> FEATURE 4: ERBzine 2111
> Edgar Rice Burroughs'
> A PRINCESS OF MARS
> STORY TREATMENT
> by TMarking
I've read Mr. (Ms?) Marking's treatment with great
interest. Unfortunately, I think that there are a
number of areas where it goes astray. Since I
obviously have nothing better to do with my life, I
thought I'd take a few minutes out and run through
some my criciticisms.
>Some of the weaknesses in the original novel will
have to be addressed for todays more sophisticated
(or perhaps jaded) audience.
>To begin with, there is Burroughs rather limited
>explanation of exactly How and Why Carter came to be
>on Mars in the first place. The astral projection
>angle wont cut it for todays audience. It would
>have to be re-conceived.
With all due respect, why not? Or at the very least,
not much needs be done with it. Basically, we've had
well over a decade through Stargate SG1, Sliders, and
the new Flash Gordon series of people stepping from
this world to other worlds or dimensions. Stepping
across the universe sans Starship is old hat by now.
What it needs is a bit of tarting up. It's not that
the audience is sophisticated, its that its easily
bored. Carter's paralysis and internal struggle to
break free which finally wrenches him from his own
body is gripping on a page, but visually, its a guy
laying there with the whites of his eyes showing. I
suspect that the Hollywood version would involve
physical action, and a nifty transporter/wormhole
>The movie version makes it clear that it is no
>accident that Carter is on Mars.
I think that this is a mistake. The notion that
everything has to have a reason, and every reason has
to have an effect, is a legacy of sci fi films of the
50's. Cloverfield, most recently, had no explanation
- monster is there, deal with it. The recent 30 Days
of Night presented no backstory or explanation - the
Vampires show up, deal with it. Going all the way
back to Night of the Living Dead... the zombies are
there, deal with it.
What do we learn from this? The audience is forging.
They will go along with a situation if it is presented
as authentic, if the characters actions and reactions
Essentially, what we do with a novel or a movie, is we
are selling suspension of disbelief. We are selling
believability, and selling it on a visceral, emotional
basis. A good novel or movie makes us forget where we
are and it puts us there. A bad one, we never step
out of ourselves.
There are several ways to do the suspension of
One way is basically media res - present the situation
and character, and just start the proceedings, and if
they're engaging the audience goes along for the ride
(this approach would have Carter on Mars hacking his
way through a glorious landscape and leave us watching
to find out what his story is and what the hell its
Another approach is to engage us with the character in
a relatively normal setting, and as he is drawn into
strange adventures, because of our attachment, we're
drawn with him. (We start as Burroughs did, with John
Carter as a cowboy who gets into trouble...)
Yet another approach would be simply explaining the
story to the audience, rationalizing it for us. This
can work. The title crawl in the original Star Wars,
various preamable voice overs. The technobabble of
Stargate, etc. The idea is that if the situation can
be explained to us plausibly and rationally, we'll
have a context to fit subsequent events into, and then
we'll follow along. Of all the possible avenues, this
is my least favourite for a few reasons: 1) It's
dull. 2) By engaging the viewer immediately on
plausibility and rationality, you are dealing with
them on a non-emotional, non-experiential,
non-visceral level and that makes it much easier for
them to reject suspension. 3) It blows a lot of
opportunities for dramatic tension... its like
starting off a mystery by having the Butler do it on
the first page...okay, what then?
>Carter was brought to Mars for a purpose. A purpose
>that our franchise hero will learn as he swashbuckles
>his way through the first three movies...
>This new explanation also gives us an opportunity to
>build some backstory and subplots into the
>franchises initial storyline... (Note: See >separate
Machinations document for details.)
I have no objection to building in backstory and
subplots. But I have to post a reservation. If
Carter was brought to Mars for a purpose, then he is a
puppet and not a hero. That's risky.
> Beef up the role of DEJAH THORIS for the modern
audience. She might still wear a teeny weeny metal
bikini but this Princess is not the stereotypical
damsel in distress.
Arguably, Thoris wore much less than a bikini. But
she was hardly the stereotypical damsel. In the
opening scenes, she's the leader of a science
expedition. Captured and held hostage, she doesn't
give the Tharks an inch but appeals to their reason
and dignity... no cowering, no shrieking. She doesn't
bend her dignity for anyone, a prisoner among the
Thark she's prepared to give her one potential ally
John, the cold shoulder. She plots and plans her
escape with John carefully.
The trouble with Thoris is that at a certain point,
she all but vanishes from the story, its about John
trying to make his way to her against all odds. And
then when we find her, she's wrapped up in the rules
of her culture ... Dejah's struggle or issue here in
the second phase of her story in the novel is the
struggle of personal desires (love for John) with
social obligations (martian custom, the need to save
her city). I'd argue that this was powerful decades
ago when social rules were much more restrictive for
women. Is it powerful or current now? Could Dejah's
dilemna be considered meaningful. Maybe.
