17 June 2012

John Carter the Totally Not Misogynist or Racist of Mars

Last night, I finally and sadly watched John Carter, the adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs' book A Princess of Mars.  It was renamed because the title wasn't masculine enough, and then renamed a little further so people wouldn't pigeonhole it as sci-fi, according to an L.A. Times story.

The film seems like it was adapted from the book by the Adaptamatic 5000, a semi-sentient bank of vacuum tubes.  Anything that might have offended modern sensibilities was erased.  This isn't necessarily bad, but the rewriting process was done in the least-imaginative way possible.  It's hard to believe Michael Chabon let his name get anywhere near this.

INPUT ACCEPTED:
Dejah Thoris, love interest of John Carter, has no skills or traits beyond beauty.
ERROR:
Offensive!
OUTPUT:
Dejah Thoris is the best scientist on the planet and a better warrior than John Carter.
SEXISM ELIMINATED


I obviously understand the reasoning behind turning Dejah Thoris from a stereotypical damsel-in-distress into a brilliant academic-cum-warrior.  But when done in this manner, it raises an even worse problem: John Carter is made redundant.  He's just the Guy Who Can Jump.  Considering how much of the book's power is derived from its straightforward sword-and-planet adventuring, it was not a wise decision to trade a boring love interest for a boring hero.

INPUT ACCEPTED:
Indigenous groups of Mars all hint at popular racial stereotypes.
ERROR:
Offensive!
OUTPUT:
Indigenous groups are not particularly differentiated.
RACISM ELIMINATED


There's some nods made to the brutal characteristics of the Tharks and the different city cultures of the "red men," but so much of this stuff has been cleaned from the movie that we're left without any real world-building.  The Therns, the mysterious priest-lords of the world, are given far more definition than any of the other groups we're actually supposed to care about.  Again, my complaint is not that the racism is gone, but just that it has been replaced by a watery bowl of mushy nonsense.


INPUT ACCEPTED:
Straightforward adventure story.
ERROR:
Not enough like Inception!
OUTPUT:
All the plots of the first three books are combined, sort of.
ACADEMY AWARD ASSURED


They turned an adventure story that showcases its big rollicking fights and special effects into a  sort-of-mystery story that also has a twist and just happens to contain some big rollicking fights and special effects.  The original story is still there, giving backbone to the film, but they've hung all kinds of extra limbs and heads on there, so it ends up staggering around like a horrible monster, pleading to be put out of its misery.  Why not preserve the original magical mystery of Carter's travel to Barsoom, rather than ginning up the idiocy with the amulet?  Why try to have a twist at the end?  The book is one of the most obvious candidates for film adaptations I can imagine, since the plot is interesting but clear, needs no exposition, and is basically a vehicle for planet-spanning action.  Why mess with that?

There are all kinds of other things that should have caused a warning light in the rusty Adaptamatic 5000.

IMPORT:
Learning sequence from Spiderman.
No errors found.
IMPORT:
Travel sequence drama from Prince of Persia.
No errors found.
IMPORT:
Menacing villain and actor from Sherlock Holmes.
No errors found.
IMPORT:
CGI concepts from Aliens v. Predator, Avatar, and Monsters, Inc.
No errors found.


Not good.  I am not happy.  Do not see it.

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