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Century-old Sci-Fi Adventure Now an Action Film

March 10th 2012

John Carter 1940 cover and ERB

A century ago, Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote a series of popular novels about an Earth-man’s adventures on the planet Barsoom, i.e., Mars. A new action film, “John Carter,” is based on those sci-fi books.

While prospecting in the Arizona desert, John Carter, a veteran of the Confederate Army, finds a mysterious gold amulet which transports him to another planet.

There he meets Tharks—green-skinned, four-armed warriors—and city-states populated by humans battling for control of the planet, a battle in which Carter becomes a key player.

Beginning with a story first published in 1912, Burroughs wrote 11 novels in the Barsoom series. Those books inspired writers from Ray Bradbury to George Lucas, as well as scientists like the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who hung a map of Barsoom outside his office at Cornell University. Andrew Stanton, who directed “John Carter,” read the books as a boy, but says making the film helped him understand the books are more than just adventure stories.

“I took it as people writing in a time of history where most of the Earth had been conquered and discovered,” he says. “So your imagination starts going to another planet, but it’s off that same desire to just find another culture, find another continent, find another land. So I didn’t take it so much extra-terrestrial as I did just cultural.”

Taylor Kitsch, best known for the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” stars as the title character. He acknowledges there’s a certain “hunkiness” about the often-bare-chested Carter, but insists there is more to the character.

“Aesthetically, it would be silly if I was overweight and shirtless the whole movie,” Kitsch says. “It wouldn’t look that good, either. So it goes with the territory, I guess.”

The same might be said for Princess Dejah Thoris, with whom Carter joins forces on Barsoom. Lily Collins plays the brilliant scientist and skilled warrior who also wears form-fitting costumes.

“I wasn’t interested in her just being some sort of sex symbol, and I wasn’t interested in her using her sexuality,” Collins says. “That meant that we had to focus on her intelligence and her intuition and the rest of it would come. I’d put on the costumes and that’s what it is, maintaining always this feminine strength and that being the focus.”

Stanton has won Oscars for his animated features including “Finding Nemo” and “Wall•E,” but “John Carter” is his first live-action film. If the audience responds, he hopes it’s the start of a series of pictures based on the Barsoom novels.

Alan Silverman writes for the VOA News, from which this article is adapted.

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