Monday, December 19, 2016

Dejah Does Barsoom or Was This Trip Really Necessary?

 
By Hank Parmer

The planet Mars has long been a source of fascination for me. When I was a young boy, it was one of the two other worlds in our solar system where scientists thought life more advanced than a bacterium or virus might exist. For some reason, the Jurassic swamps and planet-covering oceans of science-fictional Venus never appealed to my youthful imagination the way that Mars did, with its canals and ice caps and mysterious features that seemed to change with its seasons. It was a frequent setting for my daydreams of being a fearless space explorer.

I was a sucker for any story featuring the Red Planet. So it was inevitable that sooner or later I'd latch onto Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series. The first one I read -- okay, devoured was The Mastermind of Mars. The story had everything needed to enthrall my ten year old self: a mad scientist swapping subjects' brains for fun and profit, a ferocious four-armed giant white ape who's had half a human cerebrum plopped into his skull, flying battleships, radium pistols, desperate swordplay and fantastic adventures on an alien world. Over the next few years, it was a frabjous day indeed when I came across one of these novels in the shop where my eldest brother bought his pipe tobacco. He would take me along to get me out of my parents' hair, since the place also sold used paperbacks, making it a little slice of heaven to my geeky SF-craving self.

At that age, of course, it's easy to ignore the fact that the author kept recycling pretty much the same plot: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy fights his way across a planet of weird aliens and gruesome monsters to rescue girl. Though my tastes may have become a bit more refined since those days, I revisit the novels every few years, because despite their creaky pulp fiction tropes they're still colorful, wildly imaginative and just plain fun.

Burroughs romantic vision of the Red Planet -- or "Barsoom" as it's known to its inhabitants -- with its ancient, highly advanced science, strange peoples and bizarre fauna, its magnificent ruined cities and dead sea bottoms covered in ocher moss was a hit with the public when the first novel in the series (which was also Burroughs' first novel) was serialized as "Under the Moons of Mars" in Argosy magazine in 1912. Published in book form as A Princess of Mars, this was followed by eleven more adventures, the last of them written in the late 1940s. The series remains a major influence on science fiction, although some hairsplitting types prefer to call this genre "science fantasy".

Obviously, the sets and effects required to bring this world to life on the silver screen make it a daunting proposition. With Burroughs' enthusiastic support, Bob Clampett -- yes, *that* Bob Clampett -- tried unsuccessfully to sell MGM on the idea of a series of animated shorts back in 1936. It took Disney almost 25 years to finally get their 2012 version of that first novel off the ground.

Given the deep hurting I experienced reviewing those two crap-stravaganzas from the Larry Buchanan of our time, Mark Atkins -- Jack the Giant Killer and P-51 Dragon Fighter -- you can imagine it was a real WTF moment for me to discover that three years before the Disney flick this auteur du merde got a chance to apply his Reverse Midas touch to the same story. Straight to video, and without crediting Burroughs. Which shows considerable chutzpah, considering Atkins' screenplay utilizes major elements of the plot, characters, incidents and (until they changed it in later releases to John Carter of Mars) even gets its freaking title from the book. (They attempt to weasel out of this by crediting Edgar on the DVD cover.)

The really odd thing about this piece of crap is that it follows the original novel rather more closely than the Disney film did. Not that that lessens the pain, but it does mean that for once Atkins had a story which doesn't seem to have been written by trolls. Naturally his stab at adapting it into a screenplay will fail miserably, but I have to say it has a surprisingly coherent plot -- for a Mark Atkins joint.

As so often happens with an Atkins film, it appears to have been cobbled together hastily in order to leech off a much bigger-budgeted production: 2009's Avatar -- which was also clearly inspired by Burroughs' novel. I can almost admire Atkins' temerity in tackling this project: With the resources and talent he would bring to bear, it was the cinematic equivalent of setting out to raft the Colorado on a pool float, with a 2-liter bottle of Big K Cola and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for provisions. And ended just about as well.

So on with the show:

Princess of Mars (2009)
Directed by: Mark Atkins
Screenplay by: Mark Atkins
Director of Photography: Mark Atkins
Edited by: Mark Atkins

(We are so boned.)

