100 Years of Tarzan

Posted on October 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm

The Washington Post has a wonderful tribute to Tarzan in honor of the 100th anniversary of first Tarzan story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with a fascinating gallery of portrayals of this now-iconic character.  Burroughs had no special calling to be a writer.  According to Neely Tucker’s story in the Post, after a series of unsuccessful jobs,

Burroughs was suddenly in his mid-30s and pawning his wife’s jewelry for cash.

And then — there’s always a “and then” in these kinds of stories — he was reading a pulp magazine, checking to see whether his company’s ads were correctly placed. He thought the magazine’s stories were so lousy that even he could write better.

So he sat down and wrote a science-fiction piece, “Under the Moons of Mars,” and sold it to All-Story. (Today, you know this tale as “John Carter,” the Disney film from earlier this year.)

He sold it for $400, roughly the modern equivalent of $9,300. This got his attention.

“I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies,” he later told an interviewer. “I loathed poverty and I would have liked to put my hands on the party who said that poverty is an honorable estate.”

The character of Tarzan was an instant sensation, and Burroughs was a good enough businessman that he not only copyrighted his stories, but he trademarked the character.  Copyrights expire, but trademarks do not.  Burroughs wrote two dozen Tarzan books but the character is best known for its many popular movie and television versions, from Elmo Lincoln’s portrayal in the silent era to an animated Disney feature film with music by Phil Collins.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6BlkuifHi0

My favorite is still the classic with swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Burroughs’ version of Tarzan was highly educated (he had the books left behind by his late parents and was able to speak many languages).  But what makes the character so enduringly appealing over a century is the idea of him as completely isolated from civilization, raised in the jungle, and giving us a chance to consider the deepest questions about what makes us human at the same time as we have the pleasure of imaging ourselves, like Tarzan, Jane, Boy, and Cheetah, swinging through the trees.

 

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John Carter

Posted on March 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm

It takes a while to get going and is about half an hour too long, but “John Carter” has some spectacular visuals and well-staged action scenes.  Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the Tarzan novels, also wrote the John Carter: Adventures on Mars series, about a Confederate Army veteran transported to Mars, who becomes involved in battles between two humanoid warring factions (one of which has, natch, a beautiful princess who does not want to marry the leader of the opposing side as her father is urging).  There are also some warlike but intelligent tall, green, egg-laying creatures with an extra pair of arms, and some mysterious robed messenger types with access to super-weapons.

Handsome but bland Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter.  In an overlong prologue, we see him as an angry loner seeking a legendary gold stash and refusing to join the U.S. Cavalry (headed by “Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston).  He finally discovers the cave with the gold, which is a storage facility used by what we would call a Martian, and a fight ends with his being transported to Mars, or, as the inhabitants call it, Barsoom.  He is discovered by some of the four-armed green Martians, including their leader Tars (voice of Willem Dafoe), who is fascinated by Carter’s ability to leap huge distances and heights, thanks to the Barsoomian gravity.  He is something between a pet and a prisoner, but things improve when they give him a drink that makes it possible for them to understand each other’s languages.

In the meantime, the robed messengers have delivered their super-weapon to Sab Than (“The Wire’s” Dominic West), the leader of the Zodanga, enemies of Helium, which is led by Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds), father of Princes Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who are now in an increasingly precarious position.  It gets overly complicated for a while but then it picks up when John Carter gets involved with Dejah and has to fight some enormous monsters gladiator-style and there are some very cool flying ships.

The frame story adds unnecessary clutter to an already-muddled plot and Collins, an extraordinarily gifted and classically trained actress, is under-used in a decidedly un-classical role.  There has been some surprising speculation about Christian themes in the storyline, but I believe it is just the typical finding-the-hero-within-after-disillusionment, down to the big reveal about returning home to discover tragedy that we see in everything from “The Searchers” to “Star Wars: A New Hope.”     The most important reason it does not work well as a Christ story is that the main character is not very compelling and the narrative not very resonant.

(more…)

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Science-Fiction
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Pixar’s First Live Action Movie

Posted on June 14, 2009 at 8:59 am

After ten blockbuster movies that transformed the world of animation, Pixar has announced its first live action film, based on the outer-space series by “Tarzan” author Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Adventures of John Carter on Mars. It will star Taylor Kitsch of “Friday Night Lights” and Lynn Collins, a brilliantly talented actress I have admired since she played Portia in the Al Pacino “A Merchant of Venice.” John Carter is a Civil War Veteran who gets caught up in a war on Mars. The script is by Andrew Staunton, who also wrote “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story 2,” and “A Bug’s Life,” and Michael Chabon of “Wonder Boys” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and Staunton is also set to direct. Doesn’t that sound magnificent!

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