Thursday, December 1, 2011

John Carter of Mars

The second trailer for Disney's John Carter has made me cautiously optimistic about the upcoming film. The cast list alone is reassuring.

The trailer also reminds me of the criticism of James Cameron's Avatar, which positions a human hero as savior of a (superficially) savage indigenous population. Perhaps I'm sensitive to this issue since a few readers leveled it against Master of Devils. I can't deny that's a reasonable take-away even though I, as an earnest fan of wuxia films, saw it differently while writing the book. All I need to do to emphasize with those critics is to remember my negative reaction to Tom Cruise's role in The Last Samurai.

It occurred to me while watching John Carter leap tall monsters in a single bound, that his situation (and to a lesser extent Jake Sully's) is the same as that of Kal-El of Krypton. The difference is that Superman is the alien, and all humans are the benighted natives.

Usually the inversion of a cliché bores me, but this one seems useful in examining what we find objectionable about the outsider as hero. It raises hackles when that outsider comes from the dominant demographic. Yet except for his Kryptonian powers, Kal-El is the epitome of a straight male European hero (unless you agree that he's more of a benign golem).

Is the only difference then that the natives are the local majority "us" rather than the local minority "them"? That feels like it might be the crux of the issue.

I don't have any answers to suggest, but I'm curious as to your thoughts.


  1. Personally, I've never understood why people use this as a criticism. In the case of Avatar, Jake Sully is only the savior because he is able to bridge the gap between the Humans and the Na'vii (sp?). Just as Tom Cruise helped "save" the Samurai because he was able to bridge the gap between East and West. It's just good storytelling, IMHO. It also gives the viewer (or reader) a familiar window through which to view the alien landscape.

    I think people read "racism" into too much these days. And I blame mass-media and the "PC Frenzy" for that. Would people have complained about Avatar half as much if Jake had been played by a black actor, I wonder?

    And since you brought it up, the criticisms against The Last Samurai annoy me more. Especially when they begin with "Tom Cruise is the last samurai?" If someone thinks this was the point of the movie, they obviously didn't actually watch it. The title doesn't refer to Tom Cruise's character at all. It refers to Ken Watanabe's character.

    Anyways, sorry for the rant. But this subject gets me wrankled. :)