Did Sassy Warrior Princess Dejah Thoris Inadvertently Overwhelm Reluctant Hero John Carter?
Bob Page made a comment to the effect that he thought Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris was very strong and very good, and I seconded that comment. To be absolutely clear — I thought Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris was one of the very best things about the movie, and there was a lot about the movie that I liked, and continue to like.
That said, Bob’s comment got me to thinking. When we have all these discussions about the the changes to John Carter’s character, we never really talk about how the changes to Dejah’s character may have driven some of what we are perceiving about John Carter. In other words — did changes in Dejah’s character that have been widely accepted as somewhere on the spectrum from ‘okay’ to ‘excellent’ changes have unintended — and possibly negative — effects on the perception of John Carter’s character?
Puhlease understand I’m not bashing anyone . . . . I’m just trying to puzzle this out a bit.
Let me take a crack at explaining.
In the book, Dejah is courageous, beautiful, intelligent — not a warrior but when she has to, she grabs a knife and attacks Sarkoja to help save John Carter. She agrees to marry Sab Than out of duty to Helium even though she doesn’t love him sacrificing herself for the greater good. She’s not a warrior — but she’s no shrinking violet and she’s capable of taking up arms and getting physical when its’ really called for.
In the book, John Carter doesn’t save her in the airship battle — he only glimpses her as she’s being brought in as a captive, then later sees her in full for the first time when she is brought before Lorquas Ptomel and makes her eloquent speech before the assembled Thark leadership. She is, from the beginning, someone whom Carter yearns for — first because she’s the only human he’s seen after months with the Tharks, and secondly because she is beautiful, courageous, etc.
But in no way is she the prime mover of the story.
In Stanton’s JC, there is the byplay during the air battle where she handles a sword as well (some would say better) than John Carter, and in which she shows a sassiness, even aggressiveness, in her interactions with him. This continues in the scene where he figures out he’s on Mars and she teases him – “Shock me”, and all that. Then there is the fact that Dejah in the movie basically drives the whole middle section of the movie by hijacking Carter from his quest for the Gates of Iss, instead trying to take him to Helium. When she is found out, they do go to the gates of Iss, but even then, she has the initiative because it is then that she learns how to send him back to Earth, but she doesn’t tell him. She hides her knowledge in order to keep him doing what she wants, and it’s only later, after the Warhoon attack, and as she is about to marry Sab Than …. that she relents and says yes, I know how to get you back to Jasoom, I didn’t really need to go back to Helium to figure it out.
Through it all, she is a very strong character who knows what she wants and, in her quest to get what she wants, kind of puts John Carter back on his heels a bit. I guess the question is — does this contribute to and amplify John Carter’s whole “reluctant hero” vibe, perhaps pushing it a little bit over the edge from “intriguing reluctant hero” to In the book Dejah is this hugely desirable but unobtainable object of desire, whereas in the movie she’s plenty attractive but she’s the one taking the initiative in many of the interactions, and she’s several steps ahead of Carter in many ways.
Does this add to the “problem” of John Carter’s character by throwing off the balance, and accentuating his conflicted nature. Would the same John Carter have been any less “damaged goods” if Dejah had been characterized differently?
I’m not sure. But I’m thinking about it.
Please correct me if I am wrong Mike, but it was always my understanding that the blood was made blue for the movie so that they could get around the rating restrictions for blood and violence. Therefore, I always interpreted the blood of the people and white apes as actually being normal red and not the blue as shown, so it was not an issue with me. Also they needed something to distinguish the blood from the red body tatoos. I suppose for the majority of viewers though, they would have simply taken it at face value, being blue.
I have always liked the theory that we are decendents of the Martian refugees who came here when a catastrophe struck their planet.
Thanks for the comments, gentlemen. Yeah, Mike, I remember the Barsoomians had some TV-like device with which they could view Earth. I also recalled Dejah asking J.C. why earthpeople wore hats.
