People have been trying to make a film version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series for a long time. (The first in the eleven book series, Princess of Mars, was released in 1912.) It’s a shame that it took so long to bring the stories to the big screen because they’ve influenced almost everyone in the science fiction/fantasy genre. George Lucas has made a comment that without Burroughs, he doubts there would be Star Wars. James Cameron’s Avatar has a lot of similar elements as well.

What makes these stories especially unique is that they combine both science fiction (space travel, airships, and guns) with fantasy (swords, ancient races, and detailed worldbuilding).

I’ve known about these books for some time, but didn’t move them up on my TBR pile until recently, when I read the first three in preparation for the film. Leah and I saw John Carter last night and I wanted to give a few thoughts on what the movie did right and what it did wrong. I’ll also mention a few changes they made for the movie (both good and bad). I’ll try to refrain from spoilers, but if anything slips through, it will be minor.


  • They got the worldbuilding/description right which was one of Burroughs strengths.
  • The explanation for how John Carter gets to Mars is MUCH better than the books.
  • The casting of the main characters fit, thought I felt a few of the minor characters didn’t really work.
  • They made Carter a more sympathetic protagonist which I liked. In the books, he is pretty full of himself and at times this can be a bit annoying.
  • The changes to Dejah Thoris were great. In the books she is a much stronger female character than was typical for the time the story was written in. However, they added even more depth to her for the movie.
  • Tars Tarkis was great.
  • Kantos Kan stole a couple of scenes.


  • My biggest complaint that hurt this movie was that they tried to do too much and probably made it more confusing than it needed to be. Rather than stick mostly to elements of the first book, they tried to bring in pieces of the second book (i.e. The Therns)
    • By bringing in too many elements, they rushed some of the best parts of the first book which included Carter’s gradual acclimation to living with the Tharks, Sola’s subplot, etc.
      • Rushing the scenes with the Tharks didn’t properly portray them as being an EXTREMELY savage culture. Though there were glimpses of this in the movie, it was overpowered by what turned out to be almost comic relief.
    • The extra elements also belittled the hate/threat Helium felt for Zodanga.
  • The Therns were completely changed from what they are in the books. Only their name and part of their appearance stayed the same. I understand why this was done, but the execution fell flat.
  • I know it was a Disney movie, but it was too “Disney” for me when you consider the source material. The addition of more clothing was a smart move (in the books, most of the people are described as completely naked and only wearing ornaments or barely wearing anything at all). However, the battles scenes where people are dying in droves with little blood, gore, and suffering rang hollow and lessened its significance.

Overall, I’d give the movie a 7/10. It wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be, but I promise you it is far better than the awful trailers make it seem.

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