John Carter -- beefcake model, soap opera stiff and Trump fanboy Antonio Sabato, Jr. -- is a Special Forces guy in Afghanistan. While on a mission to put a stop to some opium smugglers (the CIA hates freelancers) he's betrayed by his contact, Sarka the tea seller. Severely wounded, he wakes up in an Army field hospital. An officer tells him he's so messed up he's not likely to survive the night.

However, there is an experimental procedure they can try. According to him, all the data needed to reconstruct Carter's body atom-by-atom resides on this 16 gigabyte USB flash drive. Riiiight .... That's one hell of a data compression algorithm they've got there. It's fortunate they won't have to dedicate much file space for this actor's talent.
And the great thing is, the Army already has his consent, because he signed the papers when he enlisted. (Yet another reminder you should always read the fine print.)

They've already had a successful trial with another subject, the officer continues, so not to worry. It was actually quite prescient of Carter to have mentioned Mars the other day, he says. This is because the operation will send him to Mars.

(Since that scene didn't make it into the final cut, we're left to speculate about the context: I bet he was just jonesing for the milk chocolate, caramel and creamy nougat candy bar.)

Okay, so it's not the real Mars, but an amazing simulation called 'Mars 216', which just happens to be the fourth planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. (Quelle coincidence, no?) Their scans haven't penetrated to the planet's surface yet, but there's a strong possibility of life. So they're volunteering Carter to scout an alien world.

John salutes the officer with raised middle finger, and it's off to Mars 216 he goes!

Next we meet Traci Lords -- star of such films as New Wave Hookers, Open Up Traci and Lust in the Fast Lane -- as the haughty, virginal Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. (Contrary to what you might think, this character didn't come by her title because she whimsically decreed her subjects would have to inhale a lungful of the stuff before they can say anything.)

Traci certainly gives this juicy, atypical role her all. She will employ not just one, but two expressions during the course of this film: fatigued and sullen.

And hey, who cares that this actor isn't all that young? (Forty-one at the time, and she looks more like she's in her mid-40s.) And while not unattractive, Ms. Lords hardly qualifies as the raven-haired, copper-skinned ravishing beauty Burroughs described in his books.

The princess and her underling Sab Than (who keeps his identity hidden behind an oddly Mideastern turban-and-scarf arrangement) stand over our hero as he sprawls unconscious on the sand, beneath a piss-colored sky. The two indulge in a brief bit of exposition, in which we find out Carter mysteriously appeared on board their ship. Why they decided to hold this conversation out here on the desert is unexplained, but I'm sure it saved the production a ton of cash on props and effects.

Sab is certain Carter is an assassin. A naked, unarmed assassin. So he advises the princess to kill him at once. But she finds him strangely attractive, and leaves Carter to expire in the desert of thirst and exposure.

There's an additional bit of by-play here between Dejah and Sab Than, when he addresses her as "my princess". This, as any reader of the Burroughs' novels will tell you, is a major faux pas with the Martian ladies: Only their chosen mates are allowed to use this term of endearment. Traci's slightly annoyed by his impudence and puts him in his place. They walk back to their hovering airship, which judging by its exhaust is in urgent need of a ring job.

Carter wakes up, bare-assed and alone in a ST:TOS exterior location. (Vasquez Rocks, to be exact.) There are two moons in the sky. He stands up, takes a step, and trips; when he attempts to recover his balance he inadvertently leaps fifty yards.

While hopping about like a human flea, he discovers a big, untidy nest, containing a half dozen XXX-large eggs. It's cleverly concealed beneath an overhang in these reddish-tan rocks -- by ragged scraps of white canvas. After appropriating one of the scraps for a kilt, Carter is surprised by a band of Green Mars-216ians.

                                       "You mean this isn't a nude beach?"

In the original story, the Green Martians are 15-foot-tall olive-green badasses. Descended from a six-legged ancestor, they have an extra, smaller pair of arms mid-body. Their heads are startlingly grotesque, with bulging eyes set on the sides of their skulls -- which gives them a near 360-degree field of view -- and fearsome tusks protruding from their lower jaws.