True, we can take the movie for what it is, nothing more, nothing less. A story of a Mars that may have been but isn’t. It does seem curious that the terrain was made to closely resemble what the Mars probes and rovers are seeing today. Even some of the ruins, like Korad, seem to be literally desolving into the surrounding landscape so if you didn’t know exactly where to look on the current Mars images you might miss them, or misinterpret what you see. Seems like the movie-makers were trying to have it both ways, to the extent that they could.
Time travel seems to be the best answer of those available. I think George Lucas had a similar problem in the original Star Wars. The story could just as well have taken place in Earth’s own future instea of “Long, long ago in a galaxy far away”. I think he mention once in an interview he was concerned with how science fiction fans would react to the movie.
One interesting variation on the time travel angle. How about the 9th ray didn’t work so the Red Martians moved to Earth millions of years ago and became…us! Don’t know what they’d do about the blue blood though, unless when they adapted themselves to our enviroment the blood color changed to red.
As far as how to approach the issue of Mars being a dead planet, the period setting on Earth actually helps with the suspension of disbelief. Set in the time period that ERB chose to frame the tale, the story appropriate remains focused on what was considered possible then, and our current knowledge of what is impossible becomes a bit of an artificially dismissive critical framework.
In the late 1800’s, and through the industrial revolution into the 1900’s, anything was possible. The whole Earth hadn’t even been explored by western civilization, and there certainly wasn’t any real evidence about the nature of Mars. ERB created Barsoom to be a vision from beyond the frontier, as it was perceived in 1912 – a goal similar to the reasoning behind the far-flung sci-fi settings of the more recent Star Trek, Star Wars and Avatar. But must every science-fantasy story travel outside out solar system in order to work as fiction? Are storytellers similarly prohibited from telling stories about imaginary settings on Earth, or imaginary events in the history of Earth, that we know are scientifically impossible? Wouldn’t that supposedly spoil whole swaths of literature and film? If Earth can get away with it, why the high bar of criticism for fantastical stories set on Mars?
If anything was possible in the early years of the twentieth century, a story set in that time period should reflect that atmosphere of mystery and possibility – and would be a more exciting film because of it. An example of a movie set in that era, with “retro” science that we know is impossible, but which worked brilliantly as drama, is “The Prestige”. If the “historical magic” of the Telsa machine in that film can be made believable, so also can the historical magic of a living Mars be made believable. Barsoom is exceedingly more interesting than the dead world we currently observe. Similarly, fantastical stories set on Earth can be much more interesting than the actual history which took place – or can at least add even more wonder and excitement to the actual events which transpired.
There are more elaborate ways to get around the “dead Mars” issue. Time travel or other dimensions are often mentioned. An adaptation could even make Barsoom a planet far, far away, though it would be sad to lose the distinct martial flavor and worldwide cultural/historical real estate offered by the planet Mars. Solutions from inside the logic of ERB’s world could also be used, though they inevitably strain credibility in their own ways.
Of all the options I’ve heard discussed, I prefer the idea of playing up the period aspect and building the whole thing as an alternate history – a history where Mars is alive, the Mars that could have been, and which we wish would have been. “The Prestige” showed that that approach can be awesome in a movie.
That was what they did with the 1960’s reissues of the Otis Adelbert Kline books — just wrote in time travel and kept moving. I think the answer is somewhere between there and “it’s just a movie”. Or how about a parallel dimension.
Burroughs inadvertently made it hard to do anything like that in the books (not that it was needed) because on Burroughs’ Barsoom, they have the ability to see things on earth …..
Thanks for the welcome, Mike! And a Kaor back at you!
Concerning Dejah as a scientist. That does seem to be a bit of a stretch, especially added to her royal lineage and her masterful swordsmanship. Sound like a matter of a movie character doing double duty – in this case tripple duty – to eliminate some potential extra characters. Plus it seems logical she’d be working with a team of scientist and not just trying to pull this discovery off all by her lonesome.
