“The book is better.”
This phrase has been said, written, or otherwise communicated many times by movie-goers who had the fortune of reading the book before seeing the movie based on it. It’s a cliche only in that it is usually correct.
First, let me say to non-readers that the movie is a fun little jaunt. My husband, who is a speculative fiction geek who hasn’t read the book, found the movie reasonably entertaining, with decent action scenes and some cool aliens.
Yet, there are some negatives. I’m going to sidestep movie criticism, because you can find that in many fine reviews on the Movie Review Query Engine or RottenTomatoes. One of the main complaints is that the movie is “stale” due to the fact that filmmakers have stolen many ideas from A Princess of Mars.
What I will address are two key differences between the book and movie that show the book is so much better:
John Carter, Book Version is Cooler –
John Carter represents an archetypal great adventurer. The honorable rebel without a cause. After being on the losing side of the Civil War, he travels to “Arizona territory” to seek his fortune and more adventures. Thus, when he finds himself on Mars, with no idea how he got there and no idea how to get back, John Carter adapts. After being captured by the green martians, he endures being treated as a child and a weapon in order to learn green martian language and culture. He then uses his knowledge, gravity-based superpowers, and formidable fighting skills to rise within the ranks of green martian society. Once Dejah Thoris is captured, he selflessly puts himself on the line to protect her–and then his green martian friend Sola as well when her innate compassion makes her fall out of favor with other green martians. This isn’t to say that John Carter always succeeds initially, nor that he always saves the day. However, he gives it his best shot–and the result is a character with enough integrity and charisma to carry the novel.
The movie switching things up by giving John Carter a wife and family. Silent flashbacks tell you they came under attack while he was away in the war. He travels to Arizona disgruntled and cynical is because of their deaths, not because he enjoys adventure. He stumbles into Mars via a technological energy portal–and when he gets to Mars, he’s entirely focused on getting home. He doesn’t care a whole lot about anyone other than himself. It takes the selfless actions of Sola and Dejah Thoris to draw him out and give him a new love and a new cause to fight for.
While movie John Carter might be easier to relate to, the bitter-antihero-turned-savior plot is pretty tired, especially in cinema. Perhaps it’s hard for today’s people to believe in a genuine hero/adventurer. However, the success of Captain America would argue against that. I understand that the complexities of the real John Carter might be hard to bring to the big screen–therefore, go for the book!
Second Reason to Read the Book: the Characters are Cooler in General
The curse of adapting a book to film is that all the little back-stories, little character-development vignettes, extra fight scenes and dramatic confrontations, are either compressed or cut in order to squeeze the whole story into just two hours. If the movie is dubbed an “action film” then even more is cut in order to make room for fight scenes. Now, to be fair A Princess of Mars is an action book. There are plenty of great fights and battles in it. However, it is also love story, a tale of reconciliation of two people-groups, and an intimate look at the alien species in another world. The movie simply can’t do justice to this–the best it can do is a science fiction action movie with a little romance and redemption.
Final Recommendation? If you really want to see a movie, and you can’t wait until the Hunger Games, you could see worse than Disney’s John Carter. However, the book is better. Go ahead and give it a read! It’s free on Project Gutenberg.
Next Up: humanism in A Princess of Mars vs. humanism in Disney’s John Carter – and what’s this “JC” about anyway?
Taste of the Fantastical
Some movie critters–who’s cutest?