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Thread: Is John Carter space opera?

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    Is John Carter space opera?

    I've been trying to come up with a workable definition for "space opera" and I finally settled on, "when a spaceship shoots something that can shoot back". Problem is, most space operas seem to trace their lineage to John Carter, which doesn't have spaceships. Do "planetary romances" count as space opera anymore?
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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    I've been trying to come up with a workable definition for "space opera" and I finally settled on, "when a spaceship shoots something that can shoot back". Problem is, most space operas seem to trace their lineage to John Carter, which doesn't have spaceships. Do "planetary romances" count as space opera anymore?
    IMHO, the floating aerial warships should qualify.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    I've been trying to come up with a workable definition for "space opera" and I finally settled on, "when a spaceship shoots something that can shoot back". Problem is, most space operas seem to trace their lineage to John Carter, which doesn't have spaceships. Do "planetary romances" count as space opera anymore?

    Space opera at least pretends to some level of scientific plausibility; ERB's Barsoom books don't even try, so I'd classify them as fantasy. I also think that Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea has a better claim to being the ancestral space opera than Princess of Mars.

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    There have been too many conflicting definitions of both "space opera" and "planetary romance", and too many very different kinds of narrative have been crammed under one or other umbrella.
    I think the OP definition is in conflict with other definitions of "space opera" that emphasize sprawling scale and/or an intrinsic optimism about the future, for instance.

    So, as with most things, it depends on your definition. Progenitors don't necessarily (and in fact seldom do) share all the distinctive features of the mature form.

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    Well I enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Seen it at least four times.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Well I enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Seen it at least four times.
    Yeah, the movie was John Carter. I was initially puzzled as to how a genre invented in the '40s could be said to trace its lineage to a movie made in 2012.
    So I'm pretty sure we're referencing Edgar Rice Burroughs's so-called Barsoom series of novels, which I've never read. (I think John Carter turns up in the title of a few of them.) But I did like the movie - it wasn't nearly as terrible as everyone said it was.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    ... Edgar Rice Burroughs's so-called Barsoom series of novels, which I've never read. (I think John Carter turns up in the title of a few of them.)
    One. Number 11, the last, published posthumously.

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    ... But I did like the movie - it wasn't nearly as terrible as everyone said it was.
    I read the books when I was a teenager. The movie might have been good had I not. (I only watched a few pieces, but they were so off from the books I had to give up.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Yeah, the movie was John Carter. I was initially puzzled as to how a genre invented in the '40s could be said to trace its lineage to a movie made in 2012.
    So I'm pretty sure we're referencing Edgar Rice Burroughs's so-called Barsoom series of novels, which I've never read. (I think John Carter turns up in the title of a few of them.) But I did like the movie - it wasn't nearly as terrible as everyone said it was.

    Grant Hutchison
    I thought the books were, well, pretty terrible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    One. Number 11, the last, published posthumously.
    Ah, thanks. I think I've maybe stirred some omnibus editions into the mix in my memory.

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    As I understand it, Disney Studios gave up on the film before it opened, so it was crippled from the start.

    I read the books when very young, and had been thinking about how to do a good adaptation for decades.

    The script had to spend the better part of an hour introducing John Carter and getting him to Mars, more time establishing him there, and then try to tell a rousing story. It was bound to be overlong and disjointed.

    I thought that they should have chosen to adapt one of the later volumes, like The Chessmen of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars, or Synthetic Men of Mars. Pick up the action at a high point, featuring some of the other characters, just to introduce the concept (and the planet). Have some blatantly timeless and mindless swashbuckling and weird situations. Build up the great Warlord of Mars as a background presence.

    Then, and only then, signal a follow-up film that would go back to the beginning of the saga.

    However, nobody asked me how to do it.

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    IMO, opera tends to be defined by larger than life characters in epic, melodramatic situations.

    Space opera would be that, but in a space-like setting.

    Luke Skywalker's / Darth Vader's relationship is pretty darned operatic.

    John Carter is a planetary-scale (super)hero, saving a planet. And it has airships...

