Danger Gal Friday: Dejah Thoris

Dejah Thoris, John Carter of MarsThis week’s Danger Gal Friday profiles Dejah Thoris as portrayed by classically-trained Lynn Collins in Disney’s new movie “John Carter.”

Before we get into discussing what’s so great about Dejah Thoris, let’s start with the elephant in the room: A lot is being said right now about “John Carter” flopping as a movie solely because it hasn’t made back Disney’s investment in its first week at the box office. To this I say: “Pshaw! Lalalala can’t hear you!”

IO9 ran an article on this topic, but at the end of the long list of reasons why the movie has supposedly flopped, this quote jumped out at me:

“Everyone is quick to point out that John Carter did not make any money. It is a flop, a failure. Domestically, the opening of John Carter is indeed very soft for the budget. However, big event movies like this are international affairs and a $70 million opening outside of the USA is no small feat. As a popular book series, the Carter adventures have a global fan base. This cowboy might have some legs underneath him in the long run, which is the only run that matters. Titanic did not break all box office records in the first weekend it ran. And ran. And ran. For weeks into months. It stayed in theaters, pulling in money week after week. Stanton’s film has a long road ahead of it, but pulling in $100 million in the first weekend is a decent first step towards recouping the budget.”

As Pyr’s editorial director of science fiction/fantasy Lou Anders noted on Facebook, the movie scored an over 70 percent favorability rating by fans on Rotten Tomatoes, but only about 50 percent by critics. “John Carter” breaks the mold of what we typically get from science fiction movies, while also maintaining that “sense of wonder” so evident in turn of the century fiction, since it’s based on the John Carter series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I, for one, found “John Carter” to be a fun way to spend a few hours and was pleasantly surprised to discover so many great female characters in not only Thoris, but also the Thark Sola. I do agree with some critics who thought the movie dragged in places. The slow pace affected mostly the beginning as the writers spent a huge amount of movie time setting up the story. As amusing as Malcolm in the Middle’s dad (Bryan Cranston) always is, I would have been happier to see less of Col. Powell if it meant seeing even a glimpse of Thoris’ laboratory.

Having said that, Joseph Robert Lewis sums up my own feelings on the movie when he says:

But the best part by far was the Princess of Mars herself, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In fact, it almost feels like Dejah and John are in two completely different movies. John is on a personal journey for peace, or redemption, or escape, or revelation. Meanwhile, Dejah is the big adventuring hero, saving her people with much derring do. She’s passionate about science, she’s passionate about her people and culture, and she’s passionate about her personal freedom and destiny.

When she’s not wearing pretty dresses and inventing the all-powerful Ninth Ray machine, she’s wearing armor and crossing swords with entire armies in her solar-powered airship. She’s Princess Leia, only better. She’s the bright shiny jewel at the heart of the movie, and frankly I’d have rather seen her as the title character and central focus of the whole thing.

One of the ways this story breaks the mold is in its representation of female characters. I’m glad the movie didn’t follow the books too closely when it came to costumes — in the books the red and green Martians don’t wear much at all. However, Collins evidently requested that the original costume designs be scaled back: “I knew they were going to be small. And I am actually the one who put them on and said, ‘The cut’s going to be weird, they should probably be higher.’ There you go.”

Aside from how Collins’ fashion sense may have affected the costume design, I was just happy to see women and men alike similarly clothed. Few things peeve me more than seeing men in long sleeves and long pants while their female counterparts are sleeveless and leggy. I’m not sure how a red-skinned race of Martians might fare wearing very little in such an unrelentingly sunny climate, but at least it was no only the women having to be concerned with skin cancer or being injured in battle because vital organs weren’t protected. This is an example of both genders in a movie being shown as sexy characters as opposed to merely being sex objects.

Also, we’re not just told that Thoris is a great warrior and super-smart, we’re shown it. As I said above, I would have loved to have seen Thoris’ laboratory, but at least we are shown her not only demonstrating her Ninth Ray device, but also solving the story’s problems. We also get to see Thoris in battle including some cheeky flirty dialogue with Carter about whom should stand behind whom doing the protecting. Collins also bulked up for the role on top of her already considerable martial arts skills, something that always lends an aura of credibility to female and male action heroes alike.

“John Carter” doesn’t stop with showing us only one great female character, though. Fulfilling the usual sidekick-type role we have Sola, an individualist barely surviving in a hive-type society. Sola is tasked with joining Carter and Thoris on their quest to find the river Issus and in so doing means that for a good portion of the movie two-thirds of the cast were female (I’m not counting the dino-hound…). Sola even gets her own character arc, abbreviated to fit the story, but not shallow. I was also happy to see that the creature designers did not give Thark females breasts, which makes sense because they’re not mammals (we know they lay eggs– and don’t start in on the platypus, please). When science fiction creature designers include breasts on non-mammalian alien species it’s gratuitous and insulting to the audience since the assumption is that we can’t tell the difference without them.

I hope “John Carter” — they should have kept the original title “John Carter of Mars” or better yet the original book title of “Princess of Mars” — sticks around for a while and earns out Disney’s investment because I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

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