Noah Wyle is John Carter of Mars

Disney’s John Carter is a film that’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “A Princess of Mars”. Or is it? The film deviates quite a bit from the source material, so fans of it should certainly check out the John Carter novels if they’re looking for a good read. The movie is a great amount of fun. The fantastic world of Mars, known to it’s natives as Barsoom, is a rich world full of amazing creatures, people, places and technology that will delight and entertain audiences of all ages.

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter with Tharks

This is a science fiction story, but based on a work so old that we’d barely started flying airplanes and driving automobiles when it was written, so it gives a perspective not seen in a modern work. The fantasy world seen in the movie, and within the pages of the John Carter stories, is one born not out of intentional ignorance of other planets as much modern science fiction is, but rather from a time when we really did not know much of anything of worlds outside of our own. The world of Barsoom is based off of ideas that astronomers from the early 20th century had about Mars. It’s not spaceships, computers and laser guns because this was all conceived in a world without knowledge of such things.

The protagonist, John Carter, is a truly likeable hero. His no nonsense approach to problems distils them to a simple level as he approaches many situations by simply fighting his way out of them. The lovely Dejah Thoris is a beautiful, intelligent woman who is more than a mere damsel in distress and capable of holding her own next to our hero, which updates the character to something more fitting to a modern view of women.

John Carter and Dejah Thoris

The Tharks, all CG alien creatures, looked great. Tars Tarkas, who we see the most of in the story, is a bit hard to figure out. His back story is pretty mangled to the point where his motivations aren’t terribly clear. Other Tharks are almost inconsequential to the story, fragments of a tale not thoroughly explained. Woola, John Carter’s pet, is cute and loveable, but again not given enough screen time for us to get much of an attachment.

John Carter Woola

The movie’s villains are an interesting bunch, being that they’re mostly made up for the film. I suppose the book lacks a single antagonist, and rather than confuse the audience by having various enemies becoming friends, we can just make up a bunch of stuff. Sab Than has his part made more important and is a fairly interesting character. The Therns are not present in the original story at all, and exist only in later books and are portrayed completely differently. They bring a super science angle to the story which is out of place in the world around them.

John Carter - A Thern and Tharks

The changes are plentiful, but not so much annoying in what they leave out, which is to be expected for any adaptation, but more for what they added. The main thing taken out is elaboration of John Carter raising through the ranks of the Tharks and Tars Tarkas’s backstory and progression throughout. Having the Tharks seem to be the villains for too much of the story may have been deemed too confusing for the audience. Other removed portions such as the Oxygen generator aren’t really missed, as they don’t tie in much with what was left.

John Carter - Tars Tarkas and other Tharks

Elements added from other stories become confusing, especially to myself who has only read a book and a half to date. The Therns seem nothing like what is portrayed in the book’s sequel, The Gods of Mars. Their inclusion is superfluous and sets such a precedent for their race that to make a sequel movie out of the next book would be so constrained by their characterizations and what’s shown of the River Iss that it would be nearly impossible to keep any semblance of the original story.

John Carter - Helium air ships

I would give this movie my recommendation, despite the issues I have with it. Any adaptation will get criticism for how much it deviates from the source material, and while this story does it more than most, what remains is still a great time at the movies.

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris

So much to say, if you enjoyed this movie, then check out some of the books. John Carter’s adventures on Mars are a must read for fans of modern science fiction stories and movies. It doesn’t take long to realize how influential these books are, as descriptions of many things in Barsoom remind of us what came much later in such works as Star Wars and other great stories. The first books are public domain, so they can be acquired free of charge online. Don’t be surprised if you find the story a bit confusing due to what you’ve seen in this film. It might be best to read these books first, and imagine the world without being tainted by the movie, but if you’re reading this you might be too late…

Edgar Rice Burroughs is much cooler than you

Note that this film was shot in 2D but had 3D added in post, which makes for a truly horrible 3D effect. Do yourself a favour and make a pair of 2D glasses to experience the film in 2D during a 3D screening.

John Carter - Poster