Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter (Of Mars) (2012)

Before I swing into my usual palaver, I want to say firmly and unequivocally that I liked this film, it has perhaps the best man versus four-armed albino ape fight ever committed to whatever the hell has finally replaced celluloid.
Oh they made changes to be sure, the villainous straw that stirs the drink has been beefed up from Book to Movie, "The Holy Therns" once a decadent theocracy have now become parasitic immortal shapeshifting super villains but do not worry, much of Burroughs theme and intent seems intact.
And Taylor Kitsch (Our Leading Man) is a man to watch, if in nothing more than Steve Reeves was once a man to watch when the curtain rose on his hour in the spotlight.
For that fact, Lynn Collins is most definitely a woman to watch in the best Frank Frazetta Cover sense of the term.

True though, my expectations were controlled and low as I eased into my seat at the Reading Imax Theater, I recalled sitting thru "The Land That Time Forgot" in 1974 in Fresh Pond with expectations as high as Hindenburg.
As I've said before, we are in a third age of peplum movies, buff supernormal actors cavorting semi naked thru some mythological realm tarted up with as much CGI as common decency allows.
In that respect, Director Andrew Stanton succeeded, he spent an amount of money comparable to Mitt Romney's entire fortune and every damn penny is up there on the screen for all to see.
Alas it may well be a case of "Too Much Too Late".
Just for a moment though, I'd like to digress, as co-curator of the Channel Zero Film & Video Series (now in our sixteenth year of genteel obscurity) I can speak as an expert in the attempted revival of departed genres. From Peplum Movies (Hercules Unchained and Hercules in the Haunted World) to the Ritz Brothers ("The Gorilla"), Channel Zero has manfully attempted to spark new audiences to forgotten artists and their films.
And if it is one thing we've learned down through the years, there are some dead horses that are strangely resistant even a thorough beating.
It doesn't stop us from trying (Jungle Girl pictures anyone? Believe me we are working on it!), and Ghod Bless Andrew Stanton he was certainly in there pitching, but I fear it was all for naught.
What is Old is Not Always New, sometimes it can be The Original and yet still Derivative.
In the case of Edgar Rice Burroughs' sumptuous Mars Series, the man literally invented the entire genre of extraterrestrial geo-politics, braced it with a heavy load of exo-zoology and armored it with the Modern Myth of the Messiah From Another Planet.
And that is just the first book, written in 1912, in an eleven book series!
Tevis' The Man Who Fell to Earth, Siegel & Shuster's Kal El, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Cameron's Avatar and dozens of others all shamelessly derive from Burroughs' protean imagination.
But because Edgar Rice Burrough's epic science fiction has been largely off market in terms of film or television adaptations nigh these one hundred years the general audience has no idea that ERB's "Barsoom" is the robust original and not some preposterous "Dune" knock off.
And that is the shoal on which the film founders, it comes to market fifty years too late. If for example a string of low budget "John Carter Warlord of Mars" peplum movies got churned out in the 1960's, shot in Spain and starring Gordon Scott and Maria Canale (directed by Mario Bava natch) there might have been enough of cultural hook on which to hang the current incarnation.
But there isn't ERB's science fiction has languished so long it has become too strong a purely literary cult with no links out to the mass audience.
Tarzan, John Carter's almighty cousin in African has no such problem, he has never vanished off the cultural radar screen since he slaughtered his first lion and proposed to howl about it.
But still, it was a well attended show last night, in front of me sat a little blonde nine year old girl, who watched with Saucer Eyes the whole myth unfold.
She was peppering her poor befuddled father after the show with questions about "The Other Mars Books" as they departed, I am sure Wikipedia got consulted via Iphone in the car on the way home.
I suspect this film won't make enough money to warrant a sequel, but maybe just maybe it'll plant a seed for the next generation.
Meanwhile, I do love it when my favorite books become good movies or even passable ones, but there is something to treasure about Edgar Rice Burroughs and his science fiction that is so very impregnable to successful film adaptation.

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