Monday, January 23, 2012

The princess and the planet

Few works of science fiction writing from the very early twentieth century are as seminal as Edgar Rice Burroughs 'A Princess of Mars'. The pulp classic was first published in 1917, before Burrows made his most famous creation, Tarzan, and before high-concept, adventure-sci-fi had grown all of those wonderful cliches' we enjoy today. A Princess of Mars has been sighted as a fundamental inspiration for science fiction writers all through the 20th century and up until today. Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and countless others all read Princess growing up, sewing the seed of fascination with science fiction. Even many scientists and futurists, people who would go on to drive humanities exploration of space and search for extraterrestrial life, sight the book as a childhood inspiration.

The plot is revolutionary in terms of when it was written, and generates sci-fi staples that have been seen in everything from books and movies to video games ever since. It centers around John Carter, an American confederate civil war veteran, who finds himself transported to Mars after entering a mysterious cave. He is then embroiled in a war between two alien factions, falls in love, and saves a civilization. The book is an adventure in the grand tradition, but very much science fiction at its core, and the first in a series of books, known as the 'Barsoom' series.

There have, of course, been several attempts at a film adaptation over the years since the book became a classic of the genre. Currently Walt Disney Pictures is set to release its big budget take on A Princess of Mars later this year. See trailer below.

It's interesting to see that the words 'Princess' and 'Mars' are nowhere to be seen in the trailer for Disney's latest adaptation. As the story circling the internet goes, these words were very carefully omitted by Disneys marketing department. They are slating the film as simply 'John Carter'. Their reasoning? They don't want to alienate any sector of the film-going public. The marketing boffins over at Disney figure that no male 15 to 60 will go see a Disney movie with the word 'princess' in the title, and subsequently no female from the same broad age demographic will go see a movie with the word 'mars' in the title. I'm not saying this is sacrilege, be it slightly disrespectful to the fans of the book, and somewhat sexist, but I do think it's a strong inditement on the power that Hollywood marketing departments wield. John Carter is just a name, a blank, empty title for a movie that means nothing to anyone that has never read Princess, but that is preferable to Disney, as the books actual name might conjure images of cartoon princesses kissing frogs and tedious space battles in the minds of film-goers and 'turn them off'. I'm not saying they are wrong, they may be absolutely correct, but it would be very interesting if history could have a re-do, and the film could be released under the books original name, and the box-office taking could be compared.

I look forward to seeing the finished film, whatever the title may be, but Disneys compromising attitude does make me wonder how this adaptation is going to turn out. If they are ready to compromise on the title of the film what else have they compromised on, and potentially diluted along the way? Time, and the reception of the film by Barsoom series fans, will tell.

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