Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Script Review: John Carter of Mars 2005


The final script that has shown up online comes to us from writer Ehren Kruger. And it takes the proverbial cake for the most different approach to Barsoom.

Dated September 7, 2005 with a stamp "previous draft by: Mark Protosevich," we open with "Jungle skies" and the appearance of "two MILITARY HELICOPTERS" (as typed in the script). We then meet our hero-"Captain John Carter (28) of Dev Group, the most elite of special forces units." And as you can quickly tell we are no longer in Kansas (or Arkansas in this case.) We also meet fellow unit member James Powell and their mission-apparently mysterious red diamonds are showing up and and the government wants it-which leads to Barsoom. With this setup here's the basics of this script. Be warned there are some spoilers and some death dealing creatures-

--The opening action sequence is basically a repeat of the opening of Predator-special forces guys going in to rescue hostages but really there for another reason.

--After finding a kid and bribing him with Baby Ruth bars, John and Powell find the source of the diamonds-a huge crevasse that has shown up after a recent earthquake. Powell falls down it and John follows to rescue him. Inside though John finds (start rolling eyes now!) "a massive chamber" with a "sundial-type marking in the ground" which when touched activates and ends up sending John not only to Mars but through time as well-the script mentions dinosaur bones becoming live creatures.

--John crash lands on Barsoom in a "dense forest" and is barely eaten by a malagor-which fans will remember were thought to be extinct and were later discovered by Ras Thavas in Synthetic Men of Mars.

--John falls through the trees and lands outside the Thark incubator. Here he also meets Woola-who is introduced guarding the incubator and making a sound described as "woola-woola." We also get great white apes who are breaking in and sucking up Thark eggs like candy. John fights them and manages to kill a female ape before Tars Tarkas and the Tharks show up.

--The Tharks are living in a domed city. At this point it resembles the novel with John being trained by Sola and learning the language.

--In this version the Tharks we learn have been driven off their land by Sab Than-who is described as a "desert prophet" leading the Zodangans, who are mentioned later as having been a group of desert dwellers without a leader. He's also at war with Helium.

--Tal Hajus is basically Jabba the Hutt here. The character of Sarkoja is present in this version as Tal's evil assassin henchwoman. She gets killed by flesh eating maggot creatures. Yummy!

--Dejah Thoris is captured and pleads for help to defeat the Zodangans. We also learn that Sab Than's master plan is capture the Atmosphere Plant but needs the key to enter it. In this case it happens to be some device that Dejah wears around her navel.

--The Zodangans have some device that renders them invisible in both their armor and ships. Those darn Klingons and their cloaking devices!

--John, Dejah and Sola escape and we get Sola's back story, the "revelation" of Powell-apparently he's a skeleton in a Helium museum, and an attack by Warhoons.

--And at this point we get another revelation-Sab Than is...James Powell! ("And I would have gotten away with it too if wasn't for you middling Tharks!) Yep he showed up on Barsoom a good 150 years before John, was taken in by the Zodangans and has led them to attempt to conquer Barsoom.

--He makes the "together we can rule the galaxy" speech to John. When he refuses, Sab/Powell also paraphrases Anakin Skywalker again-"you're either with me or against me." Sadly no fight on a giant lava planet ensues-instead he just gives John to the Warhoons.

--Time for some games. John and a captured Tars have to fight their way through a Warhoonian gladiator game involving starved calots, banths and a "simiac," a super great white ape.

--Escaping on a malagor John and Tars get separated and John crash lands outside the Atmosphere Plant, which is being run by an Orovar who built it ages ago. John discovers he has the key from Dejah's navel (that's some bling!) and has a choice-he can go home or stay and fight.

--The next batch is pretty much the same as before-Tars challenges Tal Hajus and the attack of the Tharks-this time on Helium which is being bombarded.

--Sab/Powell also has a Governor Tarkin moment as he has Dejah watch him blow up her people while forcing him to tell her where the key is. Sola finally talks, making her a tattle-tale.

--John and Tars eventually show up and the proverbial "all hell breaks loose" final battle begins-with malagors fighting Zodangan airships (pre-Avatar!), and the arrival of more Tharks to save the day (written with much similarities to the climax of the Helm's Deep battle in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.)

--Everything seems fine-John and Dejah have gotten hitched-until the king is murdered! Who did it? Well at this point Sab Powell has more lives than Jason Voorhees as he gets into the Plant and threatens to destroy it. John finally kills him and gets zapped back to Earth. Only this time he lands back in his home state of Virginia...in 1865. But thanks to his exposure on Barsoom he doesn't age and waits until that earthquake. In the only scene repeated from the earlier scripts, we see Dejah Thoris standing outside watching a falling star-only this time with a "silhouetted little boy" keeping her company. And we fade out...

Well that was different. I can see why many had a fit when rumors of the direction this version was going in leaked out but once he lands on Barsoom it isn't any different from the previous two versions. We get Sab Than as the bad guy and his attempt to use the Atmosphere Plant to conquer Barsoom. John Carter learns from the Tharks and I actually liked him not having to go off and warn everyone about the Plant failing. The problem I had with it though is this-the major plot of Burroughs' novel-the love of John Carter for Dejah Thoris-isn't here. In fact there is no indication of that anywhere until the last few pages. At one point he even resents her for using him to help her escape before she tells him of Powell's "fate." The other major issue is the revelation of Powell as Sab Than which I guess works for this version but isn't as effectively handled. I do have to admit this though-reading it I was amazed how similar this script was to the recent Asylum version of Princess of Mars-the special ops John Carter, Dejah Thoris having the device to enter the Plant and Sab Than's true identity. You can make up your own conclusions about that. In the end this script is an interesting read but I don't know if it would have worked. The action scenes are fine but ultimately I didn't care about the characters in this version or whether or not they would make it. Hopefully that won't be the case with the upcoming film but we'll have to wait and see.

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