Obviously, this is not the sort of thing any self-respecting filmmaker would try to pull off with a crummy Parthian infantry getup and a rubber mask. Especially when those prosthetics are so poorly constructed that the creatures' tusks wobble whenever they move their heads or have some lines, making it appear these ETs have no concept of flossing, or indeed, any form of dental hygiene. Frankly, they resemble a lost race of Artichoke People from some demented live action mash-up of Conan the Barbarian and Veggie Tales far more than they do Burroughs' savage alien warriors.

And this "nest" our hero has stumbled upon is actually supposed to be one of their incubators. You see, Martians are warm-blooded egg-layers. For reasons we needn't go into here, in Burroughs' novel the nomadic Green Martians aren't much for parenting. So they stash their eggs in communal incubators built in secret locations, thus leaving them plenty of time for a life of carefree pillaging. These incubators are low adobe structures with a transparent roof to warm the eggs by solar heat and protect them against the intense cold of a Martian night.

The point is, even if your budgeting for sets and effects is pretty parsimonious, a moderately resourceful director could still have mocked up a partial set of a Green Martian incubator or done a little trick photography with a miniature without burning through a huge wad of cash. But this is 'Mars 216', so we get a puny clutch of oversize eggs on a pile of sticks, hidden behind a soiled, shabby privacy curtain.

These knockoff editions of the Red Planet must be numbered in ascending order of cheesiness.

Captured by the Artichoke People -- who were raiding a rival horde's egg stash -- Carter is forced (I think) to wear a cheap leather dog collar, and led around on a chain like an organ grinder's monkey. Evidently this highly-trained Special Forces soldier can be thwarted by something as simple as a buckle. Seriously: It's clearly visible in numerous shots.

Carter demonstrates his remarkable prowess at the high jump to the bloated, tuskless Boss Artichoke, who arrives by palanquin. Then our hero's taken on a march through the desert. After he pantomimes that he's thirsty, Carter is offered a cup of cloudy liquid squeezed from a sopping wet, yellowed rag an Artichoke warrior produces from inside his plate-mail hauberk.

I would have hoped that's only back sweat -- that is, until I found out Tony was a Trumpie. The APs have a hearty laugh after he chugs it, smiles and tells them it's good.

"Go ahead: You've earned it!"

They chain Carter out in an open space, to fight a showily acrobatic Artichoke Person. Their gladiatorial romp is rudely interrupted before it can even begin when they're attacked by a giant CG ant-mimic spider (a "spiderling" according to the script) which hops into the ring and rams a spike through the AP's chest. After our hero rides the bucking spiderling and swiftly dispatches the hideous creature, its mates show up for some payback. While the rest of the Artichoke People beat feet, our hero grabs a rifle and bonds with his AP captor by helping him massacre the bugs.

His new friend invites him to stay at his run-down rancho. There Tony meets his first female of the Artichoke People. He makes eating motions; she goes into the next room and there's the sound of someone being loudly sick. She returns with a bowl of what looks like vanilla pudding, or maybe he's supposed to pluck one of those petals off her head and try out this delicious dip.

Carter sticks his finger in the goo and samples it, pronounces the stuff not bad. He even asks for another helping. This time, she brings in something wrapped in a cloth, which turns out to be a dachshund-sized grub that spews the stuff from its mandibles. (At least, I'm fairly certain that's its front end.) It wriggles around so energetically it's hard to see how they manage to get any of that yummy larva puke in the bowl.

 "But, you said you wanted some grub!"

Evidently AP cuisine was created with the express intent of grossing out foreigners.

This theory seems even more plausible when, later that night, she brings him a nice heaping bowl of millipedes for a snack. Carter flatly refuses to sample this treat, until he's forced to eat one at sword's point. His voice briefly acquires some reverb -- and suddenly he can understand what the Artichoke People are saying!

