John Carter is a live-action film released on March 9, 2012. It was released by Walt Disney Pictures and is based upon A Princess of Mars, the first novel in the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is directed by Andrew Stanton, best known for directing Finding Nemo and WALL•E.In 19th century America, a Civil War veteran and wealthy traveler named John Carter has suddenly died. His nephew is instructed to read his private journal...Years ago, Carter comes across a cave of gold with strange inscriptions. Inside, he finds a medallion that transports him to the planet Barsoom, known to Earthlings (or rather, Jahsoomians) as Mars. The lower gravity gives him enhanced strength and the ability to jump great distances. He encounters human-like copper-toned Martians called Red Men, and four-armed, green-skinned Martians called Tharks. Though he just wants to go home, his otherworldly abilities get the attention of a Thark chief, Tars Tarkas, and of a Red Man princess, Dejah Thoris.Carter becomes involved in a war between factions of the Red Men, encouraged by a third group of aliens, the pale Therns. He discovers that the Therns have Earth in their sights as well...
The film includes the following tropes:
Accidental Misnaming: The Tharks never stop calling John "Virginia", after he introduces himself as Captain John Carter of Virginia.
Adaptation Distillation: The film weaves in threads from the second and third Burroughs Barsoom books, mainly with the Therns and the River Issus. It also provides an explanation for John's agelessness.
Adaptation Expansion: How Carter gets to Mars. In the books he projects himself there after inhaling some kind of witch's brew and it's never really explained until the end; in the movie, it's an effect of a piece of Thern technology he found on Earth (which is likely also the explanation for his agelessness).
The book explains that all Barsoomians are mildly telepathic, with some individuals having more dramatic abilitiesnote such as Thuvia's ability to influence banths and the ability of the Lotharians (cousins of the Therns) to generate illusionary warriors. This is why Carter is able to learn the Barsoomian language quite easily. The movie has Sola teach him the language telepathically, but the only explanation she gives is that she's using the "voice of Barsoom", and Barsoomian telepathy is otherwise not mentioned.
Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Powell was John's best friend from his days in the Confederate Army, and he and John journeyed to Arizona together to prospect for gold. In the movie, he's a sort of a jerkass Union Army colonel who arrests John and tries to force him to help the Army fight the Apache despite his objections, though he does get better.
Sab Than was originally described as "the flower of Zodangan chivalry" (though he didn't get much characterization beyond that and his desire to marry Dejah Thoris). Here, Sab Than is an unambiguous villain.
Adventurer Archaeologist: John takes on aspects of this after he is sent back to Earth by the Therns and searches the world for a way to return by funding archeological digs, in the hopes that one will contain an artifact that can send him back. His nephew thinks he's a bit of an oddball for this.
Aerith and Bob: The two rival Red Martian city-states are named Zodanga and Helium.
An Aesop: Spelled out in the ending scene: "Do something with your life."
The Ageless: The Therns do not die from old age, but can be killed. Also, it seems that John Carter stops aging (or at least slows in aging) after his visit to Barsoom.
Alien Blood: All Barsoomian life appears to have bright blue blood. The filmmakers actually get away with some astonishingly gory scenes due to this.
Alien Sky: The two moons of Barsoom. (While Mars does have two moons, Phobos and Deimos, their depiction in the film is not very accurate in respect to appearance or behavior.)
Aliens of London: Red and White Martians speak with an English accent, which must stand for a more sophisticated dialect of the Barsoomian tongue.
Aliens Speaking English: Averted. John can't understand Barsoomians till he's given some kind of elixir that acts as a universal translator.
All Animals Are Dogs: Woola, the Tharks' guard-dog-lizard-thing. John refers to him as a dog when he finds it following him about. Woola has very doglike body language (aside from running impossibly fast speeds in a blur), and at one point makes a noise that is unmistakably a bark. It's even an Evil-Detecting Dog — but John Failed a Spot Check.
Watch closely when John, Sola and Woola are riding the flying machine: just before they crash, Woola can be seen leaning into the wind with its tongue hanging out, exactly like a dog with its head out a car's window.
Alternate Self: John Carter learns he is actually a duplicate, and his Earth body was left in some sort of suspended animation while his consciousness is on Mars in a carbon copy. He compares the process to the telegraph (copies of messages, etc). Becomes important in the end, as he will die on Mars if his Earth body is killed. See Batman Gambit below.
Ancient Astronauts: The Therns are heavily implied to have visited Earth before and influenced our world's history. In the credits, the Barsoomian symbol is seen on Egyptian bas-reliefs and other historical artifacts.