Beyond that the fact that a Thern was sent to sabotage her device, and later on with the Thern – almost in a panic -contacting Matai Shang as she approached the Gates of Issus where she might discover their scientific secrets, shows they, at least, took her scientific prowess seriously.
Still she might be a failure. Recall she told her Jeddak daddy and his aides that the 9th ray could “…transform the deserts, restore the seas.” Well, I was looking at some of the recent images of Mars from the Curiosity Rover and Ol’ Barsoom ain’t looking so great these days, so I guess she didn’t pull it off after all.
Seriously though I was wondering how they where going to reconcile what they put up on the movie screen with the reality of a long dead Mars. Would it be revealed in the sequels that not only teleportation was involved, but time travel as well? Would they end on a tragic note and admit it just wasn’t meant to be and retire to their sleeping silks and furs as the breathable air finally ran out? Or would they just do a Steven Spielberg and say, “Hey! It’s just a movie”?
Even if you don’t buy my point that they flubbed making Dejah look like a respected scientist (even the dumped opening scene implies that she may be more tolerated because of who her father is), it really doesn’t matter much. It was a change of character that made things more problematic than the original character. I don’t get the reasoning that requires her to be the scientific introducer of the 9th ray. It doesn’t get her any closer to JC, it doesn’t make her more desirable, it certainly isn’t enough to interest women to throw in that she’s at heart a geek. All it does is further the plot point of the tinkered storyline, that would not be necessary with a more direct approach.
Put Mila Kunis in that role, play it a bit more straight, and you’ve got your blockbuster, even with Taylor Kitsch doing his same “John Riggins” character.
Owen, I’m not sure I completely follow . . . . but one thing — have you seen the original opening scene? I think it goes a lot farther toward establishing Dejah as a meaningful scientist. She did, after all, actually come up with the 9th ray, and in the original opening her stature, etc, is more clearly presented. In the more truncated finished version ….. your points are stronger. (And anyway, there’s no reason to even consider anything other than the finished version — I realize that.)
Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, here is the original opening.
Owen — I think that’s a pretty good summary of legitimate concerns….. I do agree with Mike Poteet that it’s “piling on” to call Dejah a “failed scientist” …. I don’t think there’s real evidence to support that.
But one thing that your comment and some others are beginning to bring out is the decision to have Dejah deceive John Carter for much of the movie. I really would have questioned that if I had been in on the planning. The thing is, when you question something like that in a story meeting — it’s not like you have to just abandon that whole line of development. For me, it would have been okay to abandon the deception angle — but if the director/screenwriter howled loudly, as I’m sure they would have in this case, then my fallback position would be that they would have to at least show her as conflicted by the need to make such a decision. In other words, it’s plausible that Dejah, if she truly had a good enough reason, would prioritize saving Helium over being honest to John Carter.
The problem here was that her whole reason for so urgently wanting John Carter on the side of Helium (his jumping ability, basically) was pretty thin soup. If the creative team had layered in a more compelling reason, then this — plus a moment of Dejah being conflicted — would probably have eliminated this as a problem.
As it is, I think they sort of decided to bury it. The audience does “get it” that she was trying to take them to Helium, but then she does take them to the Gates of Iss, and then once there, when she studies the glyphs, it’s not made clear to the audience that she actually has the answer from that moment. This only comes out in her chambers in Zodanga …. and at that moment it’s embedded in so many other emotional threads that it kind of gets lost. It’s only later, for anyone who really stops to think about it, that it becomes clear that Dejah was willfully withholding the key to John Carter using the thern medallion.
Is this a fatal character flaw? Probably not. But it just kind of grates to anyone who is a student of Barsoomian culture, where honor is pretty much everything. Not a fatal flaw, but an unsettling one.
“Like the changes or not, that’s one’s right; but don’t misrepresent the character on screen as a failed scientist.”
But she is a failed scientist! She can’t get the people of her own race to believe in her. The only attempt we see her make at science is thwarted. Compare her to the great movie scientists: Dr. Zarkhov, Spock, even Scotty. Would any of them have their discoveries so summarily dismissed? On the basis of a single demo?
