From book to movie –

I’ve had an epiphany concerning the adaption John Carter of Mars to the screen. I’ve read a lot screenplays, some good, most kind of stunk, but they all the same thing in common, they had to deal with Zodanga, a lack of a villain in the story, or the too late arrival of one. So no matter how close they stick to the text of the book, this is still an issue. My other pondering is more personal, more an observation about John Carter the soldier, in the text and on screen. Anyways, with a slight edit from version posted elsewhere, my thoughts below –

I had posted on “thejohncaterfiles” about a JC review, I wrote too much and have really only dropped in a portion it. Now here I’m using an even more cropped version but I have 2 ideas I want to toss out there. So here they are.

1- “He is an ex-soldier of clear-cut principle”

I suspect that for some readers, Carter having been a soldier MEANS a lot to them. For them there’s a huge bag of associations and expectations attached to the soldier thing that are not in the text but certainly exist for those readers. Their John Carter and my John Carter are somewhat separate beings. All it means to me is that he’s a man of action who’s got mad crazy sword skills and experience. But I have read fairly long posts about who John Carter IS as a man of honour and more of those kinds of words. I kind of tune out around there, but what I am getting, is what they see in the character and what I do are very different things. I find this reality quite fascinating.

2 – There seems to be little awareness ( from writers non-the-less ) how even adapted in it’s most general form for the screen – it would suck. A Princess of Mars reads well, but I think the problem with adapting the book, is THE BOOK. This has challenged film makers as much as the technical challenge of the green martians.

The first half is about the Planet of the Tharks and proceeds at an fairly intimate and detailed pace. The second half removes John from all of those characters ( Tars Tarkas, Woola, Sola, Dejah Thoris ) – aren’t those the ones you think of when you think of A Princess of Mars ? From there on the book is a travelogue of locations and new characters (almost) completely divorced from the first half of the novel.

There is the Warhoon arena, atmosphere plant, wandering to Zodanga, flying around Zodanga, finding Dejah, finding Tars, looting Zodanga, atmosphere plant again… all in the second half of the book. The rescue of Dejah ( looting of Zodnaga ) is 90% of the way into the story. No wonder ( even as kid ) it seemed rushed to me.

So back to the movie – the movie has incorporated Zodanga, scheming and plotting from the second half of the book throughout the story. As the book reads, both John Carter and the reader are unaware of any of this until they half way through the story. Obviously this dictates some heavy restructuring.

I’m cutting off here. As I said, I have work to do. But thoughts about this ? I feel like I’ve just cracked something that has been nagging me for years – Jeff


6 responses

  1. Abraham Sherman

    I think you’re right about the need for the incorporation of Zodanga and a main villain from as early as possible in the story. To create the kind of consistent, building tension that is a characteristic of many great movies, there needs to be a sense of who the good guys and bad guys are, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals. And then the story plays out from there as a fascinating clash of conflicting objectives.

    In the novel, when John Carter learns about the political/national struggles going on in the wider world, there is a sense that there is history behind the current events. Events are taking place during John’s time with the Tharks that deserve to be seen, and which will have direct bearing on the events later when John finally starts interacting with Zodanga and Helium. It seems like a natural decision as part of an adaptation to incorporate those scenes, as they would include all the major characters who feature in the last 50 pages of the novel, and could contribute to the development of those characters on screen, and provide a richer exploration of Barsoom in general.

    June 2, 2012 at 9:34 am

  2. Abraham Sherman

    With John Carter, at his core he is chivalrous. To me he is closer to the archetype of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, more-so than anything resembling a modern soldier. He still certainly does embody many of the ideals of a soldier of any time period (brave, self-sacrificial, loyal, etc.), so people who might naturally make those associations will find him to be a rewarding character. And others who see him as the embodiment of combat skill with the sword are right on as well. I see him as having both chivalry and mythic skill. Different folks will resonate with him in different ways, and one of the cool things about his character is that so many people find something to relate to in him, or something that fulfills their own aspirations of skill and superheroism (is that a word?).

    June 2, 2012 at 9:46 am

  3. Abraham Sherman

    I might be over-thinking somewhat, but I want to clarify something just in case. My earlier comments in the “King Arthur” sentence might have made it sound like John Carter’s chivalrous values are distinct from the values prized by modern soldiers, as if I were implying that they are not chivalrous, but that was not my intention at all. My intention was to describe what I think ERB had in mind for John Carter’s roots as a character, and that accidentally ended up sounding like an aspersion against modern soldiers.

    If there were an edit function, I would remove “anything resembling” and let the “ideals of a soldier” sentence speak for me.

    If I were in the military, the chivalrous characteristics of John Carter would be a huge inspiration to me, as they no doubt are to our modern soldiers.

    I think ERB was basing John Carter on a mythic archetype (the chivalrous knight), and wasn’t basing him on any identifiable military force in recent memory. John Carter was, most recently, a Confederate soldier, but ERB makes it clear that he had lived and fought for many different nations for who-knows-how-many years before the Confederacy even appeared.

    June 2, 2012 at 10:25 am

  4. john massey

    I Thought I might remark…. The world of Barsoom is a world that has been drying up for millenia …
    The barsoomians live extremely long lives… a thousand years..?
    You can imagine how good a sword fighter you would be if you lived to be 300 years old. All the fighting men on mars are, by earth standards, superb fighters…
    The cities of Barsoom have been being purposely abandoned because there is no water to sustain them… The oceans receded slowly over a long time.
    This leaves entire cities left intact in semi good condition…
    Most of the John Carter stories tend to be about pursueing Dejah Thoris … and the action and adventuring involved tend to be about meeting new and interesting peoples and apparently killing a few of them..

    John Carter himself was portrayed as being the essence of the fighting man’s spirit…!

    John Carter has apparently always existed in many different times and always was a fighting man of one sort or another…

    John Carter is after all a fictional character meant to be used as a story telling device.

    That said…

    I always thought John Carter was maybe a living man at one time and through some kind of Indian spiritualism magic his spirit was sent to Barsoom and given a super strong body and tremendous good luck.

    I always liked the adventures because John Carter was always discovering lost civilizations …. entering abandoned cities and discovering that he was not alone.

    The plot devices of Dejah Thoris and other princesses always getting themselves Kidnapped was a completely new Idea to me… I would …with certainty …persue anyone who kidnapped one of my family.

    John Carter always had to kinda sneak around to get into these not so abandoned cities and sneak off with Dejah thoris before the might of the inhabitants crushed or captured Dejah and himself…

    I love all the sneaking around … The fights when discovered… and mad races to safety..

    Its fun stuff….

    June 6, 2012 at 1:40 am

  5. The nice thing about the stories is they’re very tangible despite they’re wildness and so you can really take part in the part in the sneaking and explosions of action.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:51 am

  6. Henreid

    Your epiphany works assuming you want to turn the novel into a traditional “three-act” motion picture. It’s true that the novel isn’t designed that way. It is a travelogue, a manuscript written about events that actually happened it’s author– and that could work for a film, too. But only if you wanted to make a non-traditional motion-picture with an unconventional structure and payoffs unlike other ‘blockbusters’.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:07 am

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