Edgar Rice Burroughs is probably one of my favorite authors of all time.
His ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ has left a mark on me I haven’t been able to shake since I heard Ron Ely make that infamous jungle call in landmark 1960s and 1970s TV series.
I was always captivated by Burroughs rich storytelling and when you take into consideration how long ago they were written they took incredible risks.
Burroughs in some circumstances was another Jules Verne struggling to bring fantasy and science fiction to a wider audience.
Tarzan was Burroughs staple novel but the second most important character in his cannon of characters and adventures was that of Captain John Carter, a swordsman and militia cavalryman who had given up hope on his life until he is accidentally transported to another world and realizes that life is worth fighting for.
That world we all know as Mars was given a new more mystical name by Burroughs, that of Barsoom.
In the story, John Carter fights for freedom with his ten foot stoic alien named Tars Tarkas and the beautiful princess Dejah Thoris to which the whole first novel in the John Carter saga is dedicated to.
This long sweeping saga follows Carter on many adventures as he rights the wrongs of the planet Barsoom and truly becomes a Warlord of Mars.
Burroughs Martian Saga was vastly ahead of its time. This story of man meeting aliens and fighting for freedom on some distant star was written in 1912.
What is even more incredible about Burroughs is he published his novel A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes both in the same year.
How many authors do you know that turn literature upside/down not once but twice in one year?
I was first transported to Barsoom by the incredible artwork of book covers, Frank Frazetta’s paintings, glossy hardcover books and eventually the work of legendary comic artists Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino on Marvel Comics “John Carter Warlord of Mars.” When I lived overseas I couldn’t always get my hands on superhero comics so I turned to kung fu magazines and pulp novels instead.
Now if you take into consideration, John Carter’s first adventure on Mars was written 65-years before Star Wars then you can see just how far Barsoom has influenced popular culture.
Before Burroughs, you had Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, HG Wells The Time Machine, RLS’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee. The Barsoom series was the first real on-going science-fiction book series.
This book series directly influenced almost every science fiction endeavor after it like in the 1920s and 1930s, serial heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Burroughs and those serials influenced George Lucas to create Star Wars and even later James Cameron’s monster hit, Avatar.
The average movie goer is going to see all the science fiction that has arrived on-screen in the last 40 years. The Burroughs series still has fans but for mainstream audiences they hardly know the name Tarzan, let alone John Carter of Mars. (Which begs the question why redo the Lone Ranger? I am not going there… yet!)
The journey of the film to the screen almost took as long as the gap between John Carter and Star Wars. Many great men including Walt Disney, Bob Clampett, Ray Harryhausen, John McTiernan, Kerry Konran and Robert Rodriguez have all tried to bring Barsoom to the big screen.
Why was it so hard? Well first of all the world is inhabited by 10 to 12 foot green horned aliens called Tharks. (Funny how they actually predated the term “little green men”) And Tars Tarkas, a Thark is actually a major character in the series and an advocate for freedom on Barsoom. Not to mention airships, floating cities, beaming to another planet, six legged riding beasts, Woola, the Barsoom civil war and well an actor to hold this whole massive adventure together.
Visionary Andrew Stanton, director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo, took on that project as his first live-action directorial feature. He must have tapped into Walt Disney wanting to bring this epic adventure to the silver screen. This could also be the reason why a PG-13 film is under the Disney banner.
No matter if Stanton’s Barsoom is a hit with moviegoers or not, it still is an achievement that this seminal piece of science fiction literature was finally able to awe audiences once more.