I realize the writers wanted to position her as a person of knowledge, but getting blown off when her science project fails is something that wouldn’t happen to a male scientist.
Having her get beat at that particular plot point when they’re trying to establish the opposite just doesn’t work for me.
“Her one scientific experiment is a failure (sabotaged, but still a failure).”
Oh, come, now. That’s a mighty big caveat you add. It was sabotaged because she was on the verge of success, and one could assume she would not be regent of the science academy (I forget her exact title) unless she was a successful scientist when her experiments *aren’t* being sabotaged.
Like the changes or not, that’s one’s right; but don’t misrepresent the character on screen as a failed scientist.
I think a real failure of the movie was the tinkering. Where there was no tinkering, the movie works amazingly well (i.e. the Tharks), but in every other place the tinkering only made things worse.
Let’s start with our hero. In the books, JC is the embodiment of the western hero. Think John Wayne in Liberty Valence, Gary Cooper in High Noon. What we got was brooding Riggins from Friday Night Lights. To make him more accessible to viewers, they made him like every other modern day hero, and it just didn’t work. Not only that but they introduced a Jeremiah Johnson side story of massacred wife & kid, which just came across as simple manipulation, without any of the pathos that incident would provide.
Dejah Thoris was turned into Wonder Woman. She is the feminist Now-I-Can-Have-It-All-and-John-Carter-Too. Even that is flubbed up. Her one scientific experiment is a failure (sabotaged, but still a failure). It hardly makes her out to be a good scientist. She looked somewhat silly with the sword on arm. And the scene where they supposedly fall in love was all-so-staged. Not really a whole lot of chemistry – there was no reason WHY they liked each other. Then to have her be deceitful to Carter to get her way was rather anti-Burroughs, if not just plain sexist.
Which brings us to the Therns. Even Burroughs didn’t attempt something so silly. If they had all these great powers, why did they need the help of anybody else? Frankly, the original Therns were much more believable than the amulet-wielding (really!) shape-shifters. It changed the story from an imaginary warring planet to the level of conspiracy theory.
Sorry to be so negative – there were some things I liked about the movie, but John Wayne carried a hero mantle through tens of movies, so I don’t think it was something the writers should have been afraid of. They should have given Kitsch a chance to be a leader, instead of out for himself.
I read the books just prior to watching, and enjoyed them enough to rent the movie. I also finished your book on the making, but I feel the major thing that hurt this movie was the tinkering.
I can see an interpretation where the dead wife and child could create a perfect motivation for John Carter to want to be reborn in a new world with new possibilities, and it could have led to a JC that was far less mopey/whiny and more like ERB’s JC, while still retaining the dead wife and kids if Stanton felt it was important.
It wasn’t the wife and kids that is the core problem — it’s a) the cave of gold and the fact that fabulous wealth was almost his, then snatched from him, creating that great temptation/motivation that didn’t have to be there, and b) the damned thern medallion, which gave him a “spaceship” (telegraph line) to go to Earth in. It’s like in a crime where you look for motive, means, and opportunity — motive is gold/wealth, means is thern medallion, opportunity is the whole setup with Dejah/Sola and the journey.
What was motive/means/opportunity in Burroughs’ story?
Motive was rebirth/regeneration of spirit, which quickly evolved into — gain honor and respect and a place in this new world, which in turn evolved into winning Dejah. Means was John Carter’s wits, intelligence, and strength as assisted by the gravity situation. And opportunity was the entire planet in all its martial glory — nirvana for a fighting man in search of a place in the universe.
Something like that.
MCR in my view the only real problem with the dead wife and kids is that it diminished the purity and star-crossed nature of JC’s love for Dejah. But it’s not the real problem The real problem is the medallion and the gold fortune.
Mike Poteet wrote:
“still don’t agree that he is “whining” or “sullen” on Mars. Certainly, with Powell he is, but I really don’t like grieving being portrayed as “whining.” At the same time, I will grant you that not enough “sense of wonder” shines through in Kitsch’s portrayal.”
