I don’t think John Carter is a bad movie. Some people do. Aspects of it are ingenious — its adaptation from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original seems quite clever to me. Even the frame story was brilliantly handled, and that almost never happens.

But the movie was perhaps too long.

Now, the original novel was . . . a bit of a mess. Not dramatically written. Filled with invention, it nevertheless somehow sags. Worse than the movie, in my opinion. I read it not too long ago, and gave it high marks at the time, but the unevenness of the novel lingers in memory more strongly than its high points.

Anyway, I hear it’s the tenth anniversary of the John Carter box-office flop. So we get the memorials, such as an interesting one in The Wrap, and an enthusiastic discussion on Gizmodo of the never-made sequel.

Of the original Burroughsiana, the best I’ve read are the Pellucidar novels. I just read At the Earth’s Core a few days ago, and am re-reading Pellucidar, the second in the series, right now (I first read it when I was about 13, I think): solid adventures that would be much easier to adapt for the film.

The interesting thing about reading Burroughs as a very old adult is that these are boys’ adventures, filled with aggression, fights, escape, slavery, escape, wandering, discovery, conflict, escape, etc etc. And I am not a boy. Still, the action keeps one going — that and the invention. I am more interested in the invention. The characterization is rudimentary.

The best thing about them is the thing most people regard as the worst thing: a strange hint of racism. Though Burroughs was a white supremacist — this is clearest in the Tarzan books — he gave other races their due. I mean, the ones he created, like the Tharks. The ruling race in At the Earth’s Core, though, are mini-pterodactyl-like creatures, the Mahars. They are genuinely creepy: a race consisting entirely of telepathic females who have engineered a breeding program to exclude males. This is a first-rate science-fictional concept, and our hero’s grisly dealings with this race makes the first book in the Pellucidar series interesting.

I didn’t find anything in A Princess of Mars nearly as interesting.

The problem with the title John Carter of Mars (which is what the movie was titled while in production) is that Mars movies tend to fail. It’s like a jinx: apparently the word in the title is a jinx. So Disney dropped the offending word and went with the witless title of John Carter, which gives prospective viewers no hint of the nature of the movie.

Could no one think of a better title? The movie was based on the 1912 novel, A Princess of Mars. Why not A Princess of the Red Planet? Too old-fashioned? If Mars had to be avoided at all cost, what else? A Princess of Barsoom, based on the Martians’ own name for their planet, is ridiculous, I admit. The MacGuffin of the movie adaptation, the “nine rays,” suggests a title: A Princess of the Ninth Ray, which, while not making perfect sense, is better than we have any right to expect. But, right as the princess in the movie discovers the truth about her ninth ray (skip ahead to 1:11), she also discovers the truth about the man she loves, and immediately proceeds to grant the movie the best title I can think of, from her own lips: John Carter of Earth.