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    IMO, opera tends to be defined by larger than life characters in epic, melodramatic situations.

    Space opera would be that, but in a space-like setting.
    It's interesting how "space opera" has come to be understood in terms of "opera", the musical performance.
    Whereas it has its origin in a derogatory comparison to early radio "soap operas" - limited scope, churned out quickly, poor quality, concentrating on emotional issues.

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    And The Fifth Element is a space opera that literally features a diva singing opera in space.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    It's interesting how "space opera" has come to be understood in terms of "opera", the musical performance. ...
    Ooooh, Star Wars - The Musical. Now there's an idea.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    Ooooh, Star Wars - The Musical. Now there's an idea.


    Dear god, don't give them any ideas.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    One. Number 11, the last, published posthumously.



    I read the books when I was a teenager. The movie might have been good had I not. (I only watched a few pieces, but they were so off from the books I had to give up.)
    Did we watch the same movie? I was afraid they were going to skimp on both the calots and the Greenmen. (Their collective name. Their four nations being the Tharks, the Warhoons, the Torquasians and the Thirds, if I recall correctly.)

    I was happy with both.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    It's interesting how "space opera" has come to be understood in terms of "opera", the musical performance.
    Whereas it has its origin in a derogatory comparison to early radio "soap operas" - limited scope, churned out quickly, poor quality, concentrating on emotional issues.

    Grant Hutchison
    Um, no Dr. Grant, I don't believe this is correct. (I don't think I've ever said that before!)

    The second definition prevails strongly, though most people are at least aware of the first. Must be a local effect.
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
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    Oh, and as per the OP:

    Yes!
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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    And dang Swampy, grumpy old man much?

    I am seriously reminded of Eddie Murphy's comment to the L.A. chief of police near the end of Beverly Hills Cop...
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    I read the books when I was a teenager. The movie might have been good had I not. (I only watched a few pieces, but they were so off from the books I had to give up.)
    Books, particularly good ones, with the most thought-provoking ideas very often do not translate well onto film.

    Books are a cerebral medium; film is visual. (Stephen King described writing/reading as the closest thing to telepathy.)

    When you go see a film based on a book, you've got to view the film in its own right, not as a visual counterpart to the book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    It's interesting how "space opera" has come to be understood in terms of "opera", the musical performance.
    Whereas it has its origin in a derogatory comparison to early radio "soap operas" - limited scope, churned out quickly, poor quality, concentrating on emotional issues.
    Well, you learn something new every day...

    I just wrote a couple of paragraphs and references asserting the opposite. Then I came across this:

    "The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera", the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_opera
    Last edited by DaveC426913; 2018-Jun-22 at 10:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Um, no Dr. Grant, I don't believe this is correct. (I don't think I've ever said that before!)

    The second definition prevails strongly, though most people are at least aware of the first. Must be a local effect.
    Do we disagree? I don't think so.
    I made no claim about how common or otherwise the two definitions are. DaveC426913 used the first, and I accepted his understanding of the expression, while pointing out it diverged from the original definition. There was a time it was understood only one way, but now it's also come to be understood another way.

    He's certainly not alone. Here's Emily Asher-Perrin, a blogger over at Tor.com, who first made me think about how the usage was being reinterpreted:
    But there’s also the “opera” part of space opera, something that doesn’t get enough credit in the phrase. After all, labeling something an opera creates a very specific expectation in the mind of your audience. It grants your story scale, yes, but not just in terms of set pieces and costumes. Opera is all about performance, about emotion. Operatic stories are bursting with feelings that can only be spelled out in all-caps. You don’t need a translation of an opera to understand it because the spectacle of it should transcend the need. Opera works with visuals, music, dance, poetry, as many forms of art as we can shove into a collective space and time. Opera is bigger than all of us.
    And the definition of space opera by Hartwell and Cramer in The Space Opera Renaissance (a highly recommended collection, by the way) describes it as "colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure" - I submit that they're drawing strongly from "opera" and very little from the old radio "soap operas".

    Grant Hutchison
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    Dr. Grant, my reply is so awkwardly worded even *I* don't remember what I was trying to say.
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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