It might be old news to some, but at least its good news: John Carter of Mars is going to the big screen. I should qualify that. It’s potentially good news. If anybody could mess up a straightforward-science-fiction-pulp-classic-adventure yarn, it’s Hollywood.
But let’s not be too pessimistic. I try to be thankful for all the good that comes my way: potential or otherwise.
So, what’s good? Well, after years of false starts, decades really, we have the film in firm pre-production. According to IMDb, the release date is 2012. (Of course, this in and of itself could be a Hollywood ploy to get our hopes up and already spending on pre-release stuff before the Mayan prophecy proves true, destroying the world, and saving producers from having to face the fact they screwed up something as beautiful and simple as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved classic. But again, let’s not be too pessimistic.)
What else is good? Andrew Stanton, the man behind Wall-E. Yeah, Wall-E was cute and adorable and a heart-tugger, but it was one of the smartest science fiction films to come along in a while. It was story driven, unlike say, most everything that has come out in forever, not to mention it wasn’t a remake or a part two of something. Stanton, too, is a confessed lover of Burroughs. That’s always a good thing: to have someone who knows and appreciates the source material. Let’s face it, The Lord of the Rings worked because Peter Jackson knew and loved The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, my first concern here was that we were going to have an animated Carter and Dejah. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, animated films tend to automatically be labeled family films. In many cases they are family films. If you’ve read any of the Barsoom books (for the uninitiated, that’s Burroughs’ name for Mars), Carter can be pretty gritty on occasion, and no, animated or not, Pixar or not, I would not even hope for Dejah Thoris to be gracing the big screen displaying her glorious natural assets for the whole universe to see as she does throughout the book. From what I understand anyway, it’s going to be released as a Disney film. That info comes from johncartermovie.com, which, by the way, is an excellent unofficial site. I’ve been checking it out for some time now.
So that brings us to Disney. Can go either way here. They’ve made some classic family films, which may or may not resemble the source material. 20,000 Leagues is my personal favorite. But they have gone grittier in recent years with the whole Pirate franchise. But herein resides the problem. I read somewhere, forgive me for not recalling the exact place, that Disney was hoping for another franchise success like Pirates. Well, all you have to do is remember what went on in Pirates 2 and 3 and you know why my heart cringes at the thought. What few producers realize is that nothing works, absolutely nothing, when the goal is simply to make money.
On the bright side, Michael Chabon is reworking the script as you read this (if you’re reading it in 2009, that is). Chabon is, for lack of a better word, brilliant. Check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Not only did it win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001, it was awesome. Then there’s The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Road. He acknowledges genre fiction, he appreciates genre fiction, he writes genre fiction. To me, this is one of the strongest arguments for doing this film right now. Disney could mess this up, however. Chabon could write something too good. (Good, for some reason, is not appreciated by most money-grubbing producers. They could just as easily order a rewrite. But let’s not be too pessimistic.)
What else is good? Well, they’ve got the primary characters cast. Taylor Kitsch will be playing Carter. Kitsch played in Friday Night Lights and more recently in Wolverine as Gambit. (Is it me, or does he look a little young for a civil war officer?) Lynn Collins will be Dejah Thoris. She, too, was recently seen in Wolverine, playing Silverfox. Well . . . I mean . . . what can you say? Just look at the picture!
Veteran actor Willem Dafoe will be portraying everyone’s favorite four-armed green Martian, Tars Tarkus. Dafoe is a pretty spectacular actor, but I suspect some serious CGI getting ready to happen here. Still, no complaints. Remember how great he was under all the make-up in Shadow of the Vampire? Heck, his voice is a better actor than a lot that I’ve had to watch.
Interestingly enough, as I write this (August 24, 2009), three more cast members have been confirmed. NewsOk.com reports that Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (“In America” and “Sweet and Lowdown”), Dominic West (“The Wire” and “300″) and Polly Walker (HBO’s “Rome”) have joined the cast.
All we can do for now is sit back and bask in the glow of expectations and potentialities. This is a movie with everything going for it. What could go wrong?
(Now, now, let’s not be too pessimistic.)