I don’t mean to pick on you Mike but yeah Carter is whiny and sullen on Barsoom. Look back at the movie and what do you see? “I want my cave of gold.” “I have a cave of gold back home.” “Nothing will come from me fighting for your war. Besides I have a cave of gold.” Etc, etc. It even got to a point that Dejah snapped at him, saying she was trying to get him home, back to his cave of gold. It became whiny because that’s all the character seemed to have. And it was not that interesting.
As for the “grieving being portrayed as “whining” it became an issue because that’s all Carter did. Whine and mope over a wife and kid that we as the audience know nothing about. Their deaths played no part in the real narrative and was a poor and cliched excuse for the fact that Stanton hated the characters the way Burroughs created them with their lack of a background-even though Burroughs provides enough details to have done one without ripping off The Outlaw Josey Wales, which is what Stanton did. (Knowing how arrogant Stanton has been about how no one has ever read the books, he probably thought no one had seen Josey Wales either. Wonder if Clint Eastwood and his fans know that?)
As for your question “what if the story structure and character arc had basically stayed as it is in the finished film, but Carter kept more of that sense of wonder at Barsoom?” I would say probably not. Stanton was determined to keep Carter “damaged goods” and even if Carter had kept some sense of wonder about Barsoom it would have gotten shoved out to keep his whining over a pointless cave and dead wife and kid he couldn’t even name going since Stanton was convinced that was character development. Maybe for cartoon fish sure but for these characters, no.
Are we possibly confusing different Charlton Heston classics? Taylor didn’t want to go home, he left the Earth because he was disgusted with humanity – “Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than Man”. Furthermore, he knew he couldn’t go back, couldn’t even entertain the thought because he believed he was eons in the future and across the stars, with no way to return to the home he left on purpose. His immediate goals were to gain freedom from the ape civilization, then to explore the Forbidden Zone for clues on how their ‘upside-down society’ came to be. One could say he was motivated to explore specifically by his dislike of the cultures he had been exposed to.
Speaking of Heston (birthname John Carter) and Nova (Linda Carter) – what a splendid 1960’s Harryhausen Warlord and Princess of Mars they’d have been!
Yeah… For as much as I like the movie, I will grant that someone other than Kitsch would have been a more compelling screen presence. And I think the point made above that he was a lot more engaging in New York than on Barsoom is a fair one, too.
I still don’t agree that he is “whining” or “sullen” on Mars. Certainly, with Powell he is, but I really don’t like grieving being portrayed as “whining.” At the same time, I will grant you that not enough “sense of wonder” shines through in Kitsch’s portrayal.
Here’s a hypothetical for you: what if the story structure and character arc had basically stayed as it is in the finished film, but Carter kept more of that sense of wonder at Barsoom? It fades fairly quickly (for him, not for me – I was captivated by onscreen Barsoom from start to finish!)
That’s a new one — haven’t heard that argument before and I think there’s something to it. I mean “no wonder he wants to go home” indeed! And I think for those who let go of the ERB story — maybe that’s partly why Carter’s demeanor was less an issue for them. In a sense, he had good reason to want to go home. When I think of Stanton’s JC I always think of Taylor in Planet of the Apes . . . who wanted to go home for good reason, and not the prototypes I was expecting — Dunbar in Dances With Wolves, Jake Sully in Avatar …. people who fell in love with the culture and didn’t want to leave……
Mike Poteet wrote:
That’s what Stanton seemed to be trying to do — have Carter’s conscious objective be at odds with his unconscious self. The unconscious self repeatedly reacts in a noble way when presented with an opportunity to do so — helping Powell, intervening for Woola, saving Dejah, and more. — but this is so at odds with his sullen demeanor. I really think it’s a case where there was just a calibration problem in the acting. I can imagine the same screenplay being filmed with another actor (or even with Taylor Kitsch, given different direction) where the gap wouldn’t be so obvious. But you’re definitely onto what Stanton was trying to do with the character — and it’s a standard hero option, so standard that it’s hard to argue that it feels “fresh” in any particular way. But it was not a strange departure or anything — and most audiences who weren’t looking for ERB’s John Carter weren’t particularly thrown off, although I would agree that a bit more from Kitsch would have upped the audience numbers and could have helped word of mouth.
