I recently watched “A Princess of Mars,” a film adaptation of the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. I just started the series, so I was very curious to see it. It’s by The Asylum, the folks who brought you “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus,” the Sherlock Holmes knockoff where he fights tyrannosauruses, and “Sex Pot.”
As a film fan, I thought it was pretty low-rent. As an indie filmmaker, I thought it was a stunning cinematic achievement. I had no idea the cost of CGI imaging had come down so far.
The film stays as true to the book as its budget will allow. They included several Burroughs keywords, such as “fighting men of Earth,” and it was clear the filmmakers had at least some affection for the original. I’ll run down the main differences:
In the book, John Carter is a veteran of the Confederate army — the full flowering of Southern chivalry and manhood. In the movie, he’s a present-day Marine sniper. Also, he’s Antonio Sabato Jr. ASII doesn’t pull off the chivalry thing so well, but he has a certain machismo that works OK for the character. He manages to say “I am a Jeddak of the Tharks” — and “I’m from Virginia” — with a straight face.
In the book, John Carter falls into a swoon in a cave, then wakes up to be transported to Mars. In the movie, the U.S. military downloads him onto a thumb drive and beams him to a distant planet — not really Mars, but nicknamed Mars 216 or something like that. I’ll call that one a push.
The movie cuts out Burroughs’ large faux-Indian captivity narrative in favor of a fight with giant bugs. I guess they had giant bug CGI sitting around? It helps with the run time.
Burroughs’ setpieces are radically scaled back. One scene from the book has a horde of Tharks shooting at a fleet of airships from a deserted city. That becomes a handful of Tharks shooting at a single airship from a hillside in California. The Tharks’ amphitheater becomes a hillside in California. You get the picture.
Here’s how Burroughs describes the heroine, Dejah Thoris:
And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life… Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.
In the movie, it’s Traci Lords.
The book lacks an overarching villain, but the movie provides one. I think that makes sense from a narrative standpoint, but the identity of the villain is a bit of a groaner. I won’t spoil it.
I’d say, all told, I was entertained through most of it until the end, which really shits the bed. If you’re Brent, I’d advise you to turn it off right after ASII leaves the Thark amphitheater. Trust me on this.