Disney’s John Carter will be released soon, but the marketing for the film has been somewhat hit or miss. For those unfamiliar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, the trailers prompt more questions than a paternity debate on Jerry Springer. Luckily, I read the first three novels a few years ago, so here is a John Carter Cheat Sheet to help fill in the blanks. I tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but feel free to skip this if you want to go into the film blind.
The first appearance of John Carter was in a 1912 serialized story.
Yes, Mr. Carter is 100 years old, and brings a lot of history with him. The film is based (more or less) on the first novel, A Princess of Mars (published in 1917). Burroughs went on to write ten more novels in the series, and helped define “pulp fiction” with his fast-paced action-adventure stories. In terms of science-fiction, John Carter swings towards the Star Wars side of the scale, in that there is very little ‘science.’
John Carter travels to Mars, but everyone there calls it Barsoom.
Yes, it would be rather odd if the inhabitants of the red planet greeted John Carter with a jovial, “Welcome to Mars!” As you see in the trailers, the sandy Barsoom is inhabited by many different species of beings and creatures, including humanoids — kind of like Tatooine in Star Wars.
Due to the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars, John Carter has superhuman abilities.
Remember in Dragon Ball Z when the guys would train in high gravity to increase their strength? Same thing here. The gravity on Mars is less than Earth’s, and therefore John Carter finds he has the ability to jump high and run fast, along with increased strength. Remind you of someone? Superman, an alien who arrived on Earth, was blessed with similar abilities when he was created the late 1930s. John Carter is pretty much a proto-Superman. We have seen some samples of his special abilities in the trailers, but there is no explanation as to why.
John Carter has a ferocious, but lovable, alien-hound side-kick, named Woola.
Every boy needs a Lassie (or if you prefer, a Marmaduke), and John Carter is no exception. Woola is John Carter’s trusty calot, a Barsoom hound. How much we will see of Woola in the film remains to be seen, but the beast plays an important role in the books. Downplaying Woola would be like making the Harry Potter films without Hedwig, the owl.
John Carter was a Confederate solider.
This was not mentioned in any of the trailers I saw, but it is an important part of his back story, as John Carter becomes quite the soldier and leader on Barsoom. John Carter was from Virginia, and rose to the rank of captain in the Civil War. He puts his military background to use in his fight to save Barsoom.
Mild Spoiler Warning! I don’t think this is really a spoiler, since we see it hinted at in the trailers, and this will likely be within the first five minutes of the film, but:
John Carter falls asleep in a cave on Earth, and wakes up on Mars.
In the novel, this is how John Carter gets to Mars, but I wonder how this will be portrayed in the film. Mild Spoiler Ends!
As a fan of the novels, I am very excited to see this film. There is a lot of talent behind the camera, too: Pixar is doing the digital effects; Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) is directing; and the screenplay was written by Mark Andrews (head of story for The Incredibles) and Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Gentlemen of the Road, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union). There is a lot of potential here, despite how lackluster the marketing has been. On the upside, there is no way it could be any worse than 2009’s Princess of Mars, which starred Antonio Sab’to, Jr. as John Carter, and Traci Lords as the, ahem, titular Princess.