One of the reasons that it’s taken 100 years to get John Carter to Mars is that Edgar Rice Burrough’s vision of the planet is a world filled with different cultures and creatures, and it can all get a bit confusing for newcomers. Here, for your assistance and edification, is a quick breakdown of what to expect when visiting Mars – or, as the natives term it, Barsoom…
A version of this feature appeared in issue 272 of Empire magazine. Subscribe today.
Tharks*Appearance:* Green, 9ft tall, four arms, tusks, thin but wiry limbs.
Character: Primitive, warlike and aggressive, this race (with some exceptions) views pity and compassion as suspect and weak and practices appalling sex discrimination in its employment opportunities. Ferocious in battle and nomadic in society, the Tharks are one reason that travel on Mars is a dangerous business.
Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) - The chief, or "jeddak" of the Tharks, this guy hides a thoughtful and introspective side that is unusual for his race. He's a throwback to a more civilised age, basically.
Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church) - The brutish would-be challenger to Tars Tarkas' leadership, this guy is everything the modern Thark should be: thoughtless, brutal and really angry.
Sarkoja (Polly Walker) - The epitome of the lady Thark, she's tough as old boots and impressively vindictive. She has a particular hate on for Sola (see below), who she regards as inexcusably weak.
Sola (Samantha Morton) - The warmest of the Tharks, Sola is a young woman and virtual slave assigned to look after Carter and induct him into Thark society. But she herself is in danger from her own people.
Warhoons*Appearance:** Close cousins to the Tharks, but constantly at war with them, these guys are mean*. Also green, 9ft tall or more, four-armed and tusked, but bigger and more brutal than Tharks. Think Bane, but without the redeeming features.
Character: A ravening, bestial horde that make the Tharks look like Delia Smith, these are nearly unthinking in their savagery and to be avoided at all costs.
None: they're too busy attacking to introduce themselves.
Heliumites*Appearance:* One of the "red" species of Martians, the Heliumites look like tanorexic humans with red henna-like tattoos. Spotting citizens of the "twin cities of Helium" is rendered easier by their tendency to wear some blue accessories.
Character: As with all Martian tribes, they're warlike – but unlike most these guys are largely non-aggressive and display a sense of honour and human virtues such as empathy. If Mars has goodies, these are they.
Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) - As daughter of Helium's jeddak she is a Princess of Mars (the title of author Edgar Rice Burroughs' first book), but here she is also a scientist, researcher and kick-ass warrior. Extremely smart and impossibly hot, it's no wonder Carter takes an interest.
Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds) - Jeddak (king) of Helium, he's a man with problems. Under siege by the Zodangans, he is trying to keep his people alive on a dying planet.
Kantos Kan (James Purefoy) - A Helium lieutenant who works for both Dejah and Tardos and befriends John Carter. He seems to be having more fun than any other character, but can also be relied on in a tight spot.
Zodangans*Appearance:* Similar to Heliumites, but since they are bad guys they tend to wear darker colours, and their national colour is lots of blood red.
Character: Martial and rapacious, they live in a city (Zodanga) that actually moves across the Martian surface, scraping minerals from it as they go. Bloomin' enviro-vandals, in other words, as well as scheming no-goodniks.
Sab Than (Dominic West) - Ruler of Zodanga and thorough bad 'un, he hopes to rule the world and, incidentally, marry the lovely Dejah while he's about it. The utter cad.
Therns*Appearance:* Another human-like race, but paler than the red Martians and uniformly bald. They're occasionally called "white" Martians (later books introduce yellow and black Martians to continue the set).
Character: Thoroughly corrupt purveyors of a twisted religion and Machiavellian masterminds behind most of the problems on the planet. Expect to see them again if there's a sequel.
Matai Shang (Mark Strong) - In his own mind, he's just trying to tidy things up and impose a little order. In anyone else's eyes, he's an evil mastermind trying to take over Mars and manipulate all around him.
Calots*Appearance:* A cross between a dog and a frog. Huge and ugly, with an enormously wide mouth and three rows of teeth.
Character: Since the Tharks usually domesticate these dog-like scavengers with violence, they tend to be aggressive and very dangerous. However, one exception, Woola, bonds with John Carter and is more puppyish.
Thoat*Appearance:* Like a big ox with six legs.
Character: Relatively placid, moss-eating animals that fill the role of both horses and cows in Martian society – which is not to say that they can't be extremely dangerous. Much like the rest of Martian zoology, really. You wouldn't like them when they're angry.
White Ape*Appearance:* Think Mighty Joe Young but really bad-tempered, white and with four arms.
Character: The one animal that scares even the most warlike Martian. Do. Not. Mess. Although if you're from Earth, you have a better chance against them, because on Mars you'll have increased strength and flea-like leaping ability.*