Based on Barsoom?
When Disney’s John Carter movie comes out on March 9th*, there is no doubt that some of it is going to seem familiar to audiences.
That’s true even if they’ve never read the original book** by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
While the assumption might be that this 2012 movie is being inspired by earlier movies and TV shows (and that might be true to some extent…I haven’t seen it), it may also be that those earlier works were inspired by the 1917*** novel.
Here, then, are some works that came after Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars…but have some of its elements. Note that I’m not saying that these were deliberately copied (even though, if the book was in the public domain at the time, that would have been legally okay). It’s just that PoM had it first, and certainly for geeks, was in the zeitgeist by the time these other works were created. I’m also not going to base inclusion on what the later creators have said about it…just on what is actually in the book.
What makes Superman super? Does he have the dedication to train two hours a day like Doc Savage (with whom he shares a first name and who had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle first)? Did he train for a lifetime like Batman? Is he a scientific genius who invented his own web-shooters after being bitten by a radioactive spider like Spider-Man, or who created a super-suit that also, incidentally, has therapeutic advantages, like Iron Man?
He was just born on another planet…way to earn it, Super-Dude!
Kal-El is super on Earth because of the differences in his home planet Krypton (which, yes, was tragically destroyed…but he was a baby at the time, so we can’t give him much credit for making something out of what happened) and Earth. Any Kryptonian on Earth is super…Superman, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, Beppo the Supermonkey (really)…it’s just the way it is.
John Carter is super on Mars because he is from Earth.
How is he super?
Well, maybe the most obvious thing is his ability to jump…really far and really high.
Doesn’t sound like Supes?
What if I used the word “leap”instead of “jump”? What if he could “leap tall buildings in a single bound?”
Now does it sound familiar?
In the beginning in the comics, Superman didn’t fly. He jumped, a lot like John Carter. He didn’t start flying until the Fleischer brothers made cartoons in the 1940s. They just thought that was easier to animate (and more dramatic, presumably). Superman’s super-strength was also a lot less when he started…he wasn’t throwing planets around. John Carter also has superior strength…he can snap chains that would hold a Barsoomian securely. Burroughs even uses the term “superhuman” to describe the Virginian’s abilities.
One obvious connection is the term “Jedi”. In Princess of Mars, the alien leaders are Jeds and Jeddaks. John Carter has a big hairy (for Mars, anyway) companion, one of the few “characters” we encounter regularly who doesn’t speak. Fiercely loyal, he does seem more like a dog than Chewbacca…but his name is Woola. Woola/Wookie…woo woo! The speeder bikes are also reminiscent of the one person flying craft used in Princess of Mars.
Remember when Kirk ran into the Mugato, a Great White Ape? Well, Great White Apes (Burroughs doesn’t give them a species name, although they are a somewhat intelligent group) are a big deal on Barsoom…and dangerous. I could have included the Wampa from Star Wars in this category…but I had enough going on there. If you think they all come from the Abominable Snowman, well, that term wasn’t used until 1921…and the few reports of a man-beast in the Himalayas that got to the West before that were of things with dark hair. Hmm…I wonder if Burroughs’ popular Great White Apes could have impacted the concept of the Yeti having white hair? It’s also worth noting that Tarzan (an earlier Burroughs creation) had also been referred to as a “white ape”.
Mork & Mindy
No, Dejah Thoris didn’t say “Shazbot” when things went wrong. However, both she and Mork are from oviparous species…born from eggs that mature outside the body. That always seemed a little creepy to me. Not the process of being hatched, but that John Carter clearly was in love with Dejah Thoris…and not just in a spiritual way, if you know what I mean. Carter even says:
“So this was love! I had escaped it for all the years I had roamed the five continents and their encircling seas; in spite of beautiful women and urging opportunity; in spite of a half-desire for love and a constant search for my ideal, it had remained for me to fall furiously and hopelessly in love with a creature from another world, of a species similar possibly, yet not identical with mine. A woman who was hatched from an egg, and whose span of life might cover a thousand years; whose people had strange customs and ideas; a woman whose hopes, whose pleasures, whose standards of virtue and of right and wrong might vary as greatly from mine as did those of the green Martians.”
Um…she was hatched from an egg! I’m not sure whether her biggest hope was to own a house in the suburbs or not should be your primary concern. The whole thing just seemed odd…not to even think about how the mechanics must have been…awkward.
Yep…John Carter had what was basically a GPS system at one point. He describes the tech this way:
“He set my compass for me, a clever little device which will remain steadfastly fixed upon any given point on the surface of Barsoom.”
Can’t you just see John Carter engaged in a fierce aerial battle with sky pirates, striking out with his long sword, and hearing, “When possible, make a legal u-turn.”
Well, that just scratches the surface. I could go on and on…John Carter says he is better known as “Captain Jack” (later used by Sparrow and Harkness…and an alligator on Leave It to Beaver), there’s a character named Tardos (TARDIS?) Mors, the use of repulsor rays (utilized by Tony Stark as Iron Man), Burroughs often talks about the protruding eyes of the green Martians…making them bug-eyed monsters, perhaps?
So, when you go to see John Carter and something seems familiar, remember: that’s not déjà vu, it’s Dejah Thoris.
* March 9th, 2012, is the release date for John Carter in the USA
** There is actually a whole series of Barsoom books, and John Carter isn’t in all of them. I’ve heard that the first movie is mostly drawing from the first book, though (A Princess of Mars). Wait, did I say “first movie”? Hm…
*** The first part of the book appeared in the February, 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine…meaning the movie is coming out very close to the 100th anniversary. The novel version, published in 1917, restored material which had been cut
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.