By Hank Parmer
The planet Mars has long been a source of fascination for me. When I was a young boy, it was one of the two other worlds in our solar system where scientists thought life more advanced than a bacterium or virus might exist. For some reason, the Jurassic swamps and planet-covering oceans of science-fictional Venus never appealed to my youthful imagination the way that Mars did, with its canals and ice caps and mysterious features that seemed to change with its seasons. It was a frequent setting for my daydreams of being a fearless space explorer.
I was a sucker for any story featuring the Red Planet. So it was inevitable that sooner or later I'd latch onto Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series. The first one I read -- okay, devoured was The Mastermind of Mars
. The story had everything needed to enthrall my ten year old self: a mad scientist swapping subjects' brains for fun and profit, a ferocious four-armed giant white ape who's had half a human cerebrum plopped into his skull, flying battleships, radium pistols, desperate swordplay and fantastic adventures on an alien world. Over the next few years, it was a frabjous day indeed when I came across one of these novels in the shop where my eldest brother bought his pipe tobacco. He would take me along to get me out of my parents' hair, since the place also sold used paperbacks, making it a little slice of heaven to my geeky SF-craving self.
At that age, of course, it's easy to ignore the fact that the author kept recycling pretty much the same plot: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy fights his way across a planet of weird aliens and gruesome monsters to rescue girl. Though my tastes may have become a bit more refined since those days, I revisit the novels every few years, because despite their creaky pulp fiction tropes they're still colorful, wildly imaginative and just plain fun.
Burroughs romantic vision of the Red Planet -- or "Barsoom" as it's known to its inhabitants -- with its ancient, highly advanced science, strange peoples and bizarre fauna, its magnificent ruined cities and dead sea bottoms covered in ocher moss was a hit with the public when the first novel in the series (which was also Burroughs' first novel) was serialized as "Under the Moons of Mars" in Argosy
magazine in 1912. Published in book form as A Princess of Mars
, this was followed by eleven more adventures, the last of them written in the late 1940s. The series remains a major influence on science fiction, although some hairsplitting types prefer to call this genre "science fantasy".
Obviously, the sets and effects required to bring this world to life on the silver screen make it a daunting proposition. With Burroughs' enthusiastic support, Bob Clampett -- yes, *that* Bob Clampett -- tried unsuccessfully to sell MGM on the idea of a series of animated shorts back in 1936. It took Disney almost 25 years to finally get their 2012 version of that first novel off the ground.
Given the deep hurting I experienced reviewing those two crap-stravaganzas from the Larry Buchanan of our time, Mark Atkins -- Jack the Giant Killer
and P-51 Dragon Fighter
-- you can imagine it was a real WTF moment for me to discover that three years before the Disney flick this auteur du merde
got a chance to apply his Reverse Midas touch to the same story. Straight to video, and without crediting Burroughs. Which shows considerable chutzpah, considering Atkins' screenplay utilizes major elements of the plot, characters, incidents and (until they changed it in later releases to John Carter of Mars
) even gets its freaking title
from the book. (They attempt to weasel out of this by crediting Edgar on the DVD cover.)
The really odd thing about this piece of crap is that it follows the original novel rather more closely than the Disney film did. Not that that lessens the pain, but it does mean that for once Atkins had a story which doesn't seem to have been written by trolls. Naturally his stab at adapting it into a screenplay will fail miserably, but I have to say it has a surprisingly coherent plot -- for a Mark Atkins joint.
As so often happens with an Atkins film, it appears to have been cobbled together hastily in order to leech off a much bigger-budgeted production: 2009's Avatar
-- which was also clearly inspired by Burroughs' novel. I can almost admire Atkins' temerity in tackling this project: With the resources and talent he would bring to bear, it was the cinematic equivalent of setting out to raft the Colorado on a pool float, with a 2-liter bottle of Big K Cola and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for provisions. And ended just about as well.
So on with the show:
Princess of Mars
Directed by: Mark Atkins
Screenplay by: Mark Atkins
Director of Photography: Mark Atkins
Edited by: Mark Atkins
(We are so boned.)
John Carter -- beefcake model, soap opera stiff and Trump fanboy Antonio Sabato, Jr. -- is a Special Forces guy in Afghanistan. While on a mission to put a stop to some opium smugglers (the CIA hates freelancers) he's betrayed by his contact, Sarka the tea seller. Severely wounded, he wakes up in an Army field hospital. An officer tells him he's so messed up he's not likely to survive the night.
However, there is an experimental procedure they can try. According to him, all the data needed to reconstruct Carter's body atom-by-atom resides on this 16 gigabyte USB flash drive. Riiiight .... That's one hell of a data compression algorithm they've got there. It's fortunate they won't have to dedicate much file space for this actor's talent.