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Updated: March 3, 2012 19:17 IST

Mars appeal

Mini Anthikad Chhibber
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Taylor Kitsch in John Carter
Taylor Kitsch in John Carter

What is John Carter all about? Mini Anthikad Chhibber gets into Edgar Rice Burroughs works

Say Edgar Rice Burroughs and the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, Tarzan. But even before Tarzan, there was John Carter, who has rip-roaring adventures on Mars or Barsoom as the locals call it. “Under The Moons of Mars” was serialised in the All-Story Magazine in 1912. In October 1912, “Tarzan of the Apes,” Burroughs most successful creation, was published and nothing was the same again.

Tarzan told the story of a boy brought up by apes in Africa after his aristocratic parents are killed. Tarzan meets, falls in love and marries the lovely Jane. While he spends time in the city, Tarzan is only too happy to strip the “thin veneer of civilisation” to return to his beloved jungle, wear a loin cloth, sleep in a tree and eat raw meat with his teeth.

It was after the phenomenal success of Tarzan, that the John Carter story was published as a book in 1917 as “A Princess of Mars.” Tarzan has been a celluloid favourite — IMDB lists 89 movies with Tarzan in the title between 1918 and 2008. The early movies with Olympian swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller in the lead set the template. It showed Tarzan as a simple, noble savage who did not speak English too well — the iconic “I Tarzan You Jane” exchange is an example of this. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), however, was closer in spirit to Burroughs' novels with Christopher Lambert playing the aristocrat jungle boy who turns his face from civilisation.

Tarzan films were also an excuse for women to run around wearing not much more than their skins and smiles — there was the lovely Bo Derek and our very own Kimi Katkar whose wet shirt avatar completely overshadowed poor, wooden Hemant Birje.

While Tarzan has appeared in countless media, John Carter is making his silver screen debut only next Friday if we discount the 2009 direct to DVD film, “Princess of Mars”. Based on the same story, John Carter marks the character's centenary. The film, directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and Wall-E) is written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. In the 30s, there was a move to create a full-length cartoon film and Bob Clampett, the animator spoke with Burroughs about it. Nothing, however, came of it. At different points of time, Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids), Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) were supposed to direct the film. That is a long time in development hell!

In the book, Carter is a Civil War veteran, who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he can fly, thanks to earth's greater gravity. He encounters all manner of wild and wonderful creatures, including the princess Dejah Thoris, as he sets about saving the planet from extinction. In all, Burroughs wrote 11 books set in Barsoom. Apparently, Burroughs' creation has inspired diverse people — filmmakers such as George Lucas for his space opera, Star Wars, and James Cameron for Avatar, science fiction writers such as Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury and scientist Carl Sagan.

Physically, Carter resembles Tarzan, with his tall frame, piercing grey eyes and black hair. In the film, Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch, while Dejah Thoris is played by Lynn Collins. There is also Willem Dafoe as good martian, Tars Tarkas. The trailers look interesting with super sleek crafts and suitably gigantic monsters moving to Led Zeppelin's ‘Kashmir'— what is it about Led Zep and film trailers? This is the third film after last year's Sucker Punch which used the mesmeric ‘When the Levee Breaks' and David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which used a phenomenal version of the ferocious ‘Immigrant Song' to use a song by the British band in the trailer. ‘Kashmir' is a good choice, considering Robert Plant sings of being a traveller of both time and space, which is what Mr. Carter does in this origin story.

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