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John Carter of the Round Table by Abraham Sherman

Edgar Rice Burroughs

JCF contributor Abraham Sherman has written an epic exploration of the differences between the Edgar Rice Burroughs original, and the Andrew Stanton adaptation, of ERB’ A Princes of Mars.  This is a thorough, substantive, and thoughtful piece.  Many thanks to Abe for writing this — there is much to chew on here.  Read the entire article at Bill Hillman’s  ERBZINE.

Here is an intro with link:

John Carter of the Round Table

An Exploration of the Differences Between Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Novel and Andrew Stanton’s Film

by Abraham Sherman

“Twenty-two years before I had been cast, naked and a stranger, into this strange and savage world. The hand of every race and nation was raised in continual strife and warring against the men of every other land and color. Today, by the might of my sword and the loyalty of the friends my sword had made for me, black man and white, red man and green rubbed shoulders in peace and good-fellowship. All the nations of Barsoom were not yet as one, but a great stride forward toward that goal had been taken, and now if I could but cement the fierce yellow race into this solidarity of nations I should feel that I had rounded out a great lifework, and repaid to Mars at least a portion of the immense debt of gratitude I owed her for having given me my Dejah Thoris.”

(Chapter 16 of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Warlord of Mars – www.literaturepage.com/read/warlordofmars-163.html)

With those words, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) brought the opening trilogy of his eleven-book Barsoom series to its thematic fulfillment and placed the capstone upon a lavish accomplishment of imaginative storytelling.  In a work that evoked many of the grand settings and figures of myth and legend, particularly Camelot and its peace-making King, ERB gave us a living Mars and the hero John Carter, who came to be known as the Warlord.  First published in All-Story Magazine in 1912, John Carter and his literary sibling Tarzan (published later the same year and also created by ERB), went on to inspire much of the superhero and adventure-based storytelling of the last one hundred years.  Landmark creative descendents include Superman, Star Wars and Avatar.  Jerry Siegel, George Lucas and James Cameron each cited ERB’s John Carter as a major influence on their own flagship creations.  Into this literary and cinematic sphere stepped writer/director Andrew Stanton in March of 2012, with a film adaptation entitled “John Carter”, based on A Princess of Mars, the first book in the Barsoom series.  Stanton, a lifelong ERB fan who first discovered the world of Barsoom via the 1970’s Marvel comic book adaptations, was the first filmmaker in a checkered eighty-year development history to successfully bring the property to the big screen.

A friend who knows that I’m an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan recently posed a few questions to me regarding “John Carter”.  To paraphrase the questions: What do you feel is the most significant change from book to screen?  Is Taylor Kitsch’s performance true to the character you envisioned when reading A Princess of Mars?  Is the screen version a faithful adaptation of Burroughs or does Stanton bring a different vision to bear on the story?  Do you think the filmmakers chose to emphasize certain elements at the expense of others?  Overall, what observations and implications have you drawn from a comparison of the book and the film?

Before sharing my responses to each of the questions, an objective analysis of Andrew Stanton’s fidelity to the source material is in order, as well as a concise summary of his goals, methods and results.

Read the rest at ERBZINE

11 comments

  • As always, well written Abe!! Drop me a line when you get a chance. This is Dave from The MACC.

  • Frank, I’m of the opinion that Stanton’s interpretation should have been better received in the US. It deserved to make a lot more at the box office, particularly in the US, but also overseas. One interesting factor here, if I remember correctly, is that domestic marketing and foreign marketing were handled by different companies. In some memorable instances, the foreign marketing was superior – the Japanese trailer that featured some scenes from Earth comes to mind. When that trailer came out, pretty much everyone agreed that it was better than anything that had been released in the US. It’s possible the overseas marketers did a better job across the board.

    One problem with the US marketing was the impression of “generic sci-fi” that it created. Months before the film was released, internet critics were already going on and on about it being a knock-off of “Prince of Persia”, “Cowboys and Aliens” and “Avatar”. No amount of “well, actually, ERB was there first” responses from ERB fans seemed to make any real difference. The generic knock-off impression had taken root too quickly. The lauding of ERB and his exceptional world didn’t come early enough and intense enough from the key figures that needed to be shaping the first impressions among would-be audience members. The generic impression could have been minimized by a robust effort by Disney to confidently highlight the source material and create a “rediscovered classic” narrative around it. But instead, the only consistent mention of the source material in the broad US publicity was the text at the end of the trailers, noting it as an adaptation of ERB’s novel. ERB was given only perfunctory acknowledgement. Many online articles expanded on the history of the source material, but nothing on movie screens or TV screens highlighted it. And so millions of people went on thinking of it as a generic, miss-able film. Potential viewers needed to be brought up to speed just enough for their curiosity to be piqued, but the Disney marketing didn’t go there until the month before the release, long after the anti-hype had firmly taken root.

