Thursday, 24 November 2011

I've waited a lifetime for this film

2011 has been a poor year for genre films and what has made it to cinemas has been almost universally not great. So 2012 will see a glut of eagerly awaited films such as the Avengers, Ghostbusters 3, Men in Black 3, Wanted 2, The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, The Hobbit etc. In amongst them all are the two films I'm looking forward to most. They are both scheduled for release in March. The first is Aardman's new feature Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (see here). The second is John Carter. And I can't tell you how long I've waited for this.

Well, I can. And I'm going to.

As you know, I grew up in Cornwall during the 1960s and 70s. This was, of course, pre internet and mobile phones. There were no computer games and only three TV channels. From the age of 11 I went to school in Helston, a smallish town off the tourist trail that boasted one bookshop, a John Menzies and a couple of small tobacconist/newsagents. There are no motorways into Cornwall - the M5 starts and ends in North Devon - and the dual carriageway A30 and A38 are relatively modern. To get to Plymouth (in 'England' as my elders would have it) meant a 70 mile drive along single-lane A roads and windy B roads stuffed with caravans and tractors.

So, it's maybe not too surprising that we were a bit behind the times down there. Punk came and went when I was aged 16-17 and hardly impacted on us at all. Life of Brian was banned by all of our local councils and we had to go to Plymouth to see it. US comics rarely got to our shops and, if they did, they were sporadic and the chances of reading the complete run of a story were slim. Instead, I bought them for the artwork alone. There were no rock concerts (no venues nearer than Plymouth Poly) and more male voice choirs than you can beat away with a stick. Which is why, when I did discover something fantastical and exciting and mind-expanding, I leapt upon it like a starving man on a pasty.

The impact that Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books had on me as a young teenager is beyond enormous. I was immediately sucked into the world of Barsoom with its tall six-limbed green Tharks, multi-legged Thoats and Calots and bloodthirsty predatory Banths. There was an entire dynasty of characters to follow; John Carter and the Princess Dejah Thoris, their children Carthoris and Thuvia, Ulysses Paxton and more. Carter was heroic, chivalrous and brave, Thoris was lovely, noble and wise. The monsters were great, the stories were fabulous and Burroughs create an entire world that - if not very convincing or even biologically practical by modern standards - was coherent and well thought out. The John Carter books became my 'gateway drug' into  more serious sci fi like Frank Herbert's Dune and Asimov's Foundation books.

Being very art-fixated I always loved finding new interpretations of Barsoom. There were Bruce Pennington's and Richard Clifton-Dey's iconic paperback covers. There was Rodney Matthews' interpretation of the massive elephant-like Zitidars. Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben, Michael Whelan and Boris Vallejo all had their goes too (the Frazetta covers were amazing) and so did many others. Some were amazing, many were less so but I loved seeing them. I've peppered this post with some of them.

And, all the time, I waited for Hollywood to catch up and make the John Carter film. The Star Wars franchise came and went and the tall gangly cloners of Kamino reminded me of the tall green martians while the arena scene on Geonosis was so reminiscent of Carter's adventures. Burroughs' books inspired a generation of visionary film makers. Avatar showed just how far the CGI envelope could be pushed. Its floating mountains owed much to Roger Dean and its multi-legged Direhorses were Barsoomian Thoats in all but name. There was one pretty abortive attempt to actually make a Barsoom film in 2009 with a straight-to-video release called Princess of Mars starring ex-porn queen Traci Lords but, otherwise, Hollywood wasn't playing. Until now.

That's the trailer for Disney's John Carter, directed by the guy who directed Wall-E, Andrew Stanton. And music by Peter Gabriel - my favourite singer of all time. That has to be a sign, surely? It looks great. And yes, I understand that changes will need to be made to suit 21st century scientific convention and sexual politics but as long as they keep the adventure and the romance and the thrills intact, I'll be happy. A few stills and some concept art from the film have recently been released including the city of Helium, a 'White Ape' and a green Martian, probably Tars Tarkas:

I said at the start that I'd tell you how long I've waited for this film. It's been 40 years. I was 10 when I got my first copy of A Princess of Mars and I still have it. Some of you weren't even born when I first read it.

So please Mr Hollywood, I've waited this long. Make it worth my wait.

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