Barry C Chung
If the story of John Carter seems more than a little similar to most modern day sci-fi action-adventures, it's no accident. That's because Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of the main character in Disney's latest adventure movie, pioneered the genre a century ago.
'Because the subject matter was written so long ago, it became an origin of those kinds of stories for the past century,' says Andrew Stanton, director and co-writer of the film adaptation of John Carter.
'It was sort of a comic book before there were comic books; an adventure story before it became a whole genre of its own. It was difficult to go back into this book and not look like you were being derivative of everything else because it's been an inspiration for things for 100 years.'
With John Carter, Burroughs is widely considered to have brought us the world's first space hero. That was in 1912 when Carter first appeared in a magazine serial, A Princess of Mars, which was later published as a novel and extended to 10 more editions making up the Barsoom series. (Barsoom is the writer's name for the planet Mars.)
After thousands of years of war, Barsoom, once a thriving civilisation, is now a dying planet. Deprived of natural resources, it's a complete warzone. At the centre of the conflict are the Zodagans, led by Prince Sab Than (Dominic West) and the Heliumites, led by Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Also in the mix are the Tharks and the powerful Therns, each hoping to tip the balance of power and rule Barsoom once and for all.
Sab convinces the King of the Heliumites to allow him to wed Dejah in a political marriage, to unite the two sides and put an end to centuries of war. But Sab's intentions are guided by an evil force that's far more nefarious than anything they've dealt with before.
That's when American Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) mysteriously arrives on the planet, with newly acquired super powers due to the gravitational change from Earth. While he tries to return to Earth, with the aid of Dejah and Sola (Samantha Morton), John discovers his true calling - he is the only one capable of saving Barsoom.
'[John] comes across a world in the middle of a crisis where the scales are going to get tipped in a direction that's not good for the planet, and he realises he can play a key role in bringing the scales the other way,' says Stanton. 'The question is, will he or won't he?'
Numerous filmmakers have credited John Carter (the character) as inspiration for their works, which include James Cameron's Avatar and George Lucas' Star Wars, among others. Michael Crichton, the creator and executive producer of the hospital drama ER, was heavily influenced by the hero, naming a character in the show John Carter.
John Carter opens on Thursday