Movie Commentary by Walker Martin:


   John Carter, the movie has not yet been reviewed on Mystery*File and this is a movie that demands to be mentioned here. I call it the Pulp Movie of the Century because it actually is. It has been 100 years since the novel appeared in the pulp, All-Story, as a six-part serial in 1912. The movie has been slammed by the critics and is not doing well at the box office, but it has been receiving very favorable comments on some discussion groups I belong to that are focused on pulpish subjects.

   Frankly, I don’t think some of the critics know what they are talking about. Despite some changes, this is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels about Mars. His first published work was Under the Moons of Mars in All-Story and was the big first success in his Mars series.


   Without this serial in 1912, All-Story and Science Fiction as we know it might have had a different history. Burroughs was the driving force behind the decision by the All-Story editors to encourage their writers to write what has been called the Scientific Romance.

   When Sam Moskowitz decided to do a collection of SF stories from the Munsey pulps, he called it Under the Moons of Mars. (This by way, is a far better title than John Carter.) In addition to the stories, Moskowitz also included an excellent long history of SF in the pulp magazines up to 1920.


   What do I mean about the critics not knowing what they are talking about? They are treating this film like the plot is a copy of some tired previous SF movie. Gentlemen, this is the serial, the book, the plot, that started the whole craze for SF adventure in the pulps. Sure, there was H.G. Wells before Burroughs, but Wells is on a higher literary level for sure. Though he appeared in the pulps, it was mainly through reprints.

   The critics do not realize the impact in 1912 that Under the Moons of Mars had on the typical reader of popular magazines. It was like a bolt out of the sky shocking the reader who was hungry for imaginative literature.

   Things would never be the same after this serial in 1912. All-Story went on to publish scores of SF adventures and in 1926 the first SF pulp appeared. For many years after, readers in the letter columns requested reprints from the great old Munsey pulps. Then in 1939, a magazine was created that did indeed reprint the Munsey science fiction stories from All-Story, Argosy, and Cavalier. It was called Famous Fantastic Mysteries and is today considered one of the best looking and prettiest pulps ever published.


   So, to the jaded critics of today, sure John Carter has some faults, but in 1912 this story was a stunning achievement. Even decades later, readers would be amazed by the Mars books.

   I know I was at the age of nine years old. In the early 1950’s, I remember my father giving me a stack of the Mars and Tarzan novels and saying how great they were. A year later, I had read and reread them all, and used to think of which books I would try to save if the house ever caught on fire. My answer was always the same: the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   Now, I’m not saying this movie is great, after all it has been 60 years since Burroughs grabbed hold of me. But it is good and not as bad as the critics are saying.


   As I was coming out of the theater, there were two young boys ahead of me, both of them jumping up and down with excitement. To me they looked to be around nine or ten years old, the same young age that I once was back when I first discovered John Carter and his adventures. One said to the other “Wasn’t John Carter great!,” and his friend replied that the movie was cool. They then started talking about seeing it again.

   There may have been only 15 or 20 people in the theater when I went for the noon showing but seeing these two kids made me realize once again Burroughs still had that power to excite, just like he must have excited readers in 1912. I have a feeling that John Carter may be a failure on this initial release, but like Blade Runner, it will be considered a success many years later.