Thursday, July 31, 2014

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

I was on vacation last week, which left little time for blogging. But I did have time to finish a wonderful book by Michael D. Sellers titled John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood. The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ landmark John Carter of Mars series or the internal workings of a Hollywood studio that, in Sellers’ view, led to the failure of Disney’s John Carter.

I reviewed John Carter (of Mars) two years ago. At the time I was a bit critical of the film, unhappy with the ways it deviated from Burroughs’ first novel A Princess of Mars. Since then, I’ve watched the film several more times with my daughter and, especially after seeing her wide-eyed reaction, my feelings for the movie have warmed considerably. Still, the movie was deemed a disaster for Disney, resulting in a $200 million write-down by the studio. So what happened? How did this admittedly good film fare so badly? Michael Sellers, a filmmaker and former CIA officer, offers a compelling explanation in John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood.

The book begins with several chapters about Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess of Mars published in 1912, as well as the storied writer’s life and the various attempts to bring his John Carter of Mars series to the big screen. The rest of the book focuses on the film and what went wrong, including the unfortunate decision to drop the words “of Mars” from the title (resulting in the dull and confusing “John Carter”) and what Sellers’ calls the studio’s “tragically inept marketing” of the film. The story of the film’s marketing failure is fascinating and should make this book a must-read for any JCM fan disappointed in the movie’s promotion and perception among critics.

Interestingly, Sellers led an effort to help save the film in spite of its “clueless marketing” (in his view). He started a website called The John Carter Files and created two fan trailers for the film that, in the view of many, were far better than anything put out by the studio. You can compare trailers below and decide for yourself:

Studio Trailer

Sellers' First Fan Trailer
Sellers' Second Fan Trailer

Sellers is also leading an effort to convince the studio that John Carter is worthy of a sequel—a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. You can read his post about this here.

Ultimately, I found John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood to be a quick and convincing read. I’m also planning on following Sellers’ efforts to encourage Disney to continue the John Carter franchise. Burroughs’ novels were such inspirational masterpieces it would be a shame if we couldn’t see more of them on the silver screen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“A Dance With Dragons” – GRRM’s Most Merciless Tale Yet

Let me start by saying this is a first rate novel. At times, I found myself lost within its pages, feeling the story’s suspense and tension in my very bones. It is better than A Feast For Crows and probably on par with A Clash Of Kings. But it is easily George R.R. Martin’s most merciless tale in the series. Imagine A Storm Of Swords ending right after the Red Wedding. Just merciless.

A Dance With Dragons is the fraternal twin of A Feast For Crows. Originally, Martin intended them to be a single book, but after it grew two long, he broke it in two. He separated the storylines geographically, so the two books were supposed to take place at the same time. But that is only true for about half of A Dance With Dragons. Past the midpoint, the novels’ timelines converge and several of the stories started in A Feast For Crows continue in A Dance With Dragons. As a result, we have several chapters from the viewpoint of characters like Cersei and Victarion Greyjoy, who were major players in A Feast For Crows. There’s also scenes from Jaimie’s and Arya’s points-of-view, but none from Sansa’s or Sam’s.

The main characters in A Dance With Dragons are all the fan favorites who were left out of A Feast For Crows: Daenerys, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, and Tyrion Lannister. The book also features a myriad of scenes from other characters’ viewpoints, including Theon Greyjoy, his sister Asha, Lady Melisandre, Barristan Selmy, Davos Seaworth, two princes of Dorne, an exiled knight who served as Hand to the last Targaryan king, and Kevan Lannister. It’s a thick character soup, but somehow it all works.

This novel includes more scenes set across the Narrow Sea and around Slavers’ Bay than any of the prior novels. Many storylines are leading toward Daenerys and her dragons, and it’s in these scenes that the book is at its best. In fact if this novel only concerned Daenerys’ storyline, it would be a worthy read. Dany shows her naiveté in this one, revealing she’s still a young girl and not quite ready to play the game of thrones. As the title suggests, her dragons play a significant role, and the scenes involving them are among my favorites. Ser Barristan Selmy also takes on a leading role. He’s one of the few true heroes left in the story, wise and brave and noble like Ned Stark. We’ve needed a replacement for Ned for a while now, and Selmy is it. Of course, this means he’ll probably meet a tragic death in The Winds Of Winter. C’est la via.

The bulk of the remaining action takes place in the North, where Ramsey Bolton has become the book’s biggest monster since Prince Joffrey. (Actually, Bolton is worse. Much worse.) He and his father have their eyes on Winterfell, which Ramsey hopes to secure through a marriage with a girl he believes to be Arya Stark. Meanwhile, up at The Wall, Jon Snow is dealing with Mance Raider and all the Wildlings who surrendered at the end of A Storm of Swords. He also has to deal with the presence of Stannis Baratheon and his red priestess Melisandre, whose prophecies are starting to play a major role in these books. Beyond The Wall, Bran continues to search for the three-eyed crow, and while his story arc makes long strides, it’s unclear where Martin is going with this character.

By the end, the lives of nearly every character the reader cares about are far worse off than when the book begins. Pick your wedding, Red or Purple, and you’ll get the picture. Also, there are no storylines resolved in this book. Nearly every main character’s tale ends in some form of cliffhanger. So now, we must wait until The Winds Of Winter to learn what might emerge from the chaos that is the end of A Dance With Dragons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cornwell's "The Last Kingdom" is Coming to TV!

Last week, frequent commentator and guest reviewer Bill Brockman alerted me to an article about BBC making Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom into a TV series. The Last Kingdom is one of my all-time favorite historical novels, so this is wonderful news! You can read the full article in The Independent, titled "BBC’s new Game of Thrones slayer 'The Last Kingdom' relies on Saxon appeal, creators say," here. Excerpts are below.

Based on Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling series of “Saxon stories”, the drama is set in England during the reign of King Alfred, when “the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Vikings and the great kingdom of Wessex has been left standing alone and defiant”.
Merging historical figures and fiction, The Last Kingdom’s hero is Uhtred, born the son of a Saxon nobleman, who is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own.
Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, Uhtred treads a dangerous path between Saxon and Viking as he seeks to recapture his ancestral lands.
Coming to BBC Two next year, the series is a collaboration between BBC America and Carnival Films, the award winning producers who turned ITV’s Downton Abbey into a global blockbuster.
While it looks like we'll have to wait a year, this promises to add yet another show to the list of great historical and fantasy TV dramas that includes Vikings, Da Vinci's Demons, and Game of Thrones. Thanks to Bill for the tip!
P.S. - You can read my review of Cornwell's The Last Kingdom here. And here is BBC's official announcement about the show.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Horrible Histories: The Great Religion Switchover

It's been a rough week for writing, which makes it even rougher for blogging. So this week, I'm going with a little humor, thanks to the talented folks at Horrible Histories. The parts with the monk crack me up!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day!

Imagine the courage of those who risked all for the sake of independence and freedom. It led to a war and lives were lost, but the Declaration of Independence well states the cause for which they fought 238 years ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Happy July 4th to all!