Another Weird One: JCM

I saw John Carter in a nearly empty theater today. Putting aside the fact that it’s going to be one of the worst all-time flops in economic terms, I’m ambivalent about it.

The book A Princess of Mars and its sequels are, simply, terrible. They’re racist, badly plotted, and over-written; fantasy with a badly-glued veneer of sci-fi. I loved them when I was 8 or so and didn’t entirely understand them, but even then the descriptions of theĀ Tharks bothered me. The movie attempts to make sense of Burroughs’s meandering but still leaves its characters with some fucking idiotic dialogue.

Besides the impressive use of CGI and nice on-site shooting in some desert somewhere, the thing that stands out for me is the modern interpretation of Burroughs’s interpretation of Percival Lowell‘s vision of Mars. It is utterly romantic: the technically advanced people of a dying world building longer and longer canals to use the dwindling resources of water, knowing the whole time that they will lose their fight. I suspect that Lowell’s bad astronomy lasted as long as it did because of the romance of it.

The two leads are unimpressive. Carter is played by a man named Kitsch, who should by virtue of not changing his name qualify for the self-awareness version of a Darwin Award. Dejah Thoris is played by a woman who can’t necessarily deliver her lines but, to her credit, has triceps that make her look almost realistic when holding a sword.

Finally, if you’re a fan of HBO’s Rome and The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad, there’s a strange feeling seeing Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony, Detective Jimmy McNulty, and Walt White rubbing elbows as secondary characters.

16 thoughts on “Another Weird One: JCM

  1. I would disagree that the book is racist- the following passage (cribbed from Project Gutenberg) from Chapter 11 must have been pretty mind-blowing in 1912, and is a lot more progressive than just about anything written in the subsequent fifty years:

    Dejah Thoris and I then fell to examining the architecture and decorations of the beautiful chambers of the building we were occupying. She told me that these people had presumably flourished over a hundred thousand years before.
    They were the early progenitors of her race, but had mixed with the other great race of early Martians, who were very dark, almost black, and also with the reddish yellow race which had flourished at the same time.
    These three great divisions of the higher Martians had been forced into a mighty alliance as the drying up of the Martian seas had compelled them to seek the comparatively few and always diminishing fertile areas, and to defend themselves, under new conditions of life, against the wild hordes of green men.
    Ages of close relationship and intermarrying had resulted in the race of red men, of which Dejah Thoris was a fair and beautiful daughter.

    To describe this sort of race-mixing in the early 20th century was probably shocking in many quarters.

    I’m undecided about whether to see the movie or not. Do I really need another portion of my childhood cut to pieces in the cruel arena of the Warhoon hordes of hackery?

    • His description of the Tharks is that they are the cruel, degenerate descendants of a once-great race. They live and attack in “hordes”, cannot be fully understood by outsiders, and ignore pain. Every aspect fits the circa-1900 stereotype of the Chinese. I might overlook this if Burroughs hadn’t done something similar with Africans in Tarzan.

      • I just figured he was describing monsters from Mars. The fact that he describes them as being slaves to a collectivist ideal before the Bolshevik Revolution is also pretty weird. Apparently, he based his green martians of some Theosophical writings of Madame Blavatsky.

        I only read the first “Tarzan” book and really wasn’t impressed. I wonder if he became less forward thinking as his career progressed, in order to please an unenlightened audience.

  2. Another thing- I think it was a dumb move to name the film John Carter. The character is the dullest one in the book, which is 75% weird travelogue and 25% male wish-fulfilment, and isn’t a household name. It’s a very inauspicious choice.

  3. ” It is utterly romantic: the technically advanced people of a dying world building longer and longer canals to use the dwindling resources of water, knowing the whole time that they will lose their fight.”

    Geez, that’s sad.

  4. I, too, saw it in a nearly empty theater. The saddest part was post final shot when the JCM graphic flipped out in all it’s stylized, sequel-branding glory. You’d think they’d know it was a stillborn dog by that point.

    Can the Lensmen movie (Star Wars doesn’t count!) be far behind?

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