WHAT'S IN a focus-grouped name? Seems like Disney whiffed it pretty hard by calling their new wannabe-blockbuster John Carter and not John Carter OF MARS. While Carter—the 1912 creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs—doesn't carry as much name recognition as Burroughs' other classic character, Tarzan, at least putting the word "Mars" in the title would've given audiences a general idea of what the movie is about.
Burroughs' Barsoom novels—"Barsoom" being what Burroughs' Martians call Mars—are more fantastical boys' adventure than than they are science fiction, seeing as how they aren't based on any actual science. John Carter is mainly based on Burroughs' first novel, A Princess of Mars, and if you have any problems with the maturity level of the film, look no further than the source material: While escaping a band of Indians (the book, it's fair to say, isn't very PC) in the deserts of Arizona, John Carter discovers a cave that mystically transports him to Mars. There he discovers he has superpowers—he can jump really far—and becomes a celebrated warrior. Carter plays spy, lover, and leader as he fights to unify the peoples of Barsoom, which reminds me: Can we change the name of Mars to Barsoom, like, immediately? Why haven't the nerds done this yet? GET IT TOGETHER NERDS.
A Princess of Mars is written in a labored, early-century sort of style that detracts a little from the novel's suspense, but Burroughs fills the gaps with all sorts of details, giving Barsoom's culture an intensely dorky substance. And while the story is kid stuff (aside from all the epic violence), it's hard not to root for John Carter and his outcast friends. Burroughs followed Carter's adventures through 11 novels and oversaw those books' adaptation into comics and other media during his lifetime, but never film. Let's hope this adaptation has the magic of its source material.