I’ll start by responding to one comment Mike P made: “but — as even detractors here have argued — these changes were designed to make the source material more accessible to a mass audience, not less. ”
Well that’s been argued true but I dont’ believe any of the dettractors agreed that these changes made by Stanton and his Merry Men worked or made the story more accessible to a mass audience. The fact that the film died off so quickly after opening weekend wasn’t all due to poor marketing but the fact the film didn’t generate clearly good word of mouth. There have been films that opened less than John Carter-Titanic for example-yet carried on because word of mouth was strong.
That also ties into this discussion. I’ve been open that Lynn Collins’ Dejah was one of the few bright spots in this film, in some cases because she does have sass and a personality as Bob mentions and that did make Kitsch’s Mopey Carter look worse by comparison.
The one thing though that did irritate me about her character-other than those butt ugly tatts-was this: Like Stanton’s Tars Tarkas she spends half the movie not believing Carter’s wild tale of coming from Jasoom and the other half trying to deceive him into helping her. That decision to make her less I don’t want to say “damsel in distress” but more single-minded did impact the Carter character since it made him even more reluctant to help anyone. In fact that seems to be a running thread throughout this movie. Powell tries to use him to fight the Apaches, Tars Tarkas uses him as his vaunted “left arms” or whatever BS Stanton came up with to explain the “Dotar Sojat’ name and then Dejah does it. I mean, besides being a moping Josey Wales clone, no wonder he wants to go home. Everyone is trying to use him for their own goals, which wasn’t in A Princess of Mars at all. He falls for Dejah after her stirring speech to the Tharks, after she fights Sarkoja and even more after she decides she will stay and die with him during the Warhoon attack.
Also having her be an expert swordswoman and Carter a complete klutz? How was that supposed to make us like this guy?
Mike, in plain english, she just made him look worse by being alive and inhabiting the character with personality. Unfortunately, that does have the collateral effect of rendering Kitch’s reading of the character as much more sullen and less attractive to the audience. In my opinion, it is more of a “like-ability” factor than an undermining of John Carter’s characterization in the film. More the actor’s fault, than the writers. Can you just imagine if an actor had been cast, that could breathe that kind of life into our hero, it would have been a match made in Barsoom
“Hasn’t been for want of trying” – Yes, I grant that.
“and at least two earlier attempts look FAR FAR FAR better than what Stanton (comic book reader, not novel reader) produced” – matter of opinion (though I think they look cool, too)
That said, your argument regarding the distinction between how JC and DJ met in book vs. film makes sense. But I think it’s a false either/or choice to say “people can no longer do things because it’s just the right thing to do, they’ve got to be motivated by some complex tragedy in their past.” As in the case of Stanton’s Carter, his past motivates him to do the right thing. (Heck, for that matter, the line, “that don’t look like a fair fight to me” shows that he does the right thing for the right thing’s sake – likewise his trying to talk peaceably to the Apaches.)
Thanks for joining the fray.
Your comments about JC and his attraction for Mars are right on target and I especially like your note about Barsoom being for JC, a fighting man, like having gone to heaven without having died first. (Although he wasn’t sure whether he’d died or not in the cave . . . ) Others here (including yours truly) have said similar things, but you’ve added a couple of new wrinkles.
Re JC on earth being more charismatic — that’s a point I haven’t heard a lot of people make, and I think it’s a good one. Especially in the telegraph scene — but others as well. . . . but of course he had a purpose at that point — he was gearing up to go home to Barsoom.
As for Dejah and the “typical damsel in distress” — gotta push back on that. If you have time, take a gander at In Defense of Dejah Thoris — my rant on that ….