Anti-Climax: The fight between John and Tal Hajus; the fight is just as short in the source material, though there it's Tars Tarkas who kills him.
Arc Welding: The Therns don't show up until the second book, though the religion of Issus is introduced from the beginning. Here, they're tied to both the Helium vs. Zodanga conflict and how Carter gets to Mars in the first place.
Arranged Marriage: Dejah's father wants to give her hand to Sab Than in order to win peace and prevent his city from being conquered. As she is a Rebellious Princess, you can imagine how well this pans out.
Bare Your Midriff: John for most of the movie, and Dejah, all while wearing a suit of armour. All Martian armor seems to do this, regardless of gender. (Unless you're a middle-aged and out-of-shape Martian, in which case interwoven bandages protect your dignity while acting as a truss.)
Base on Wheels: Zodanga is a city that moves around on mechanical (?) legs.
Sab Than, on the advice of Matai Shang, uses one to persuade Dejah to go through with the wedding: he puts his life in her hands, knowing that she's too honorable to kill him in cold blood and that she'll sacrifice her own freedom to end the war.
At the end, we find out that most of the framing story has been one big one by John to get back to Barsoom by luring a Thern to his house and taking his medallion. He pretended to already have found a medallion, faked his death and hid the instructions on how to open his mausoleum (where the Therns thought they would find his body in order to kill him) in his letter to Edgar. He knew that the Therns would be watching Edgar to find out how to get into the mausoleum, so he hid back and ambushed one of them when they were focused on stalking Edgar.
Belligerent Sexual Tension: John and Dejah. When Dejah looks closely at John to work out an explanation for his jumping abilities and strength, Sola lampshades it: "There will be time for playfulness later!"
Breakout Villain: Matai Shang isn't mentioned until the second book, and hangs around the edges of the story before being introduced in person in the third. Here, he's being set up as Big Bad from the beginning.
Bystander Syndrome: John Carter, for the first half of the movie, cares very little for the fact that Mars is going to hell. Or, at least, he claims to — he's more than willing to intervene if a lady gets hurt (both Sola and Dejah).
Gigantic predators with six gorilla-like limbs, hippopotamus-tusks and white fur — called simply White Apes.
Woola is referred to as a "dog" sometimes.
Casting Gag: Tardos Mors and Kantos Kan, the stoic ruler of a Greco-Romanesque city-state and his snarky right-hand man, are played by Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy, respectively. It's probably not an accident that Hinds and Purefoy were previously best known for playing Julius Caesar and Marc Antony on HBO's Rome.
The Cavalry: John Carter is saved from an army of Warhoons by the arrival of Tardos Mors' airship.
Challenging the Chief: Whoever gets to be Jeddak of the Tharks has to have defeated (not necessarily killed) the previous one in a duel, though onlookers have to support the challenger. Tars Tarkas loses his position to Tal Hajus who in turn loses to John.
"I claim the right of challenge! ...Who will pledge their metal to mine?"
Classical Antihero: John Carter starts out as a decidedly unheroic character because he simply doesn't give a damn about much of anything. He does finally pick a cause, however.
Common Tongue: The various races of Barsoom appear to speak a common Barsoomian language. The term Jeddak (king/chief) is used by both the Red and Green Martians. However, individual languages are also present, as shown by assorted prayers and terms unique to the Green Martians (which the film doesn't render in English).
Composite Character: Several minor characters from the book were merged into more major ones — Than Kosis (Jeddak of Zodanga) was merged with his son Sab Than; Lorquas Ptomel (the original Jed of the Tharks) was merged with his lieutenant Tars Tarkas; Mors Kajak was merged with his father Tardos Mors, making Tardos Dejah's father, rather than grandfather.
Cool Pet: Woola, a bear-sized, ten-legged, super-speedy pug-dog... reptile... thing, who will literally follow you anywhere, occasionally bite people, and predict your every movement.
Death of a Thousand Cuts: The Tharks shooting at the Zodanga airship early in the film. While it seems each individual shot doesn't do much, they fire a lot of shots at the ship until it finally goes down.
Dope Slap: Tars Tarkas gives John when they arrive at Zodanga only to learn they're at the wrong city.
Drives Like Crazy: John takes a little while to get the hang of driving a flyer, although since he's from the 19th century, he would have less understanding of flying machines than the average person of today (even a layman). He gets better at it. The Tharks don't.
