. It states it is based on both Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel and the Elliot-Rossio script.
-The first page is actually a "opening title crawl" that informs the viewer (or in this case the reader) that "this motion picture is based on the writings of John Carter of Virginia..." It also states that certain "liberties" were taken with this film and that it won't "detract from your enjoyment" of the film (CYNIC ALERT-Maybe Andrew Stanton needs to add this.)
-The opening scene is the arrival of Edgar Rice Burroughs to the estate of his late uncle. Unlike the earlier script, ERB here is 35-which is a nice touch since Burroughs himself didn't start writing A Princess of Mars until then.
-We meet John Carter and his friend "Jim-Boy" Powell while they're fighting off claim jumpers. None of the drawn out action of the earlier script. Powell is killed and Carter runs into the cave and his trapped by a cave-in. A lot of bad jokes about Powell's interest in "Chinese girls" shows up here.

-This time John is hit by an "orb of blue light" and then finds himself inside the Atmosphere Factory. This time around the factory just fails and the Keeper sends him out towards Helium to bring help in order to fix it. He is given a medallion that tells how the atmosphere is doing and is to present it to the "Great Oracle of Helium." I wonder if he bakes cookies?

-John is a klutz who at one point jumps and yells "my ankle!" Cue comedy reaction from the Keeper.

-John's meeting with the Tharks is the same as in the novel and the previous draft.

-The character of Zad-introduced in the earlier draft as Tars Tarkas' right hand Thark-is pretty much the Sarkoja character here.

-This time John learns Barsoomian languages courtesy of a "jukal worm," a maggot like creature he is forced to ingest. Interestingly the Asylum version used something similiar to this in their film.

-John Carter sings Camptown Races and Tars Tarkas wants to learn it. He also tells them that Doo-Dah is an Earth god. Heaven help us.

-The air battle where Dejah Thoris is captured is one of the better scenes. Here we also meet Sab Than, written as a scarred axe-wielding psycho who slaughters Thark children and has a brief encounter with John who calls him "Scarface." Say hello to my little friend!

-The rest of the script follows Burroughs with the trial of Dejah by the Tharks and the introduction of Tal Hajus. More groan-inducing comedy when the Tharks mispronounce Virginia as "Vagina."

-Sola tells her story before John rescues Dejah.

-We learn that the Zodangans have been attacking Helium for weeks and that they had planned to hold Dejah for ransom as the cause for the air battle. No conspiracy plot as in the previous script.

-John and Dejah play "doctor" and have a romantic roll in the sand. Well at least we know where Carthoris came from since the previous script had no such scene.

-Dejah and Sola are captured by the Zodangans and Dejah agrees to marry Sab Than to save the planet. For her part Sola is tossed overboard but saved by an air current coming out of holes that produce the air.

-John is recaptured and forced to do combat in a gladiatorial arena with Tars Tarkas. This scene is very similiar to the one in the previous script, complete with the same outcome. Except for Zad who runs for the hills and gets his head shot off by Tars.

-Kantos Kan arrives to find John Carter. The Tharks ride to battle singing Camptown Races.

-The final conflict takes place in Helium where the wedding is to take place. Here it's Tardors Mors as Dejah's father. A long chase scene through the castle ensues and John kills Sab Than-thanks to the lack of witnesses and a burning ship crashing around them he solves the whole "I can't marry Dejah if I kill Sab" problem. And this is our hero-a cheater?

-A trip back to the factory, and there is a hitch-some tubes need to be changed out. Guess who does it? Yep and that's how John gets zapped back to Earth.

-The script does end the same with Edgar discovering John's empty casket and the same shot of Dejah and Woola outside watching a falling star.

So was that bad enough for you all? I don't want to make it sound like Bob Gale is a bad writer-after all Back to the Future is a great movie-but what happened? Was Disney wanting a comedy suddenly? I have to say we should be all thankful this one never got made. Next time we wrap up the Mouse's first attempt at Barsoom and look at Paramount's attempts.

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