Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Pastiche of Mars

I am a very young man; how young I do not know. Possibly I am but twelve, perhaps younger; but I cannot tell, for I have never aged as other men, nor do I anticipate adulthood. And yet I feel that I cannot remain a very young man forever, that some day I shall grow to full maturity from which there is no coming back. I do now know why I should fear adulthood, I who have stayed young at heart despite the abuses of a cynical world; but yet the horror of it remains, and it is because of this terror of maturing that I am so convinced of its inevitability.

And because of this conviction I have determined to remain young at heart for as long as possible and write down the stories that keep me that way, the interesting periods of my life and growth.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote many such stories, and it is because of that imaginative American that I found my heart ensnared by the wonders of pulp adventure: Tarzan yes, but above all, John Carter of Mars. Burroughs' twelve novels of Mars preserved my heart in a perpetual state of boyhood; in some sense, I shall always be the boy waiting to fall asleep one night on prosaic Jasoom to awaken in wonder on far Barsoom. And with ninth-ray pistol in one hand and sword in the other, I shall fight for fair Helium and the incomparable Sylvia Boucher, (other) Princess of Mars.

It was with such visions in my mind that I and my noble brother Sean ventured to west Edmonton's looming mall to partake in a motion picture, named John Carter; that being Disney's loose but thematically faithful adaptation of Burroughs' first novel of Barsoom, A Princess of Mars.

As a fervent admirer of Burroughs and a skeptic of the works of said Disney, I feared that John Carter, the film, would prove unworthy. What actress could possibly capture the power and beauty of the incomparable Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars? What actor could embody the savage nobility of John Carter of Virginia? What special effects wizardry could bring to life the arid vistas of dying Barsoom, with its magnificent and terrible beasts - the great white apes, the Tharks, the banths? Could men (and of course women) of the 21st century understand and interpret faithfully stories now a century old?

My fears proved boundless. While John Carter is not the picture-perfect adaptation my twelve-year-old heart has been waiting for all my life, it is a splendid attempt - an adventure in the classic style, with twists and turns and coincidences and derring-do, and most importantly of all, romance. Fathers and daughters are reconciled; new love blooms despite the boundaries of space and time; foes are vanquished; steadfast allies and friendships forged.

Most impressive of all is the magnificent Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, here realized perhaps even more fully, if it were not blasphemy to say so, than in Burroughs' original stories. Dejah is lovely, yes, but more importantly she is courageous - the true courage of deep fears valiantly overcome. She is also brilliant, wry, passionate and true; but yet she is not perfect, nor overbearing. In order for the story of John Carter to work, for the titular hero to overcome his war-weariness, the film needed to give audiences a cause worth fighting for; and she is surely that. How unfortunate that Disney chose not to give the film its rightful title, A Princess of Mars, for truly this is Dejah's story.

That is not to sully nor minimize the fine work of Taylor Kitsch as the budding warlord of Barsoom, for he is a fine player who any man should wish to see overcome all his challenges, both within and without. Kitsch portrays Carter as a man who has lost his place in the world, but gradually, believably, finds it upon another. Marvellous too are the players - both actors and special effects artists - who bring the valiant and terrible Green Men of Mars to life, the Tharks, four-limbed, tusked warriors for whom compassion is a weakness; but yet the best of them possess it in full measure.

It is said that the best science fiction evokes a Sense of Wonder. John Carter is wondrous indeed, with scope, majesty, beauty and heart that makes the heart race and the spirit soar with awe at all the stories our vast universe might contain. Recapture your youth and see it today.

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