Hello! First time commenter here. If you recall from the novel J.C. had always felt a strange attraction for Mars. After he “died”, or whatever happened to him in the cave, he awoke on Mars and immediately knew where he was – if I remember correctly. He was quite cool with the situation. In the movie he is transported by accident right after he had discovered the cave of gold, which he thought was his ticket to a happy life on Earth. In the Novel J.C. quickly realizes he somehow belongs on Barsoom, especially after he learns it’s a world of almost nonstop warfare. Being a “fighting man” as he describes himself it’s almost as if he has gone to heaven without “dying” first. In the movie version J.C., as a reluctant warrior, doesn’t know where he is and must feels he’s been cast into hell. I think the movie’s J.C., doing The Hero’s Journey thing, is a legit way of seeing the character. Don’t know if it’s the best way.
In the part of the movie were J.C. is back on Earth running around New York City trying to elude the Thern Kitsch seems more dynamic and charismatic. Also in the final scenes at the tomb where he explains to the young ERB that he’s going back to Mars. Of course here he is an older, more mature – like in being forced to grow up – sure of himself person.
Dejah’s character in the novel – and all of the Barsoom novels she appeared in – was the typical damsel in distress. Her character in the movie was still the damsel in distress, although she is more active in trying to get herself out of the mess she was in. I guess with some many ass-kicking women in other movies and on TV series they had little choice but to portray her in that manner. Otherwise it might have been seem as a step backwards or somesuch.
I was also surprised by all the female warriors in the Helium and Zondangan militaries. I recall in the Barsoom novels EBR said Martian women weren’t “schooled in the art of war”
although they could react with violence and were capable of taking lives if necessary.
“…he’s been the only artist to bring John Carter to the screen.”
Hasn’t been for want of trying and at least two earlier attempts look FAR FAR FAR better than what Stanton (comic book reader, not novel reader) produced.
But that’s largely off topic. What I should really say regarding Stanton’s responsibility for success or failure is to simply remind you of his title on this picture: DIRECTOR.
I think things have largely concentrated on the John Carter character for the simple fact that he’s the titular character; if Carter doesn’t work as a character, nothing else in the story will work.
Regarding DT: the manner in which Carter meets Dejah is of supreme importance and representative of another perfect example of the directorial and writing team just not getting it: in the novel, Carter watches as she is captured from afar; he notices her defiant, regal manner – not to mention her beauty – from afar.
He then goes through a series of steps designed to find out more about her and ultimately to woo her. He has to EARN his place by her side.
In the movie, he rescues her during the battle. The spoils are already his and worse, he gained those spoils with little effort, rendering the victory almost meaningless. (With little comparative effort for JC on Mars to be more specific.)
Earlier, in the novel, we’d been shown how fierce and warrior-like the green martian females were – potentially even more vicious than their male counterparts. We have every reason to believe that this characteristic translates to the red martian women, and DT’s bearing as an honored captive seems to bear this out – Carter is given the opportunity to see that this woman – who exerts some kind of pull on him – is the perfect match for him. More than motive enough, don’t you think? Pile on the fact that’s she’s drop dead gorgeous (I have no doubt than men made of lesser metal than Carter have literally dropped dead at her feet) and the only real human that Carter has seen in quite some time and we can forget about the need for further motives. men have been known to go for far less (Tom Hanks and ‘Wilson’ for example. Hey, ‘that’ worked in a movie! Wow, look at that. No back story needed really and suddenly a guy is talking to a volley ball in a perfectly understandable manner that everyone watching has no trouble finding meaning in. it. Will wonders never cease.)
(Sorry, I’m so sick of reading about people defending this whole need for a damaged character/back story BS it just gets to me. Successful movies with plenty of time-honored characters were made well before this fetish became the in thing; it’s indicative of society’s inability to handle any kind of purity of motive; people can no longer do things because it’s just the right thing to do, they’ve got to be motivated by some complex tragedy in their past, as if there really aren’t any good guys any more, only people motivated by things we’ll never have a clue about – and worse, that Hollywood believes that their audience needs that kind of thing.)