I've heard of assimilating a language, but I think I'd rather do it the old-fashioned way. Despite the convenience. What's weird about this is that if I recall correctly the exact same plot device is used three years later in the Disney film. I'm not sure whether someone gave Atkins a peek at a script treatment, or he arrived at this necessary shortcut independently. (In the book, Carter picks up the language gradually, as he lives for several months among the Green Martians.)

His friend introduces himself as Tars Tarkas; the female is his daughter, Sola. The next day, Tars gives Carter an orientation lecture on his rights and obligations as an adopted Artichoke Person. The most important thing is, when he kills another warrior in a duel he gets to keep his stuff. Which in the case of the AP he offed that first day means some debts to his bookie and a bundle of clothing that's badly in need of a scrubbing.

with these rich spoils, Carter pieces together a sort of ersatz Spartacus rig, which just happens to show off his mighty thighs -- er, thews to perfection. Just then, Dejah's airship floats into view. Since there's an age-old enmity between Dejah's folks and the Artichoke People, the nomads immediately open fire on it. Crippled and set aflame by their atomic-projectile-firing rifles, the airship limps away, with the APs in lukewarm pursuit on their thoats.

I should mention that as described by Burroughs, the thoat -- which is the Barsoomian equivalent of our horse -- has eight legs, a head that's almost split in two by its jaws, and a flattened tail which is wider at the tip than the root. Controllable only by telepathic command, the Green Martians' thoats are renowned for their size, speed and excessively vile tempers. But this would have required a much more expensive animated effect, so Atkins has our Mars-216ian Artichoke People riding giant gray-skinned ostrich-crocs whose best -- and only -- pace is a ponderous waddle. (I believe the animator might have been inspired by a Roger Dean painting -- break out the bong, dude!)

Warned by Tars Tukus to keep out of the fight, Hopalong Carter observes the action from a distance, as he leaps from rock to rock. He sees Traci abandon ship in a single-seater Mars-216ian flier. Which looks amazingly like a kayak, with a motorbike windshield and set of handlebars, and a plywood fin. A middle-aged couple prepare to follow her on a two-seater job, while Sab Than is evidently expected to go down with the ship. He disagrees. As soon as she departs, he guns the two down, steals their speedster and zooms off after the princess.

Carter jumps aboard the airship. He finds the man and woman aren't completely dead yet. The man begs Carter to take them off the ship so the Artichoke People can't desecrate their bodies.

The dying man identifies himself as Kantos Kan, Master Engineer of the Royal Pumping Station. (If you don't think that's an important job, just wait til the Royal Sewers start backing up.) He was on his way with the princess to relieve the current shift at the station when they ran into the Artichoke People. He makes Carter promise not to let the traitor Sab Than marry the princess. With his last breath, he repeats a slogan he wants Carter to memorize: "Day by day, night by night, we keep the air clean and bright!"

Carter bounds off in search of the princess. She must not be the best pilot, or someone forgot to check the tank because she didn't get very far before crashing her flier. Carter finds her, but she still suspects he's an assassin, and won't listen as he pleads with her to trust him. When his Artichoke People buddies arrive on the scene, he knocks her out. To save the princess from falling into the clutches of an AP he claims her as his captive.

Traci awakens, imprisoned in a cage of stoutest bamboo -- I believe Atkins threw it together from some tiki torch poles. It's so shoddily constructed that the spaces between the bars are plenty wide enough for her to wriggle through. It's lashed on top of a thoat. She watches from up there as John Carter smirks, while Tars praises him for having captured one of their greatest enemies. Tars promotes our hero on the spot to the rank of Jeddak in the Thark Horde. I don't think this is going to allay her suspicions ....

(A "jeddak" is a sort of sub-chief or captain, and the "horde" -- this being an Atkins film -- consists of at most eight or ten Artichoke People.)

When Carter once more attempts to explain himself, the princess won't listen, and disdainfully douses him with a cup of some liquid. Tars laughingly informs Carter that was her "pee bucket". You know, this film's penchant for having the hero do things like eat bugs and ingest larva vomit and get drenched with various bodily fluids wasn't in Burroughs' book, but in this actor's case, I can heartily applaud the embellishment.

