The Originals

Mystery writers and writers of all types, spend a lot of time at the keyboard pounding out their stories.  We hope we’ve crafted something interesting, engaging and original.  That this is the time for lightening to strike and the book that really takes off, that gets made into that perfect gem of a B hardboiled indie movie or like Elmore Leonard and Justified, a rugged, gritty series on basic cable will be based on your short story.  One idea begats another…the original and the other stories inspired by it.

For example my fellow TPAC blogger J.D. Rhodes mentioned in his last post the Princess of Mars, the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the basis for the recent film John Carter.  Now here’s a film that I went to see, having read that book and a couple of the sequels many years ago in paperback with those great Frank Frazetta covers – an example of which Dusty used in his piece.  I liked the film, produced by Disney, for what it was — a big budget effort that harkened back to the days of Saturday morning serials.  It had cool action scenes and special effects, stalwart heroes and dastardly villains, and the filmmakers made Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Mars, she of the rockin’ bod, a scientist and a deadly swordswoman, and not just clinging eye candy.  But this $250 million wonder is a flop.

In one weekend the Hunger Games (based on a series of YA novels set in a dystopian near-future) pretty much made domestically what John Carter (and it was a bonehead move by Disney to not use John Carter of Mars as the title)  took in globally.  That even the mighty pop culture machine that is Disney couldn’t withstand the attack of the long knives.  I would call your attention to a piece on forbes.com by Erik Kain who I think does a good job defending the film.  I also note that some of the critics who slammed the film still had to acknowledge it was Burroughs who was one of the originators of this sword-planet-romance adventure that’s been riffed on from George Lucas, Ray Bradbury to James Cameron’s Avatar.  How strange then that a movie based on source material originally serialized in All-Story magazine in 1911, would be criticized for being derivative.

It’s also been discussed by some critics that the Hunger Games riffs in various ways from Battle Royale, a Japanese film that mostly played the festival circuit over here in 2001, though now available on DVD (a fully loaded version has the sequel Battle Royale II: Requiem) and Blu-ray.  Royale in turn is based on a series of manga, Japanese comics where teenagers are deposited on an island, given random weapons, and ordered to hunt and kill one another until there is only one survivor.  But such comparisons haven’t hurt the Hunger Games box office or book sales.  Even John Carter had a precursor; in 1905 Victorian poet Edwin Lester Arnold wrote Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation.  In this story, Confederate Navy officer Gullivar Jones is on shore leave (Carter is an ex-Johnny Reb) and is transported to Mars via a magic carpet.

Presumably Burroughs read Arnold’s story and figured he could do it one better.   Suzanne Collins, the creator of Hunger Games, denies knowledge of Battle Royale.  But isn’t Battle a mix of a video-era version of Lord of the Flies by way of the classic often filmed short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell written in 1924 where a big game hunter hunts a couple on an island. Its many versions include Run for the Sun with Richard Widmark, The Naked Prey with Cornel Wilde to an episode of Get Smart.

“Off there to the right – somewhere — is a large island,” said Whitney.

A Take on the Mosr Dangerous Game

“It’s rather a mystery–”

“What island is it?” Rainsford asked.

“The old charts call it `Ship-Trap Island,”‘ Whitney replied.” A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don’t know why. Some superstition–”

“Can’t see it,” remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht…

“It will be light enough in Rio,” promised Whitney. “We should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey’s. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting.”

“The best sport in the world,” agreed Rainsford.

“For the hunter,” amended Whitney. “Not for the jaguar.”

Here’s to the hunters and the jaguars, originality and the inspired forever chasing one another.

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1 thought on “The Originals”

  1. There’s been a lot of arguing about why John Carter flopped so badly. I think it can all be laid at the feet of the marketing, and in particular the decision to let director Andrew Stanton have final say on it. Stanton didn’t seem to get that you have to sell that movie to more than just us middle aged dudes who grew up loving the books (and the Frazetta illustrations…WOW.) It appears as if he just assumed that the name ‘John Carter’ would mean something to the modern teens whose butts you need in seats if you’re going to have a blockbuster. And it just didn’t.

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