Indulge me for a moment. When my parents split up, my dad left behind a whole bunch of books and records. I spent a lot of my younger years going through those and absorbing things, finding stuff that appealed to me, and discovering literature and music that would change the direction of my life. One box contained a bunch of scifi paperbacks, and among them were John Carter of Mars novels, staring with A Princess of Mars and extending on for a couple more books. I read those and then began getting the rest of the series from my public library.
I loved them. The word pulp gets tossed around today to mean ‘Not very good but we’re okay with that,’ but it’s not what pulp always meant. John Carter of Mars was pulp. Swashbuckling, weird creatures, sexy women, big heroics, all played with the straightest of faces. The Edgar Rice Burroughs books are the kinds of sweeping, imaginative adventure that the movies often aspired to but never reached.
Over the years there have been a number of attempts to bring John Carter and his exploits on Barsoom to the big screen, but it took Andrew Stanton and the folks at Disney to actually get it started. Today filming began on John Carter of Mars, an adaptation of A Princess of Mars, the first book in the series that saw a Civil War vet transported to a bizarre Mars where he became an adventurer and power player.
I never thought I’d see the day, and I’m hoping for the best. Ironically, the biggest stumbling block for Stanton et al is the fact that James Cameron more or less ripped off John Carter of Mars in Avatar, which may lead many people to think that Stanton’s movie is a cash in on The Blockbusteriest Blockbuster Of All. But nothing could be farther from the truth; when John Carter of Mars hits theaters in the next two years, it will be the culmination of a journey that began in 1917, and that inspired not just Avatar but huge chunks of what we know as science fiction and fantasy today. To me, this film is as much a milestone as The Lord of the Rings was. Let’s hope Stanton hits those lofty heights.