> THE THARKS are the real stars of the movie. CG will
>allow the four-armed green giants to be fully
>realized as never before possible. The movie will
>explore the Tharks and their barbaric culture as the
>original books never did.
Huh? Burroughs went into anthropological level of
detail on the Tharks. He showed us their lives, their
division of labour, egg laying and child rearing
practices, manufacturing, crafts, their politics and
political and social organization, sex roles,
entertainment, war and peace. The Tharks were the
most thoroughly realized alien culture of their age,
it would be decades before other writers got that
detailed about their creations.
>Carters experiences in the Arizona Cave were
re->worked as well as the entire Return to Earth
>Ending. (The franchise hero is not going back to
>Earth.) Carters Visit to the Atmosphere Factory
>(Though the Factory returns as a location in a later
>draft) and his climatic last gasp heroics dont make
I dunno. While I could see throwing out the return to
Earth in favour of a happy ending, I think we need to
keep in mind why Burroughs had it at all.
These days in television, we're too used to the
situation being returned to the status quo at the end
of half an hour or an hour. That's not what happens
Rather, its a TRAGIC ending. John Carter is a man who
spends much of the book falling in love and then
fighting for that love, who finally wins love and
happiness... and in the end, he loses it all. He
winds up on Earth, a hundred million miles from the
woman he loves, waking each day to know he'll never
see her again, not even knowing if she's alive.
Forget about closure.
Of course, for movies, audiences love happy endings,
so we'll have to close out on their clinch, not a
>The first draft came in at a Six-Hour Movie.
>(Or Two Movies! The first, John Carter of Mars -
>with the more commercial title to start the franchise
>off - adapts the first half of the novel, from his
>arrival on Mars up to his capture by the horrible
>Warhoons! The second, A Princess of Mars, adapts
>the second half of the novel and establishes Carter
>as a franchise hero. The movies would be shot
back-to->back Lord of the Rings-style and released in
same >strategy as The Matrix sequels. One at Memorial
Day, >the other at Labor... but I digress.)
Risky. The Salkinds did that 'shooting two movies
back to back' shtick in the 70's for Superman and
Three Musketeers. And Tarantino split 'Kill Bill'
into two somewhat uneven movies.
But for the most part, studios and money people don't
go this way. Why? Because there's no guarantee that
the first movie will fly, and if it doesn't, then
you've wasted your money on the second.
That's why it's Matrix 'sequels' shot back to back.
The original Matrix was stand alone. It was the
success of the original movie that justified the
Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films are freak
The normal rule is that films are expensive and
difficult enough that the money will test the water
with a first film, instead of committing. If it
succeeds, fine, they'll ride the franchise until it
dies. If it doesn't... then there is only the first
film. Cinema is riddled with franchises that never
>A short prologue was added to spill some Martian
>backstory before the Apache attack.
Leading with the chin...
>So does anyone out there know anyone at Pixar..?
Oh man, this stuff just kills!!! Basically, we open
up on Mars, in a strange unfamiliar landscape, with a
bunch of funny looking people in costumes, explaining
their politics to each other in a long backstory.
There's so many ways that this goes wrong. First of
all, there's no central or sympathetic character for
the audience to fix to. Instead there's long blather
about politics and backstory that we may need later
but that we don't care about now. Finally, the
initial scenes are so jarring and alien that there's
nothing to attach to, instead of drawn into suspension
of disbelief we're jostled around out of it.
It's like the WTF story scroll in Star Wars: The
Phantom Menace, but even worse.
Look, think about it this way: Planet of the Apes
opens with Charlton Heston sitting in a chair, looking
out at the night sky, reflecting on life. We've all
sat in chairs, we've all reflected on life, we've all
looked out at the night sky. There's an anchor there
that we identify with, that draws us. Then it turns
out he's on a spaceship, okay, we go along with that.
Then they crash, etc. etc. But good opening. Suppose
Planet of the Apes had opened with a scene of
Gorillas, Chimps and Orangs in a committee meeting
trying to vote on an amendment to a motion? That's
Apart from that, its just deathly. The 'Science
Council'? Huh? So it's Thavas that brings Carter
from Earth? But why? Because of a prophecy... isn't
Thavas on the science council and they're not the sort
to go believing in that kind of crap? I dunno, the
Therns might swallow it, but the rationalists of the
Council won't? And why do they need a hero to settle
what is essentially a political dispute?
I dunno, this whole set up reduces Carter to a puppet,
and not even an interesting puppet. If he was brought
from Earth by the Therns and wound up bringing them
down, he'd be interesting as a puppet rebelling
against his evil masters. As it is, he's just Thavas
puppet doing his job.
It also means that Dejah knows exactly who and what
John is, and what his role is. She knows more about
him than he does. Awkward for the romance angle.
Researchers don't have romances with lab rats.
But anyway, now I've got to go and get some work done.
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