Video Views By Robert Statzer
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John Carter, Conqueror of Mars
Before Luke Skywalker picked up his first lightsaber…before Captain Kirk flew his first starship…before Flash Gordon first left Earth’s orbit, there was John Carter – the original star warrior!
Although best-remembered today as the creator of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first novel was not about the legendary jungle lord, but told the tale of an American Civil War soldier, Captain John Carter, who is swept away from Earth and stranded on Mars. There, he joins in the ongoing battles between the various Martian tribes, rescuing (and eventually romancing) alien princess Dejah Thoris, heir to the throne of Mars. Bizarre creatures, advanced alien technology and the struggle for freedom against an evil ruler…all themes still common to today’s science fiction cinema and literature, but far more fresh and fierce in the classic Martian saga of Burroughs’ imagination. Little did the author know, upon completing what he thought was to be a trilogy, that his Mars epic would one day grow to almost a dozen books, or that his work would continue to influence and inspire over a century later. (The term “Sith” found in George Lucas’ Star Wars saga was actually a word created by Edgar Rice Burroughs for his Martian tales decades earlier. And his “Jeddak” warriors may have provided some inspiration for the Jedi Knights.)
After his initial encounter with Dejah Thoris, John Carter is intrigued by the Martian princess. Dejah is being pressured by her people to wed the ruler of a rival nation in order to end hostilities between the two factions. But she is a strong-willed visionary, a ruler who is both scientist and warrior, and not about to become a pawn in interplanetary politics. With the aid of an army of Tharks, a race of green, multi-armed insect-like warriors, John Carter and Dejah Thoris brace themselves for a final showdown to determine the fate of the Red Planet.
Hollywood had been trying to bring John Carter to the screen since the 1930s, but the scale of the tales (coupled with the cost of the extensive special effects that would be required) would have strained the resources of most studios of the day. Animator Bob Clampett tried to interest MGM in adapting the stories into a series of cartoons but, at the time, animation was looked upon as something more suited for entertaining children rather than a format for drama and adults. Ironically, it would be a company best-known for cartoons that would finally get the adventures of John Carter up on the screen: Walt Disney Studios.
It seems fitting that Disney’s John Carter came out in 2012, as that year marked the 100th anniversary of John Carter’s debut in print. Even more ironic, much of the Disney film was shot on location in Utah…the same state that Edgar Rice Burroughs lived in while writing the first tale. If exotic aliens, intergalactic intrigue and cosmic swashbucklers are how you spend your weekends, then get ready to hang out with John Carter and see the story that started it all.