So, I spent a pleasant drizzly afternoon walking about seeing cherry blossoms, which are at peak bloom right now, and will probably be dead by the time the actual Cherry Blossom Festival arrives.
The plan was to see The Hunger Games. So, after walking about in the rain for a while, we made our way to the movie theater. On the way, we saw not one, not two, but three protests.
Detours on the way to the movies
First, there were some familiar-looking signs on a hilltop, a small group of people standing alongside some bored cops surrounded by fenced-off counter-protesters.
"Hey, is that... do those signs say...?" I asked.
Yup, they were, they did. This was my first time encountering these fucknozzles in person: it was the Westboro Baptist Church.
What exactly was the reason for their being here today, I don't know, but they were considerably outnumbered by the heckling counter-protesters. Frankly, the WBC members looked pretty bored themselves. They didn't even retort to the people jeering at them, just sashayed around holding up their signs.
This guy was holding up a sign saying "For a good time, call Jennifer" plus a phone number.
After listening to him for a while, it turned out that apparently "Jennifer" is a 19-year-old Phelps family member. The dude's sign was a rather vulgar depiction of a sex act, and he was basically delivering a stand-up comedy riff about what a great ass Jennifer has and what he'd like to do with it. Now, I have no more sympathy for the Phelpses or the Westboro Baptist Church than any other right-thinking human being; they are, it goes without saying, a foul and rabid gang of psychopathic shit-weasels. However, har har misogyny/borderline-rape-jokes to protest homophobia? I am not impressed by your progressiveness, buddy.
Also, I have no idea what this has to do with the Westboro Baptist Church:
Anyway, after gawking at the WBC like they were just another tourist attraction, we made our way past a rally for Treyvon Martin and the semi-permanent OWS encampment and eventually reached the movie theater.
Unfortunately, we had failed to anticipate the popularity and sold-outness of The Hunger Games. The next available showtime was later than we wanted to wait around, so I suggested seeing John Carter instead.
John Carter of Mars
I read the entire Barsoom series when I was a child. I was a big fan (and read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs' other stuff as well), and even constructed a Martian chess set out of model parts and tried to learn Jetan, or Martian chess. (ERB actually describes the rules in The Chessmen of Mars.) Even as a kid, though, I quickly realized that the series was repeating itself in each book, and for that matter, Burroughs' Tarzan, Pelucidar, and Venus series are all pretty much the same story, over and over. Burroughs wrote great pulp sci-fi, but he was very much a one-note author.
It's still a timeless classic, and memorable both as an early planetary romance and for the many adaptations and imitations it has inspired.
Unfortunately, Frank Frazetta aside, John Carter's legacy has not exactly been done well by. You can blame ERB for John Norman's Gor series, which is a basically a BDSM-flavored rip-off of the Barsoom series. There was a Marvel comics series that ran in the late 70s: John Carter, Warlord of Mars.
It only ran for a couple of years; I think I still have most of the issues packed away in a box somewhere.
But as far as cinematic adaptations go, it's kind of remarkable that for all the Tarzan movies and TV shows, very little love has been given to ERB's second most famous creation. Before this year, there was only one: avert thine eyes!
Princess of Mars (2009)
This 2009 movie was a straight-to-DVD release starring Traci Lords. Yes, that Traci Lords.
You can stream it from Netflix, but I don't recommend it. This movie sucks like few movies I have ever seen. It digs up Edgar Rice Burroughs' corpse, pisses on it, and sets it on fire. Spare yourself the horror of seeing this abomination.
John Carter (2012)
Overall, I liked this movie. It is not unfaithful to the spirit of ERB's book, being mostly based on the first one (A Princess of Mars) but incorporating a few elements from later ones. The storyline is basically just like in the book: Captain John Carter of Virginia, former Confederate war hero, stumbles into a cave that "magically" (using super-science) transports him to Barsoom, the fourth planet. Here, he enjoys superhuman strength and the ability to leap great distances, thanks to Barsoom's lower gravity. He is captured by a warlike race of tusked, green-skinned, four-armed giants, but eventually earns their respect and becomes a Jeddak of the Tharks. He also becomes embroiled in a war among the Red Men of Mars, and in the process, falls in love with the beautiful Dejah Thoris, the eponymous Princess of Mars.
This storyline might sound familiar to you. It's essentially identical to Avatar, and the movie, indeed, resembles James Cameron's in many respects, but (1) James Cameron was totally ripping off ERB, and (2) this movie is better.
Visually, what John Carter resembles much, much more is Star Wars: Episode I; specifically, all the desert races and chase scenes, huge floating ships delivering hordes of alien troops to jump into battle, and of course, sword fights.
The CGI is really good and actually used to fine effect; the Tharks, the white apes, and the other Martian wildlife were all expressive and lifelike.
If you like spectacular eye candy and pulp adventure, John Carter is certainly a film worth seeing. It's not a particularly brilliant film, as the plot is no more sophisticated than the book, and at times the jumps in the narrative are a bit confusing, but ERB fans won't be disappointed. I'd rate it more highly than most expensive Hollywood SFX extravaganzas, especially in the Big Dumb Action Film category.
Too bad right now it looks like it's set to become the biggest bomb in Hollywood history.
That's a shame. This is seriously a better film — both visually and narratively, with a much better script — than any of James Cameron's or Michael Bay's shit. I recommend seeing it on a big screen, since there's probably no chance of seeing another John Carter film in our lifetime.