I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend. “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?” No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults: John Carter [of Mars]!
We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time. So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer. But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!
When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels. Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows. While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story. The other media kept me at arms-length from the action. But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found. My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.
Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste. But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales. I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.
The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did. I’m not sure what could have helped its reception. Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped. Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president? And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.
We thought the movie was pretty good, actually. The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony. But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up. Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.