For those of you who haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the upcoming movies this year or you’re not into really old science fiction novels, you may not be aware that John Carter is even a thing. You may not even care, but that’s why I’m writing this blog entry, to tell you that you should care, because history is important.
John Carter is based on A Princess of Mars, part one in a series of science fiction novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creator of Tarzan), originally serialized in a magazine called The All-Story between the months of February and July of 1912. That’s exactly 100 years ago, in case you didn’t know.
The story isn’t very unique now—colosseum fights, a desert planet, green aliens, saving the princess, a man from Earth fighting to help an alien race—but at the time it was incredibly groundbreaking. In fact, a lot of science fiction authors and filmmakers have attributed many of their ideas to these original stories. Star Wars, Dune, Avatar, and many others have borrowed heavily from these original sources, which is interesting when you consider the fact that many people today believe the upcoming John Carter film is simply a copy of these other franchises. Little do they know, it’s actually the complete opposite.
But aside from that, there’s also the historical significance of the film, itself, which has literally been in development since the early 1930s. You see, back when the animation world was beginning to grow and there were whispers of serializing little black and white cartoons before various feature length films, the creator of the original Looney Tunes, a man named Bob Clampett, actually started adapting A Princess of Mars into an animated cartoon. He created all kinds of samples and clips, which he drew himself, and started pitching it around to various studio heads. The consensus was, surprisingly, that middle-America wouldn’t be very interested in seeing a man-on-Mars story because it was just so hard to believe, and also because it didn’t appeal to children. This was a little odd, especially since just a few years later they released the Flash Gordon serials and they became extremely popular. According to some experts, if Clampett had been successful, there’s a very good chance that John Carter’s story would have preceded Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as the very first full-length American animated movie.
Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine how different things would have been if this movie had actually ended up being the very first animated film, and then imagine seeing all of those ideas that have since made it to the big screen and become so popular for the very first time. Think about what kind of impact it would have had on the way you view movies now. You wouldn’t be looking at this movie as “just another Star Wars clone”; you’d instead be looking at Star Wars as “another damn John Carter story”. The only reason you aren’t doing that now is because, like many of us, you don’t have time to sit and read a bunch of books that were written decades before you were born. Even avid readers don’t know about them anymore, so how could you? I mean, how is anyone supposed to know that sixty years before Luke Skywalker was saving princesses in another galaxy, John Carter was doing the exact same thing on Barsoom (Mars)?
This series was so popular that there was even a movement in the early 80’s by Walt Disney Pictures to develop it. This version of the series would, oddly enough, star Tom Cruise, and it would be Disney’s answer to Star Wars and Conan. Apparently, though, the deal fell through when the filmmakers realized it would be next to impossible to recreate Barsoom as it was in the books, and because the current state of special effects just wasn’t good enough.
In other words, not only is the book itself exactly 100 years old, but the movie has been in and out of development for almost as long. That’s one hell of a development cycle, if you ask me. Of course, there was a 2009 adaptation, but it wasn’t in theaters and instead was ported directly to DVD, so most people have no idea it ever existed.
I won’t even get into how expensive it is (250 million dollars), or how the visual effects are basically on par with Avatar, because I honestly don’t think it matters as much as what I’ve just spent the past several paragraphs detailing. What should matter, above everything else here, is that this movie is an extremely unique case in science fiction. Movies aren’t typically made like this—it just doesn’t happen. But here we are anyway, on the eve of an anniversary to a series of novels that were written a century ago, back when the idea of traveling through space was so outlandish and silly to people that there was simply no chance of it being made. It’s truly remarkable.
Even if you think to yourself, “I’ve seen this stuff before”, you should still support it, because that other stuff might not even exist without it. Even Carl Sagan, famed astronomer and the creator of Cosmos (a very influential and famous television series about the Universe), has said that the John Carter series was part of the reason he took an interest in the field.
That is why this movie matters, even if you don’t think it does. This film deserves to exist; it deserves to be seen. Like many other scifi novels and films, this series has already changed you; it has opened you up to possibilities, even if you didn’t know it. All those evenings you spent dreaming about the stars when you were a kid, about what it would be like to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, the fascinations you developed over Flash Gordon or Avatar; none of that would be what it is without John Carter. And none of us would be the same. So go and see the film, appreciate how it came to be, and forgive the little things.
This, like so few stories today, has earned the right to be told.