While riding along, Carter asks Tars what will become of the princess. Tars thinks she should be kept as a hostage to be used as a bargaining chip with their bitter enemies, the Heliumites, but the Boss Artichoke -- Tal Hajus -- will undoubtedly want to have her tortured horribly and then put to death in the arena. It's his thing.

Carter inquires as to how one gets to be Boss Artichoke. It's pretty simple, replies Tars Tukus: You ascend through the ranks by killing the guy above you. Carter looks thoughtful.

Nighttime at the Thark encampment: Close by, from a hidden vantage up in the rocks Sab Than watches them through an old-fashioned brass spyglass.

Tony and Traci share some more dialog: When Carter declares himself puzzled about this feud between the Artichoke People and the Heliumites, we find out that Dejah's folks run the atmosphere plant which keeps Mars 216 habitable, so they feel justifiably hurt that the Artichoke People repay them by raiding their villages. Tony recites the nursery-school rhyme Kantos Kan taught him. The princess, who seems slightly perplexed or possibly headache-y, asks how he knows that, but Tars tells them they must be on the move again because spiderlings are in the area. Those bugs can really hold a grudge!

Shortly afterward, they're attacked by flying spiderlings -- scouts, according to Tars. Since the travelers foolishly neglected to pick up some industrial-size cans of Deep Woods Off before setting out on this trip, the situation looks pretty grim for Carter and company, especially when these oversize skeeters swarm the princess. Carter persuades Tars to let Dejah out of her cage; she jumps in the saddle behind our hero and puts her arms around him. Now that she appears to be thawing a bit towards Carter the bugs have served their purpose, so they can break off the attack. At least, that's the best explanation I can come up with for their abrupt departure. Who knew they were such romantic souls?

At their next encampment, Carter attempts to persuade Tars Tukus to look the other way and let them escape. He can tell Tal Halitosis they wandered off during the spiderling attack and got eaten or something. Tars seems to have some trouble grasping this concept of fibbing to cover for a friend, but when Dejah skewers a bug which was crawling up his back unnoticed, he relents to the extent of allowing her to stay out of her travel kennel if she promises not to scarper with Carter.

"Why would I want to go with him?" she sneers. But wise old Tars knows she secretly has the hots for the hunky earthling. Sab Than continues to spy on them from the rocks.

The next day, they catch a glimpse of the atmosphere plant in the distance.

 "It's only a model!"

The princess tries to convince Tars to make a quick side-trip to check the place out, since everybody's survival depends on it. Tars, however, in an eerie foreshadowing of the new administration, is convinced that whole "cleaning the atmosphere" thing is a Heliumite hoax: For starters, how could one man run the entire operation?

She explains that the place is mostly automated and the position is really a sort of glorified custodian and maintenance worker, plus they need someone around if it breaks down and they have to start the backup pump manually. (They probably call this guy the "Master Engineer" so he'll feel better about himself.) Carter, having apparently forgotten that Kantos Kan died from multiple gunshot wounds the last time he saw him, suggests they ought to at least stop by and make sure he arrived safely.

But Tars is adamant, so they have no choice but to continue their journey to the Boss Artichoke's citadel.

When they arrive, they're immediately conducted to Tal Halitosis' presence. Once a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed, the "Jed" of the Thark Horde now enjoys the good life -- swimmin' pools, movie stars -- and lolling back on his throne while a couple of human slave girls crouch at his feet in a feeble homage to a Frazetta painting. One of them is wearing a particularly cheap-looking lime-green bikini top and they've both been forced to use way too much mascara. (Supposedly, Tal had them blinded, possibly because the unfortunate ladies couldn't keep themselves from throwing up at the sight of him.)

Although he's pleased to see their captive, Boss Artichoke's cheesed off at Tars for making Carter a jeddak without the big guy's permission. Tars is demoted while Tal decides on his punishment, Carter's chained in a dungeon, and of course the creep has all sorts of sadistic plans for Dejah, including having her tongue cut out because she won't shut up about that atmosphere plant. Traci appears mildly irritated by this dire threat. She's locked away with Tal Halitosis' harem of blind slave girls, who hiss at this newcomer like a roomful of bad-tempered cats.