Thanks for the reply and the clarification, Michael. I realize blogs are great forums for thinking out loud, and I certainly don’t suggest you should apologize for that. It’s a nuanced argument you’re making in this post, and, I admit, an interesting question. I wonder if there have been similar examples, in other film adaptations, of some characters being enhanced at others’ expense. My wife has made the point that this happened in the “Harry Potter” franchise to a degree: Hermione (already a strong character in the books) was further enhanced by giving her most of Ron’s “smart” moments, basically reducing him to comic relief.
Anyway, my post was an off-the-cuff response to what I perceived as a cumulative trend. I appreciate your gracious reception of it!
I didn’t take the article as a comment about the changes to Dejah Thoris’ character vs the novel’s. It has already been covered anyway.
But the change to John Carter’s character in the movie makes Dejah more relatable for the audience, because we know what drives her, when John Carter just refuses to commit to anything on Barsoom for the longest time. She’s the one that cares about what could happen to Barsoom when Carter doesn’t care about the plot of his own movie.
And as Michael pointed out, during the reshoots, Carter’s indecision was made longer when he should have commited fully to Dejah after the Warhoon scene. Based in this scene alone, what was essentially a man trying to conquer the love of his life became a woman trying to overcome the fear of commitment of the man she loves, which is a 180° turn.
No wonder that Dejah appears as the more rounded character in this case.
Mike, I think you may have a good point there. I’m just trying to puzzle these things out for myself. In this case –it’s more the law of unintended consequences that I’m puzzling over. In other words ….. did the decisions regarding Dejah, which no one is complaining loudly about, inadvertently and unintentionally amplify the problems with John Carter’s character.
This is something I’ve wrestled with in my meanderings as a (lowlevel) filmmaker. How one character causes another character to go out of whack.
This isn’t meant to be picking on Stanton and if it comes across that way, I should be careful. I’m pretty thoroughly on record (even wrote a book about it!) as laying most of the blame for the debacle at the feet of Disney corporate politics and marketing misfires. Maybe I should put a disclaimer before I post something like this, so it doesn’t create the impression you’re talking about.
Anyway — to be clear — what I’m pondering in this one is not “oh, they screwed up Dejah” …. not at all . . . but rather I’m just wondering aloud about whether, in strengthening Dejah in certains ways that basically worked, they created or amplified aspects of John Carter that resulted in unintended consequences that may have not helped.
Anyway, your point is well taken. Sometimes I just dash off something when the thought occurs. I will write a slightly different intro to this one to hopefuly mitigate some of the damage. 😉
Hi, Michael – My perception is that, in recent weeks, this website has been inordinately devoted to posts seeking to lay the blame for the movie’s “failure” squarely on Stanton’s shoulders, as opposed to acknowledging any difficulties with the source material (of which there are several). First, we went through arguments that he changed too much about John Carter; now, we’re pondering whether he changed too much about Dejah Thoris.
I’m not suggesting long-time ERB fans devoted to the story’s original form should give Stanton an automatic “get out of jail” free card, but the fact does remain that, so far, he’s been the only artist to bring John Carter to the screen. Yes, changes had to be made (“the translator is always traitor” is true between media as well as languages), but — as even detractors here have argued — these changes were designed to make the source material more accessible to a mass audience, not less.
Your own book details several instances of just such audiences (i.e., non-ERB or -Carter fans) responding positively to Stanton’s film. Perhaps I’m selectively reading your book, but it certainly seems like, however Stanton’s changes to a book that the mass audience has not read and with which they may not even be aware figure into the film’s fortunes (or lack thereof), they pale in comparison to Disney’s willful neglect of the project.
My opinion is that no one, whether fan of primarily the movie, primarily the book, or both, should forget where the real fault lies. Thanks for listening and still thanks for a great website.