A little known hero
There are few people outside of a science fiction convention who would know the name Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yet fewer still would fail to recognize his most famous creation: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Burroughs was an artistic genius who penned more than eighty novels, and Disney is banking on his creativity to turn another of his characters into a household name with the release of its interplanetary epic, John Carter.
Taylor Kitsch from the hit TV series Friday Night Lights hangs up his football boots to take on the character of a Virginian civil war veteran in the latter half of the 19th century. John Carter has lost his wife and children in a fire and is hunting for gold to fill the void. The United States Army attempts to enlist his military expertise against Indian incursions in Arizona but the confederate officer has lost his taste for fighting. “Whatever you think I owe you or your country I have paid in full,” he tells Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) as he fingers his wedding ring, “You are a war species and I want nothing to do with you.”
However Powell’s persistence pushes Carter to flee into the desert, where he stumbles upon a golden cave covered in alien runes. In a flash his mind and body are ‘telegraphed’ to Mars, locally known as Barsoom, where Carter discovers an entire world at war. At first he simply struggles to get back to his own planet, but his introduction to the brave four-armed Tharks and the ‘red Martians’ of Helium inspire his loyalty. When Carter discovers the entire conflict is being orchestrated by an advanced race who ‘manage’ the destruction of planets, he re-evaluates his stance on war and initiates a campaign to set Mars free.
A film who's time has come
Sound like an epic? John Carter deserves the epithet in every respect. It’s based on the 1912 novel The Princess of Mars, the first in Burroughs’ thirteen-book Barsoom cycle, and Disney has designs on using it to launch a whole film franchise. Willem Dafoe, who plays Carter’s four-armed friend has revealed he’s already signed for the sequels, along with other key cast members. John Carter also deserves the title for the epic amount of time it’s spent in pre-production. Various companies have held the film rights for 79 years before cameras finally started rolling in 2010. Disney enlisted Pixar genius Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story 3) to write and direct, and expended a rumoured $250 million on the production. The end result is as gorgeous as it is original.
John Carter’s plot line might have been conceived a century ago but its message translates well for today. The bloody beginning to the 21st century has convinced many, like Carter, that armed conflict should be shunned at all costs. However Princess Dejah, the officer’s love interest, reminds him that wars should be judged by their causes as well as their casualties. “Everyone thinks their cause is virtuous,” Carter replies, but it’s not long before he realizes there really are struggles worth the ultimate price. In the closing stages of the film Carter becomes a Christ-like figure as he weighs his freedom against the suffering so many will endure. The embittered confederate realises life is too valuable to waste on wealth and his own wellbeing. And, like Christ, his love is measured by how much he is prepared to sacrifice. Carter’s final advice to his nephew, a young Ned Burroughs, is to find something worth dying for: “Take up a cause. Fall in love. Write a book.”
Watching John Carter with your kids
John Carter is a safe watch for older primary children and an easy win for boys with an appreciation of weird and wonderful worlds. There’s a little more flesh visible on the scantily clad princess than I’m happy with but no associated innuendo. Conversation-starters include:
- What did John Carter think about war at the beginning of the film?
- Why did he end up fighting one?
- What did Jesus think was worth dying for?
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