Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Opinion Time: The Future of John Carter of Mars


Well here we are. With the press now reporting on the return of the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., the question now comes up. What next? Some of the sites are suggesting that a sequel is in the works, even though no such announcement has been made and there might be a good reason for that...it might be difficult to do one. And for some fans that's good news since a new take on John Carter, Dejah Thoris and the denizens of Barsoom might deliver what Andrew Stanton and his team could not-a faithful, adventurous take on Burroughs and his creation. So let's take a look at the possibilities of what lies ahead for the gentleman from Virginia and his incomparable princess.

MOVIES: At this point one thing probably needs to be made clear: I do not want a sequel to Stanton's movie. It failed to capture anything from Burroughs, even the tone or essence that some of the movie's defenders claims it captured when defending how poor it was as an adaptation. But also a sequel might be out of the question anyway. First what studio will bankroll a sequel to one of the biggest financial flops in film history? The Back to Barsoomers can whine over and over about Disney's poor marketing, the mean critics and some evil 3 Days of the Condor like conspiracy to have it fail but make no mistake, studio chiefs are only interested in the bottom line and the line is that John Carter lost money, big money. If ERB Inc. makes a deal for a new John Carter of Mars movie a studio more than likely will demand it be a reboot or even an adaptation of one of the other books, not a direct sequel. Also can a sequel even be continued without Disney? One thing that has popped up in some discussions is the case of copyright, or rather trademark rights. A few years back Warner Bros. filed several trademark patents over the ownership of the 1939 The Wizard of Oz that stated while the L. Frank Baum books are in public domain, elements from their film was not. That included designs of the characters and sets, specific changes made to the story (i.e. the ruby slippers and the "it was all a dream" ending) and so on. Disney would most likely claim that their version is trademarked and unless a studio is willing to pay them, not available. In short no more Shape Shifter Shang, no more Mopey Carter, no more butt ugly tatts or moving cities or any other change Stanton and his cronies did to their version. With that it means one thing only-reboot and even then that could take time as the memory of this version needs to fade from view and support for a new take surfaces. It may be time for ERB fans to move in that direction and stop supporting the Stanton oriented Back to Barsoom movement since the important thing is getting a new John Carter of Mars movie, not who is directing it.

TELEVISION: In their press release, ERB Inc. mentioned they had also acquired television rights back. I would say now at this point this might be the best option for ERB to pursue since it might mean a more open and receptive audience. Many have suggested HBO or Showtime as a possibility and honestly I can see either one being able to take on the series and making a home run with it. HBO has taken risks before with shows ranging from The Sopranos to Game of Thrones as well as being unafraid to make series that won't appeal to everyone. One of the many faults of the movie was Stanton's idea that his movie needed to appeal to everyone and the end result was too many changes and a failure to appeal to both die-hard ERB fans and general audiences (not those mythical audiences the Back to Barsoomers claim exists). Showtime meanwhile has also taken on offbeat shows (Dexter, Masters of Sex, Penny Dreadful and their upcoming return to Twin Peaks), so they could be a good choice to take on John Carter and company. Throw in the fact that they won't have to bend to studio dictates, ratings and the need to appeal to every age group and this could be the best bet. Another possibility is animation, which would be an interesting avenue to pursue. Finding an animation house to take it could be problematic (and you got to figure that Disney's animation departments is out of the question) but it could offer up a version for younger viewers, especially if they want to cultivate an audience for a potential new movie.

MERCHANDISE: One area that has received no discussion was the mention that they had gotten back merchandising rights. One thing notably absent from the Disney film was merchandise, so now it opens the doors for action figures, etc. But one area that might be open will be new stories and books. In a brief introduction in last year's Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it was mentioned that contractual obligations had prevented a new Barsoom story to be included, resulting in the inclusion of Michael Resnick's previously published The Forgotten Sea of Mars. Now with the rights back ERB could follow up their officially sanctioned Tarzan pastiches with new tales of Barsoom from different writers. The could even follow the templates they did before with a series aimed at younger readers, a retelling of A Princess of Mars from Dejah Thoris' point of view (similar to Robin Maxwell's Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan) and even new adventures. Given how many writers in the science fiction and fantasy genre had admitted to being inspired and influenced by Burroughs and his work I'm sure they will be able to find some ready and eager to jump in and take the challenge.

In fact getting the rights back has opened an exciting new door for fans and ERB Inc. With endless possibilities anything could happen. As long as it doesn't mean more Mopey. If you have any suggestions or ideas where they should go leave your thoughts below.

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