Love In The Age Of Helium

3D effects only triple the trauma of this disastrous tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sci-fi classics.

There is a theory that the Science Fiction of any age represents not the future as such, but just our view of the world as we think it ought to be; with a few bells and whistles thrown in. After all, the present is all the raw material we have to make our extrapolations.

1950s futurism was all about gleaming metallic cities powered by the atom. Then came Star Wars at the height of the late 70s Cold War, with Darth Vader presiding over Reagan’s Evil Empire; while today’s Avatar spawned touchy feely eco-flicks, reinventing the tree-hugging noble savage versus the big climate changing corporation, and once again the vision that only the white man can come in and save the oppressed and downtrodden.

What then can be said about John Carter, the latest film in this genre? It’s based on a fantasy-romance serial by Edgar Rice Burroughs called A Princess of Mars, which he wrote in 1912, and has been adapted and directed by Andrew Stanton of Pixar-Disney fame, who’s also worked on Wall-EToy Story, Monsters Inc and Up.

When Edgar Rice Burroughs created the eponymous hero John Carter, a civil war veteran who prospects for gold, he had no idea that he would be reinvented (perhaps exhumed is a better word) by Hollywood in the second decade of the 21st century. Obviously with nearly a century of stuff happening on our planet, the sci-fi aspect of the movie is going to look – to put it mildly – a bit silly. Or as a sci-fi snob would put it – B grade.

Take the names of the planets for instance, Barsoom for Mars, Jarsoom for Earth, Tarsoom and so on for the others. Seriously? They could’ve changed the names at least. Mr Burroughs was probably a couple of drinks down when he was writing this stuff. And the capital of Barsoom is an impossibly futuristic sounding, newly discovered element called Helium. Oooooooooooooo!

Poor Burroughs, maybe I’m being too harsh on him, judging his work nearly a century on.  He was way ahead of his time, in even imagining people on Mars. The astronomer, Percival Lowell had just mapped the network of Mars’ canals (the word implying artifice whereas it was actually a transliteration of Galileo’s canali or channels caused by the extreme winds on Mars surface). Lowell’s canals as signs of civilization as interpreted by Burroughs, complete with beautiful princesses (entirely human looking of course in all aspects, so that they’re easy on the eye), and dashing Conan-esque warriors captured the imagination of the Twenties and Thirties comic-reading public.

And so you have John Carter in the here and now, off to rescue – and ultimately romance – a princess in distress on Mars. And in doing so, also save the planet from imminent ecological collapse, by harnessing the power of the Ninth Ray-of-whatever for purposes of good, all the while being aided by the cute semi-human Tharks who live close to nature and carry ‘blunderbusses’. Are the Tharks supposed to stand in for the Native Americans, and the Zodangans and the Heliumites for the civil war belligerents? Who knows? I don’t blame you if you’ve lost the plot by now. I definitely had.

Anyway, we’ve been there done that and bought the T-shirt and even the wristband. The movie just moved from one politically correct cliché to the next, like a piece of well-tailored kitsch.

Considering the hero is played by an actor named Taylor Kitsch, I guess that’s par for the course. Sorry, couldn’t resist that! But to be honest, there really was nothing of substance to the movie. The story is dated. The special effects are not very special. And the fact that it’s 3D doesn’t help. And although the theme lends itself well to the sentiment of the moment of the white man/ foreigner coming in to save the oppressed and helpless, one can’t take a crap movie from a book written a century earlier, not change a thing to suit the times, and expect 3D to redeem it. All you get is crap in three dimensions. In fact it probably makes the experience immeasurably worse. Thrice as bad.


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