    One factor which fed into the generic impression created by the marketing was that the film itself had been divested of much of the unique signature of the source material. If different decisions had been made in the adaptation, along the lines described in my article, the marketers would have had something much more distinct to work with. It could be argued that the campaign didn’t capitalize effectively on the unique elements that Stanton did maintain, which leaves some uncertainty as to whether any differences in the content of the film would have been able to save it at the box office.

    My article isn’t about the marketing, though many of the points I make have bearing on how a reboot would be marketed. Ultimately, the choices in the adaptation and the ability of the marketing to make a unique and intriguing impression are interrelated.

    Stanton’s film was under-served by its marketing to a similar degree that ERB’s Barsoom was under-served by choices in the adaptation. If both of those missed opportunities had been remedied, we, and many more people across the world, would be having a much different conversation about the film right now.

    Good points about the longevity of the Barsoomians. I think we have similar thoughts on why that was an element of many of ERB’s series, though I’d suggest that he was also evoking the extraordinarily long lifespans of individuals mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis, and in other ancient writings. ERB received a Victorian education that went heavily into classic texts. It’s interesting that the Barsoomians are not immortal, but instead live about 1,000 years before old age sets in relatively swiftly. There is some interesting thematic stuff there to muse upon, perhaps in a future article.

  • Quite an insightful and fascinating article indeed. Not sure if Stanton’s interpretation of ERB’s material is what sank the movie in the U.S. Remember it did do well abroad. I was a bit surprised Mr. Sherman didn’t mention anything about the Red Martian’s one thousand year lifespan. I had often wondered what ERB preoccupation with long-lived characters was about. In the Carson Napier stories the Venusians had discovered a longevity serum that gave them a thousand year lifespan. Carson also took it and jumped on the long-lived bandwagon. When I read the Barsoom novels as a kid I had expected at some point John Carter’s mysterious origin would be revealed, but of course that never occurred. As ERB was 34 years old when he wrote Princess, I think, to lazy to check, perhaps the longevity thing was a subconscious longing for some sort of immortality. He did achieve it inadvertently through his immortal characters.

  • Abraham Sherman, in my opinion, has done an impeccable job of reconciling the fans of “John Carter” and the Burroughs purists with his careful, factual, and insightful comparison of the film to the source material. He seems to understand in detail the basis for the feelings of each group, and this piece should help each fan base develop a deeper appreciation of the feelings of the other. Although in fact they are hardly mutually exclusive groups.

    I’ve seen the film AND read the first three Barsoom books more times than I would willingly reveal, and I love both. I’ve always considered it a near impossibility to compare a film that “could” have been made against a film that was made (the perfect is the enemy of the good, and all that). But this has helped me “get” much of the purists’ disappointment with the Stanton film, as it will most likely help others.

    Abraham, this is a thoughtful, magnificent essay. Well done!

  • Excellent read. Enjoyed it immensely. It so happen I was listening to the “John Carter” soundtrack when I read the article. John Carter is my favorite movie of all time. I have to admit at seeing it for the first time I left depressed because of the changes that were made. However after seeing it for the third time I decided to just enjoy the movie and story line for what it was. I still feel that nostalgic pulp feeling in many of the visuals on the screen. I have spoken to many who have seen it outside of the ERB fans and there just seems to be a disconnect from what I feel. This film is the only film I know that is a link to the dreams and imaginations of small boys who grew up but never lost that wonder and adoration of the greatest story teller of all times.

  • Sorry about that Pascalahad. I had not realized that was turned on so I turned off the captcha for now.

    As for Abe’s article quite a bit of it I agree with, especially the mishandling of the characters of John Carter and Dejah Thoris and the bad concept of the Therns. On the other hand I don’t see this film as being 50 percent faithful. Try lower. Otherwise it’s a good read.

  • Reading this article gave me an odd feeling. It was as if Abraham Sherman had read my thoughts and put them on paper in the most compelling way possible. This is just pitch perfect for me! Congratulations Abraham! :)

    As a side note to MCR, I read this article linked on his blog, but I’m unable to comment there since the CAPCHA code appears on my computer as a “red cross”.

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