Musings: What Would Hollywood Be Likely to Do With Carson of Venus?

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With John Carter tied up by Disney and Tarzan also spoken for at the moment, one question that comes to mind frequently is, what other Edgar Rice Burroughs property would be the best choice for screen adaptation. The obvious answer is Carson of Venus. It’s another interplanetary series;lots of opportunity for creature work and other spectacular special effects.

Yet whenever the subject comes up among Burroughs faithful, almost inevitably there is a certain “Yeah, but I never really liked the Venus series all that much”. Why is that?

Surely the Venus series was written later, when Burroughs was entering the “potboiler” stage. Pirates of Venus, the first in the series, came out in 1932. In the Tarzan series, this was a time when Burroughs was up to later titles like “Tarzan and the Leopard Men” and “Tarzan and the City Gold”, and on the Barsoom side, he had just finished “A Fighting Man of Mars” and so was up to his sixth book in the series.

Those who aren’t in love with the Venus books often point to Carson being “wrong-way Carson” (he was trying to pay a visit on Barsoom but forgot to calculate for the moon’s gravitation and ends up getting slung toward Venus, courtesy of the moon’s gravity), and the lack of a coherent society on Venus.

My thought — and perhaps this is just being overly optimistic — is that Carson would be a very appealing hero to Hollywood. He’s quite a bit more idiosyncratic than other Burroughs heroes, and I would think Hollywood in general, and actors in particular, would find that to be a good thing. He is a singleminded, slightly off-beat millionaire hero who sets out to do extraordinary things and sometimes gets unintended results. He’s described as being blonde and I can’t help but think of a young Richard Branson when I think of him, and wouldn’t that be a terrific character?

If it were made today …. who would play Carson? Duare? And what director would be able to take this property and do something great with it?

And could it be made for the right price? (i.e. $150m instead of $250m?) How?

Our pal, artist/blogger Jeff Doten worked on the Angelic Pictures Pirates of Venus project that never came to fruition. Check out his cool Venus poster and links to his stuff:

Bottom line: For me, I wish we could get a studio or major producer or director to take a run at this one.

Erbzine has great pages on Carson of Venus — here’s one: Bill Hillman, if you’re out there, send us some more good links, pls!


  • Of all Burroughs “fantasy” properties, it seems like the most affordable, if the story is anything like the first two novels. The protagonists are mostly humans, they are some creatures and a huge work on the setting look obviously. When I see Prometheus that “only” cost 130 millions dollars, I imagine that a Carson movie could be made in this price range.

  • As I structured the story I wrote, I indeed began to see similarities with Carson and the way Stanton depicted Carter, that’s true. That being said, I didn’t think of Carson as mopey. Stanton’s Carter refuses to see other things than his cave of gold, where Carson immerses himself willingly in the vepajan culture and is curious about it. When I made the rocket an issue in the story, it was not out of a will for Carson to go home (that’s Duare’s concern at that point, because the two have already declare their love to each other), it was out of curiosity about the whereabouts of the vehicle he’s legitimately proud of.

    I imagined that Carson’s goal in his recklessness is a wish to put himself in situations he has no complete control of (on Earth he’s so rich he really can do what he wants). For Duare it’s the opposite, all her young life, she was controlled by other people, and her abduction puts her in a situation where she experiences freedom for the first time. Midway they met, and their complicity and love grows.

  • Pascalahad wrote:
    “I imagined him as more or less victim of a death wish (Burroughs spoke of recklessness – and consider this: Carson probably knows of Burroughs’ stories and goes to Mars unarmed!), and a general dislike of humanity due to the Great War ”

    Are you talking about Carson Napier or Mopey Carter? Because that description sounds closer to Mopey than Carson.

    That said Matt Smith is a good suggestion as Carson. He’s funny yet when he needs to be serious and determined ias the Doctor. Just dye his hair and I’m sold.

    The issue is-and John Carter showed that-is that Hollywood wouldn’t respect the original novels or characters. Pirates of Venus doesn’t have that needed-though usually-pointless Macguffin that our hero has to chase after (an Ark, secret plans, silly medallions) or the bad guy manipulating everyone to do his dirty work for him. Adding those would destroy the charm of Carson of Venus-as it did with JC-and unless you find a director or a studio willing to stick to the spirit and tone and plot then it would be a hard sell.

  • Excellent comments! I agree with the analysis of the difference in tone between the Mars and Venus books. I think the Venus stories could be updated with some deft rewrites to produce a well accepted adaptation… There definitley wouldn’t be the disappointment related to “too many clothes!!” in “John Carter” …

  • Michael, if you had the time to read it, you must already know what my take on Carson of Venus is! 🙂

    The novels are not the most well-loved, I think, because for the first time in all I read from Burroughs, the different civilizations are not seemingly connected in any way, with major differences in technology and lifestyle. Also there’s this tendency to put heavy-handed real-world political allegories that are, if not nowhere to be found in the other novels, at least more subtle. Add to that Carson has no clear goal, and when he has a goal, next to no way to get to it!

    As for what I would like to see on the big screen, it’s a Carson that uses his psychic abilities (with clear limitations), because that sets him apart instantly from other Burroughs heroes. His inner psychology is only hinted by Burroughs, but I imagined him as more or less victim of a death wish (Burroughs spoke of recklessness – and consider this: Carson probably knows of Burroughs’ stories and goes to Mars unarmed!), and a general dislike of humanity due to the Great War (Carson is 27 years old in Pirates: assuming it takes place in 1930, he was 11 years old when the War began, that’s also the year he lost his father).

    I focused on what seemed to me the most original settings of the first two novels, Vepaja and Kormor/Havatoo, with a way to link them more in the world dynamics. I hadn’t changed much things in Duare, only getting rid of the annoying “you can’t love me because I’m the Jong’s daughter”. Of course, that made the love story go way faster. And I used Carson Napier’s missing rocket as a plot device.

    For Carson Napier, I originally envisioned a “tough guy” type like Daniel Craig (who I’m sure is able to play comedy quite well if given a chance). But ultimately the voice that sticked in my head was Matt Smith, the current “Doctor Who” (granted, he’s not muscular at all but I don’t necessarily view Carson as heavily muscled either). Another good choice could be Simon “Mentalist” Baker, he’s charismatic and charming enough. For Edgar Rice Burroughs (who was 55 in 1930) I saw Jonathan Pryce.

    There are things to be done with “Wrong-Way” Carson Napier! I recommend the great comics “Tarzan/Carson of Venus” by the way, it’s a great read. The comics Mike Kaluta draw for DC Comics were great also, unfortunately the story stops in the middle of Lost on Venus.

  • The problems with Carson from the books could be easily fixed. You can see the differences between John Carter and Carson in the 1940s stories published simultaneously in Amazing and Fantastic. The John Carter stories which became Llana of Gathol show an aggressive character who even when captured was a pain in the ass to his captors. But Carson was a very passive character who when captured just hung around observing, staying out of trouble, until he could escape at the end of the story, and those stories became Escape on Venus.

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