Not by the book. Not by the book at all. Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, Taylor Kitsch as John Carter. No extra points for guessing which one's which.
Trailers for two eagerly-awaited sword and sorcery/sandal films are up: John Carter of Mars and Conan. The John Carter trailer can be found here. The Conan trailer can be found here. Check 'em out!
Now here's the thing about John Carter of Mars. It's based on a series of books set on Mars (called “Barsoom” by the natives) and early on the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, makes it clear that the natives do not wear much of anything in the way of clothing in the normal course of events. Basically all they wear is shoulder harnesses. Kinda like the X-shaped harness at the very top of John Carter's body in the photo. And nothing else, male and female.
As you can see, Disney is not following Burrough's design … how could they, they're fricking DISNEY? So naturally they've got both characters wrapped up in a whole lot more clothing than the books call for. Well, we all knew Disney was not gonna follow through on the “naked Martians” thing. But the thing is, a lot of artists have interpreted Dejah Thoris' costuming and substituted a skimpy thong and bra top and some barbaric jewelry for full frontal nudity, and it came out pretty damn good … check out the incomparable Frank Frazetta's take on Dejah Thoris and John Carter:
Frank Frazetta demonstrates why he rules and Disney sucks.
Or check out the also very damn good Frank Cho's take on Dejah Thoris:
Frank Cho demonstrates why he rules and Disney sucks.
And of course there are a lot of topnotch artists who totally got the memo on Martian nudity and went with it (to be fair, Frank Cho is one of them, in other images) such as Adam Hughes::
Adam Hughes demonstrates why he rules and Disney sucks.
A Google Image search for “Dejah Thoris” will turn up a lot of other evidence that most artists went with the “naked” option for portraying the inhabitants of Barsoom. Disney did not, undoubtedly because they want to keep things “family” and get the kiddies and the arrested development types that are Flanderses (I.e, social conservatives who disapprove of nudity in art on moral grounds) into the theaters. If you can manage that and still have a movie with a great story and great characterization and other visual treats that will attract people in general, you will make a ton of money, but such movies are rare as hen's teeth. Here's why: the same censorious impulses that make the moviemakers shy away from nudity tend to make them shy away from other content that might offend the easily offendable, and that sort of content can be very dramatic and powerful. So, as a general rule, visually censored films tend to be weaksauce stuff, not very good just from the viewpoint of adults who like good drama.
Dejah shows up in female warrior garb as well, but it's hardly the stuff of chicks in a chainmail bikini dreams.
And of course this full length gown is very Disney, and very worrisome.
There's also another aspect: good writers don't like dealing with censorious executives representing the viewpoints of Flanderses telling them “no you can't do this and no you can't do that” so they tend to seek out venues where they can write with maximum freedom. It is not a coincidence that some of the very best writing in any visual medium is coming out of premium channels and has been for years: Sopranos, Deadwood, Spartacus, Game of Thrones and many others have all been noted for absolutely topnotch writing … and that's because they are attracting absolutely topnotch writers who know they can write their scripts the way they think they should be written.
But I gotta say, this image of a Martian airship and some of the other imagery in the trailer is a hopeful sign … very nice work.
And it's not a coincidence that shows like Spartacus and Game of Thrones show naked slavegirls in chains, naked slavegirls having sex, etc, because that's very dramatic and the writers know that.
Which is why I am so very intrigued with the new Conan movie.
Now this does not show up in the trailer seen above, but there are some leaked stills from the new Conan movie over on a site called Clatto Verata, and what do you know, things are very different there:
Hey, what do you know, topless tavern wenches in barbaric finery. It's like somebody knows what they are doing.
And the goodness does not end with the topless tavern wenches:
Hmm. Topless slaves in barbaric finery … and chains. Now, that's getting the slavegirly goodness right.
Clearly, the people who made the Conan movie have absorbed the same lesson the people who made Spartacus and Game of Thrones did, which is that naked slave girls can add quite a bit of spice to your average sword and sorcery flick. Now, if I had to bet a large sum of money on which film was going to do better at the box office, I'd unhesitatingly put my money on “Conan” just knowing what I know now which, granted, is not very much. And yes, it's because of the nudity, though casting Jason Momoa as Conan also demonstrates some smarts – he really tore things up as barbaric king Khol Drago in Game of Thrones.
Frankly, I'd try to avoid making any such bet at present, because as I've said in my book Slavegirls in the Movies and On TV: The Hottitude of Servitude, no amount of naked slavegirly goodness can make up for bad plotting, characterization, direction and/or acting. If it could, every last sword and sorcery film released would look like a Skinamax production. But all other things being equal the people who are making Conan clearly have a much better grasp of the genre than Disney does.
I am, however, concerned about the fact that the movie is being released in mid-August, because August is typically a month in which studios dump movies they think will be serious bombs at the box office. In fact, the August release date alone makes me want to switch my wager the other way except that networks are sometimes poor judges of quality where SF and fantasy themes are concerned.
Time will tell of course. By March 2012 (John Carter's release date) we'll know the truth of it. But it's always fun to speculate.
And do go check out the Clatto Verata website, it's got some very tasty stuff beside the Conan stills, such as images of Lucy Lawless naked and orgying with slavegirls, and an interview with one of the Spartacus slave girls, and frankly, one hell of a lot of other stuff we might find of interest.
And let me remind you of the costume worn by Tracy Lords as Dejah Thoris in the cheapie SyFy Channel Barsoom movie, "A Princess of Mars." Sad, truly sad.