A Princess of Mars


Early images from a cinematic version of one of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most notoriously unfilmed series have just be released.

The Barsoom series  — which began with A Princess of Mars (1917), originally serialised under the title Under the Moons of Mars — have never been given much cinematic attention, despite many recent attempts to get a film up and running (read a brief history here). Perhaps, in the more distant past, it was the inherent difficulty in creating the various creatures that inhabit Barsoom (otherwise known to us as Mars) that put producers off the idea. Though some of the civilisations of Barsoom have advanced technology of a kind, Burroughs’ Mars is a fantasy setting rather than a scifi one, full of monsters, swords and nudity, the science being more or less unrationalised and pretty well the equivalent of magic. Certainly the books have an ambiance that is more fantastical than scientific and have been generally referred to as “science fantasy” as a result.

Original 1917 book publication cover by Frank E. Schoonover

The latest news is that Pixar Animation Studios in conjunction with Walt Disney Pictures is in the process of bringing Civil War soldier John Carter’s adventures on Mars to life, under the auspices of director Andrew Stanton. This film, titled John Carter of Mars, is scheduled for a 2012 release, with Willem Dafoe as the nine-foot-tall, green, four-armed insectoid warrior Tars Tarkas, Taylor Kitsch as John Carter and Lynn Collins as the Princess of the city of Helium, Dejah Thoris. This one is still in early days, but it is rumoured that it will be a combination of live-action and animation, set in the book’s original Civil-War time period and will no doubt make some sort of stab at sticking to the book (more or less). This version, having a significant SFX budget, may give Tars Tarkas his four arms, though whether the general lack of clothing that characterises Burroughs’ Mars will be much in evidence is unlikely:


Likely to be less accurate overall, however, and to feature more skin (particularly when it comes to the Princess — as seen in her traditional lack of garb in the classic Frank Frazetta image below), is the Asylum’s version, Princess of Mars (US-2009; dir. Mark Atkins).


John Carter

The original John Carter is a Civil War vet who is mysteriously transported to the red planet Barsoom (Mars) and thus finds himself (a) becoming a leader of a tribe of warrior-like green Tharks (due to his great strength, enhanced by the fact that Mars has lesser gravity than Earth, and his fighting skills) and (b) caught up in political struggles between the red and green people of Barsoom, particularly when the Tharks hatch a plot to kidnap the beautiful red princess Dejah Thoris. Despite ending up fighting against the four-armed alien Tharks, one of Carter’s closest friends is a Thark, Tars Tarkas, who plays a prominent part in events.

In the Asylum version John Carter, played by Antonio Sabato, Jr., is a special ops US soldier fighting in the Middle East, who “finds himself inexplicably transported to Mars in the midst of a war between two alien races”:



Sabato here bears a close resemblance to this image of Carter from back when you could buy a new comic book for 10 cents:


Tars Tarkas

Early images just released of Atkins’ Tars Tarkas (or so I assume, though the Asylum site doesn’t name him as such) have given him a nicely alien face and levels of greenness. So far there has been no sign of his second set of arms. Perhaps these will come in post-production, though I’m guessing this production may “re-jig” the Thark race to avoid what would probably be too difficult and too expensive a CGI make-up job. Meanwhile here’s what Tarkas is looking like (see also the image at the start of this article):



A pity about the multiple appendages, as the four-armed nature of the Tharks has always had great imaginative appeal.

Dejah Thoris

Everyone will be most curious to know how Atkins handles the Princess, Dejah Thoris. In the novel Burroughs describes her thus (at Carter’s first meeting with her):

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life….Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.

This lack of apparel has been typical of the way she has been depicted visually, especially post-Frazetta (though not, you will notice above, on the more modest original cover):

Image by Bane

Atkins’ Dejah Thoris will be played by ex-porn star and genre scream queen Traci Lords (below), though so far no images of her as Dejah have surfaced:


If this or the Disney film prove a success, there’s plenty of scope for sequels. Burroughs himself wrote ten sequels to A Princess of Mars. For reference, they are:

  • The Gods of Mars (1918)
  • The Warlord of Mars (1919)
  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1920)
  • The Chessmen of Mars (1922)
  • The Master Mind of Mars (1928)
  • A Fighting Man of Mars (1931)
  • Swords of Mars (1936)
  • Synthetic Men of Mars (1940)
  • Llana of Gathol (1948)
  • John Carter of Mars (1964)

You can view more early images from the film in the Gallery below.


This entry was posted in Film, News, Pictorial art, Science Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Princess of Mars

  1. Avery says:

    I look forward to it! It looks really cool! I like Antonio he’s a cool actor and I think he’s perfect for this role and I’m anxious to see what Traci looks like in costume and what they both bring to their characters in the film.

  2. Pingback: Asylum about to release the OTHER “John Carter” movie « Sf-Fandom's Wordpress Blog

  3. Pingback: Undead Backbrain » Blog Archive » Traci Lords Over Mars

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  5. tsunku says:

    asylum’s princess of mars was very sad, the only resemblence to bore to the book were the character names.
    i pray that disney does this story justice.

  6. Pingback: Princess of Mars (2009) | All Films Blog

  7. WW Rutland says:

    I read the Princess of Mars as a teen and it was so good I couild not sleep . The movie John Carter was very good and they mixed two martian novels to make the movie, it was a little too PG for me since I like more skin. After I saw it I bought the DVD to see at home it was so good. My novels ‘Princess of the Empire’ and ‘Warlord of Tarna’ used the a similar idea of an alien princess and an American SF soldier meeting and falling in love (lust). If you like the Princess of Mars rthen you might like ‘Princess of the Empire”. Available from me at a discount or Amazon.

  8. Robert Hood says:

    I agree about “John Carter” the movie, WW. But the version of the story referenced in this article is, of course, a different kettle of fish…. Good luck with your book, though.

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