An online review posted about Disney’s 2012 John Carter of Earth movie runs thus: “John Carter evokes pretty much every sci-fi classic from the past 50 years without having any real personality of its own.”
The essential thing to keep in mind, however, is that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars was first published almost a century ago in 1917! Science fiction and fantasy novels and stories since then are deeply indebted to John Carter.
Others influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs and his John Carter books include James Cameron who mentioned the influence on his science-fiction epic Avatar in The New Yorker magazine and George Lucas, whose Star Wars movies were influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs and by Flash Gordon, which in turn was influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
But something you won’t read about in other online reviews is this:
John Carter is an atheistic movie.
A tagline for the movie could be, “There is no god, only superior technology.” Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars is basically like earth – lots of evenly matched civilizations destroying each other for centuries until one gets an advanced technology (gunpowder, etc) and annihilates the other side. But there is also an element of magic, mysticism and religion. The main God (Goddess, actually) on Mars is Isis, and her desires are arbitrated by a supremely advanced, but nevertheless biological, group of beings called the Holy Therns (in other words, the white men… in the novels, John Carter is, like the Therns, the rare white man surrounded by technologically lesser savages).
In both worlds (Earth and Mars) the savages are supremely religious and superstitious, but also dogmatic, closed to change and violent.
The plot revolves around the Thern interfering in Martian history by giving an advanced weapon to a brute leader who will dominate and rule the planet for the years to come. They have chosen him for this role.
This is important – they aren’t interested in ruling themselves; in fact they’ve gone to great lengths to make everybody believe that they don’t really exist. They work very hard at staying invisible, and yet guiding the historical developments. They do this so that they can forge alliances with the leaders they’ve elected, who will let them plunder the planet for valuable resources (exactly as, for example, America’s leaders treat Middle Eastern countries – by supplying weaponry behind the scenes to make sure the person in charge will sell them cheap oil).
The Therns have no interest in helping these races develop or mature; in fact if a smart, benign race were given technology, they would use science to control and understand it – eventually perhaps being able to stand up to the Therns and throwing off the colonialistic plundering. Hence they sabotage the princess’s very close attempt at replicating the technology.
JC, saviour of Mars, is a superman
John Carter (JC!) is the redeemer who has slipped beyond the Therns’ expectations by accidentally changing planets – the lower gravity gives him super-human strength. He is He-Man and Jesus rolled into one. He doesn’t give a crap about things like challenging Isis – he’ll kick her ass if he can reach her.
Keep in mind that this story was written at the end of the enlightenment period: the romantic ideals of technology pushing humanity towards ever increasing progress are starting to be questioned in the face of a growing World War One. Humans cannot handle the technology and are destroying themselves. Religion had already been severely undermined and brutalized by almost a century of anti-Christian, anti-historical Jesus researches, as well as a new form of cultural relativity that witnessed how an immense gap in technology could instigate beliefs in magic and divine power.
It was much more “Scientific” (indeed, it continues to be so to this day) to believe that Jesus was a lost Martian with entirely explainable powers, and that the Gods were a superior race of beings with technologies we can’t begin to image, than to accept the belief – in the face of absolutely no supporting evidence – that there is One God up there who controls everything and is acting in our best interests.
John Carter was the inspiration for just about any comic book super-hero you can think of!
The proof is in the pudding
But this distinction should be easily verifiable: If we look into the history of religion, do we find Gods who encourage technology and the growth of humanity, or do we find Gods who continuously destroy our technological achievements, obfuscate scientific knowledge, obstruct free inquiry, and incite inter-racial planetary violence? Isn’t Yahweh the one who destroyed the tower of Babel and divided mankind by language so that they wouldn’t challenge divine authority?
Isn’t every technological development wrested away from the Gods by force, or “stolen” from them against their will (by Coyote, Prometheus, Orpheus, or any other hybrid/mediator – many of whom are eternally punished for this act of rebellion?)
There are two motivating themes of John Carter: One is PURE REBELLION, all the time, against anyone who tries to force our hand; the other is ecological – we need to stop fucking ourselves over on stupid fights, and pay attention to those Wealthy Bastards who are siphoning out the earth’s last breath.