Dual Wielding: Multiarmed Tharks wield up to four weapons at once. John often fights with two swords.
The Dulcinea Effect: Though he witnesses an entire aerial battle between Zodanga and Helium, he doesn't jump in until Dejah (whom he has not yet met) is in danger. No more than five minutes later, Tars Tarkas gets John to join him by threatening her. It's lampshaded by Dejah.
Exact Words: Tars Tarkas dubs John Carter Dotar Sojat, "my right arms". Later, when John unexpectedly challenges Tal Hajus for the Thark leadership, the latter protests that he's not even a Thark. Tars Tarkas says he is "my right arms".
Faustian Rebellion: Briefly teased and then defied. The first thing that Sab Than does when he gets the power of the Ninth Ray is try and use it on the Therns. They effortlessly deflect it and knock him on his ass, with the collective expression of, "Do you think we're stupid?"
Faux Death: When John is banished back to Earth, he takes puffer fish toxin that puts him into a death-like sleep to throw the Therns off his trail.
Flash Step: Woola can run so fast that John seems to mistake it for teleportation in his first encounter with the creature.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: John and Colonel Powell can't exactly be called friends but they did save each others' lives and it was via rescuing Powell that John ended up on Mars in the first place. If John ever remembers he left a badly wounded man behind he never shows it — until he returns to Earth and finds Powell's decomposing remains still stuck in the cave.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Zodanga and Helium has, respectively, red and blue as the colour of their banners and cloaks. In traditional military usage, red denotes enemies, and blue represents allies. Nevertheless, see Light Is Not Good below. Though considering the blue blood of the Barsoomians one might expect them to use the reverse colors.
Gold Fever: Early in the film, a disillusioned John's only real concern is finding a cave of gold somewhere in Arizona. In a cruel twist towards the end, he gets what he initially wanted in his return to Earth. It's subverted however in that by the time Edgar was contacted, it's clear that John used the gold wisely, mainly to fund archeological digs in the hopes of finding a way back to Mars/Barsoom. with enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
Gory Discretion Shot: Thark Sarkoja is ripped in half by a White Ape, which we only see via the shadow on the wall.
Green Aesop: Attributes Barsoom's "dying" state to industrialization, even making Zodanga into a mobile "predator city" strip mining the planet as it goes. And it discards entirely (or at least forgets to mention) the atmosphere generator that in the novels was the only thing keeping Barsoom barely inhabitable.
Gunship Rescue: The Helium airship that rescues John and co from the Thark horde working for the Therns. The friendly Tharks do this in the last battle.
Half the Man He Used to Be: A Thark who was bullying Sola the entire film and tried to throw her to her death gets torn in half by a White Ape.
Heavy Worlder: John, with Earth as the heavy world. Dejah and one of the Therns note that his bone structure and musculature from living on Earth makes him almost superhuman on Mars.
Historical-Domain Character: Edgar Rice Burroughs is the young nephew of John Carter in this story, who obviously uses the tale of Mars in his uncle's journal for inspiration to write the Barsoom series. This was a feature in the original novels as well.
Lightning Bruiser: Thanks to the Heavyworlder effect, John can leap incredible heights AND pack a hefty punch. Then there's Woola, who has Super Speed and enough weight to hold John in place (no easy feat given his abilities on Mars). Combine those two and you have a missile made of meat and teeth.
Mighty Whitey: Technically an adaptation of the first such story to use the "human among aliens" version (although in this case, his Heavy Worlder status makes the "mighty" part a bit more literal than most uses of the trope). Subverted with the actual White Martians, the Therns, who are evil.
Motive Rant: Matai Shang gives an odd sort of one to John, but it's more about their narcissistic, racial supremacist attitude that drives them to strip Mars out of their resources, not the motive itself.
Nanomachines: What the Therns' technology is implied to be based on.
Non-Mammal Mammaries: Averted with the Tharks, where only a mild dimorphisism differentiates the two sexes. Played kinda straight with the Reds in that they, at least in the source novels, lay eggs too, but have normal human breasts.
No OSHA Compliance: Zodanga has a distinct lack of guard rails, even on the open-air elevators and walkways above the industrial machinery.
No Time to Explain: Tars Tarkis is rather puzzled as to why he just saw two John Carters, one of which vanished into thin air. The real John says he'll explain later.
Not Quite The Right Thing: John Carter bravely saves the wounded Colonel Powell from probable death at the hands of the Apache and thereby (unintentionally) condemns him to die a lonely death from exposure and blood loss in a cave.
Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie retains the spirit of the books, but considerably reduces what is now "incorrect" to mention from a hundred-year old story (example from A Princess Of Mars about John: "We all loved him, and our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod"). It's an adaption of the first book, A Princess of Mars, but also fleshes things out a bit by borrowing characters and situations from The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars.
There's also the matter of the Tharks. In the books, they were all 14 feet tall. Since a whole movie of John craning his neck up to speak with Tars or Sola would be kind of bad, the Tharks are shrunk to about half their book-size.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Dejah is a princess, but she's also heavily involved in scientific research on Helium, being the main person in charge of the 9th Ray discovery at the Academy.
Schizo Tech: Lots and lots. For example, Red Martians can build Those Magnificent Flying Machines and walking cities, yet fight with swords and rather primitive firearms and use beasts of burden instead of automobiles for land-based travel.
Sequel Hook: The film ends on John Carter's return to Barsoom, where he will likely have to deal with the consequences of his long absence and the Therns' intrigues, particularly since the Therns, their rivals the First Born, and the cult of Issus are the primary focus of the second book, The Gods of Mars.
Serkis Folk: The Tharks, who end up looking pretty seamless in most live action scenes. Considering how faithful they are to Burroughs' original descriptions and previous artist depictions, it was no easy task.
Shout-Out: The very first time we see Dejah Thoris, she's looking directly at the camera in closeup and talking about the nature of Barsoom. This may be a deliberate reference to Princess Irulan's narration at the beginning of David Lynch's Dune — and also a parody, since Dejah Thoris turns out to be rehearsing a speech. Possibly mixed with a Self-DeprecationIn-Joke on the part of the movie makers, as the original opening for the movie was Dejah Thoris giving a long, drawn out lecture about what was essentially the entire history of Barsoom. It was painfully boring, and apparently when that was realized they decided to poke fun at their own pretentiousness a bit.
Side Bet: Between the Tharks while they're watching a fight between Zodanga and Helium airships. When John Carter leaps to rescue Dejah, Tars Tarkus adds his own wager and declares he's betting on Virginia.
Time Skip: By the time John Carter gets banished back to Earth, Colonel Powell is little more than a decaying skeleton, while John himself is covered in a thick layer of sand and dust, implying that he'd be away for at least months.
Also, upon learning that Dejah is a princess, John sarcastically refers to her as "a princess of Mars", the title of the first book.
Tragic Keepsake: John wears two wedding rings. You might well guess what happened to his wife.
Trailers Always Spoil: They show the outcome of the battle between John Carter and the White Apes, which happens near the end of the movie. Except the trailer makes it look like a Curb-Stomp Battle, but in the film, it's more difficult than that.
Translator Microbes: John doesn't understand one bit of the Martian language until he's force-fed liquor that allows him to listen to the "Voice of Barsoom" (i.e.: Martian language).
Ungrateful Bastard: John at first before he takes a level in kindness, since he repeatedly betrays the Tharks despite Tars saving his life several times. Tars finally has enough and calls him out on it when his actions cause Sola to be sentenced to death, since she's held responsible for his actions.
Unstoppable Rage: Channeling his unresolved grief and anger from the death of his wife and child while he was away, years ago, John Carter takes on an army of feral Green Martians alone, immersing himself in slaughter in a blood-soaked catharsis. In a Disney movie!
Why Waste a Wedding?: So the wedding between Sab Than and Dejah didn't go as planned and erupted in epic bloodshed? Why, we can marry her off to John Carter that very night, amid the wreckage of the city!
The Wild West: The action takes place there before John Carter gets transported to Mars.
Win the Crowd: In-universe. John makes the Tharks root for him by demonstrating his prowess in the arena.
You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious: An interesting variant. Edgar Rice Burroughs realizes that something's up when his Uncle Jack addresses him as "Ned" in his letter instead of "Edgar". At the end, he finds out that pressing the letters N, E, and D on the "Inter Mundos" inscription unlocks John's burial chamber.
John Carter gets fooled by Matai Shang and sent back to Earth the very night he defeats the enemy army, marries Dejah, and becomes Prince of Barsoom.
Also, more literally, when Carter leads the Thark horde into Zodanga to stop the wedding, only to arrive there and find that it's being held in Helium.
You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Sab Than pulls this on Dejah by offering her to either marry him or kill him. They both know that Zodanga would probably raze Helium to the ground in retaliation if she actually killed him, leaving Dejah no choice but to accept.