Down in the dungeon, Carter meets a fellow prisoner: Sab Than -- who reveals himself as none other than his Afghan nemesis, Sarka! So now we know who that first test subject was. As a reward for ratting out his opium-smuggler buddies, Sarka explains, he was offered a chance to participate in an innovative new witness protection program. Naturally, he jumped at it. And by dint of his hard work, superior management skills and winning personality, in record time -- like, what, a couple of days? -- wormed his way into the princess' confidence. Carter promises to kill him if he gets the chance.

Just then, a couple of guards appear and put a hood over Carter's head. He's marched to the arena -- okay, it's not so much an arena as Bronson Canyon. Through the magic of multiplication by video software, we finally see something that might qualify as a horde of Artichoke warriors lining the canyon rim. Although that's a pretty lousy spot from which to view the action. Such as it is.

The director gives us one of his signature circling P.O.V.s, then Carter is forced to fight his buddy Tars in a duel to the death. He nobly refuses to kill his friend, but Tars isn't so picky. After some poorly choreographed roughhousing, Carter ends the combat by slinging Tars against a cliff.

Cut to Dejah: In what must be the beginning of Tal's fiendish torture regime, she's about to be given a bikini wax by a blind technician. The princess is naturally somewhat dubious about this, especially as the technician seems to be having a hard time determining where she should pour the bubbling liquid. Fortunately, Sola arrives just in the nick of time, kills the guard and frees Dejah, leaving Tal Halitosis' sightless slaves to grope about and hiss in frustration.

Back in the arena, the guards bring out the next contestant: Sarka. Who simply escapes by leaping out of the arena. Fed up, Carter lobs a boulder at Tal Halitosis' palanquin so forcefully that the rock explodes like a howitzer shell and spills the Jed onto the ground. Tars informs the Boss Artichoke he's unfit to command and promptly slits his throat, thereby promoting himself to leader of the Thark Horde. The Tharks cheer.

Told by Sola that the princess and Sab Than took a flier and split for the atmosphere plant, Carter follows.

Arriving at the Royal Pumping Station, the first thing that's obvious to the viewer is that poor Kantos Kan got badly snookered: This place needs more than just a little maintenance. Because the best this film's location scout could come up with to simulate this ultimate product of the Heliumites' advanced science is an abandoned industrial site full of rusty, disused machinery.

On their way to the door, the princess asks Sarka/Sab Than if he knows what happened to John Carter. Sarka tells her a whopper about Carter dying heroically in the arena while helping him to escape. And Carter said his only regret was that he wouldn't live to service -- er, serve the princess.

But, I thought he hated me, says Traci. No, replies Sarka, he loved you -- as deeply as I do. Not caring for the way this conversation is trending, she puts off the infatuated earthling with a vague promise they'll talk about this later.

The current Master Engineer lets them in. Now in the 700th year of his shift -- his union really sucks at negotiation -- he's understandably a bit loopy. He absentmindedly leaves the security door of this vital installation unlocked, allowing Carter to sneak in after the two. Cut to Tars, Sola and a handful of Artichoke People, plodding to the rescue on their thoats.

Yeah, I gotcher spectacle for ya -- right here! I guess the rest of the horde was busy washing its hair that day.

The Master Engineer of the atmosphere plant shows Sarka and the princess the heart of this installation: a glowing, spinning CGI sphere attached to a gray-painted metal box by a rubber hose. According to the custodian, the process is powered by hydrogen fusion! They use a highly advanced Barsoomian scrubbing bubble technology to keep the air extra clean and bright.

Sarka turns to the others and asks excitedly, "Do you know what this is?"

Carter chooses that moment to reveal himself to the others: "Something you shouldn't be touching!"

Sarka ignores him. He repeats his declaration of love for the princess and demands an answer from her. It's no good, because Dejah tells him her heart belongs to John Carter.

Why, though, is a good question. After all, up to this point, he's done absolutely nothing heroic as regards the princess, except for his courageous stalking. Oh, right: It's those big pecs and six-pack abs.

