John Carter and the bright red history of Mars as a sci-fi Muse


From the LA Times:  It was 100 years ago last month that author Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced the character of John Carter — an ornery Confederate soldier, mysteriously transported to Mars, who tangles with green men, and then red ones, from an ancient civilization. Over that century, Mars has been rivaled only by our moon when it comes to off-planet fantasies, and it’s maintained a mystique with no heavenly rivals.

On the page and on the screen, our cosmic neighbor has been spun every way imaginable: “The Martian Chronicles,” “My Favorite Martian” and “Total Recall.” The list is growing in another direction as video games such as Red Faction and Doom draw audiences into the Red Planet’s gravitational pull.

Disney’s just-released “John Carter” film, a tale of epic fantasy directed by Andrew Stanton at considerable expense, comes after centuries of Martian fascination. “Mars has this secret, sneaky, almost mystical pull on people’s imagination,” says Kim Stanley Robinson, the Central California science-fiction writer who’s penned several important Mars novels.

For thousands of years, Mars has stood out: It’s one of the brightest objects in the night sky, and its orbit seems, from Earth’s point of view, eccentric. (It goes into what’s called retrograde, in which it appears to go backward, every two years.) And, after all, it’s red.

But in the last century and a half or so, fascination with Mars has taken on a very specific cast: It’s been deemed a sister planet where we daydream about a friendly, industrious populace, as well as the place from which we’re most likely to dread invasion. Carl Sagan called it “a kind of mythic arena, onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.”

The Red Planet has provoked countless movies. In some of the best — and worst — it doesn’t show up at all, or only fleetingly, serving instead as the launching pad for belligerent aliens who invade Earth. That’s the case with the “War of the Worlds” films — both the ’53 Byron Haskin original and Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation — as well as numerous Cold War-inspired B-movies such as “Invaders From Mars,” the kind of film that inspired Tim Burton’s parody “Mars Attacks!”

Read the full article at LA Times Hero Complex

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