Sarka rips the hose loose and tosses it into the whirling sphere, which blows up pretty good. The custodian and the princess make a hasty exit, while Carter yells, "You fool! They have a backup system!"

"Yes," grins Sarka, "and now I know where it is!"

That wipes that near-constant smirk off our hero's face.

Sarka bolts from the room, catches up with the custodian and kills him. Carter appears, and the scene is set for the movie's climactic sword fight. This clash of titans is everything you'd expect -- why, I'll bet the actors were given all of fifteen minutes to run through their moves before they started filming! Atkins switches rapidly between medium and close-up shots in a spectacularly unsuccessful effort to disguise the fact that the antagonists (particularly our muscle-bound hero) slowly, hesitantly hack at each other using identically inept slash-and-parries. I've seen more convincing fights staged by a couple of kids with yardsticks.

This sequence is particularly rich, given that any fan of the books will tell you John Carter is reputed to be the deadliest swordsman on a planet simply swarming with gents who have more than a passing familiarity with the weapon.

Sarka breaks away from the fight; Carter hops after him. While stalking each other through a maze of pipes down in a dingy basement, Carter tells Sarka he's kind of surprised the guy handles rejection so badly, what with this planetary murder-suicide stunt. Sarka reveals he's really planning to use the threat of shutting down the atmosphere plant to blackmail the Barsoomians into appointing him Supreme Leader.

Carter responds with this immortal line: "You were a shitty opium seller, a shitty tea seller, and now you're a shitty destroyer of worlds!"

Atkins must have worked like a demon for literally hours, honing this dialog.

They bounce around some more, fight their way across a catwalk, then Carter tricks his opponent into leaping into the air at the exact moment one of those winged spiderling scouts is passing through. Sarka's carried off by the giant bug, which does something horrible to him off-screen.

It's sad, really: If only the film had gone where it should have, with a wholly different type of sword play between Tony and Traci, it might have gotten within loudhailer distance of something vaguely resembling entertainment. As a porn flick, the omni-cheesiness, bad writing and worse acting would have actually worked in its favor.

Anyway, with the scrubbing bubble out of action, the atmosphere is fast becoming dull and spotty. Outside, Tars, Sola and a few of their horde-mates heave and pry at the massive ground-level gate, but their efforts are futile. One by one they gasp for breath and collapse.

Back to Carter and the princess: As they share a tender moment, he recites that stupid ditty again about making the air clean and bright, which reminds the princess about the backup unit. (She just knew there was something she'd forgotten!) Traci leads our hero to the backup control room -- at one point passing through what's clearly a rusty inspection hatch for some kind of chemical tank or vat.

Although the backup CGI is a trifle cranky about starting, after sitting idle for so long, she eventually gets it running smoothly by messing about with a theremin, or what might be a Barsoomian version of the memory game Simon, while Carter bravely watches.

Which makes me wonder what all that business with the lame couplet was about in the first place. Up to this point, it seemed like they were setting it up as a secret passphrase for entering the plant or starting the backup system or something. Especially since that would sort of resemble a plot device from the novel. Yet the princess activates the backup merely by waving her hands over a cheesy prop. Whatever.

But in the very moment of his triumph, Carter suddenly comes over all woozy, and whammo! he finds himself whisked back to his hospital bed on Earth.

Carter narrates a voice-over: He never told his superiors a thing, so they decided the experiment was a failure. After he recovered, the Army put him back on active duty in Afghanistan. (Yippee!) His silence will prevent Mars -- doesn't he mean "Mars 216"? -- from being overrun by tourists and losing all its unspoiled, primitive charm. One fighting man from Earth is enough for Barsoom, he declares.

More than enough, if you ask me.

2 comments:

Mentis Fugit said...

"Mars 216" eh? 216 = 6 x 6 x 6. Three sixes. Six six six...

...Half Life 3 confirmed!!!! Damn, wrong meme.

As for language assimilation, I'd rather stick a fish in my ear, thankyouverymuch.

Anonymous said...

ANNTI sez...

Same here. Slimy little fuckers, though... And the PAPERWORK!!!