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"Find a cause. Fall in love. Write a book! Do something with your life."
John Carter, to his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter is a live-action film released on March 9, 2012. It was released by Walt Disney Pictures and is based upon A Princess of Mars, the first novel in the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is directed by Andrew Stanton, best known for directing Finding Nemo and WALL-E.

In 19th century America, a Civil War veteran and wealthy traveler named John Carter has suddenly died. His nephew is instructed to read his private journal...

Years ago, Carter comes across a cave of gold with strange inscriptions. Inside, he finds a medallion that transports him to the planet Barsoom, known to Earthlings (or rather, Jahsoomians) as Mars. The lower gravity gives him enhanced strength and the ability to jump great distances. He encounters human-like copper-toned Martians called Red Men, and four-armed, green-skinned Martians called Tharks. Though he just wants to go home, his otherworldly abilities get the attention of a Thark chief, Tars Tarkas, and of a Red Man princess, Dejah Thoris.

Carter becomes involved in a war between factions of the Red Men, encouraged by a third group of aliens, the pale Therns. He discovers that the Therns have Earth in their sights as well...

Reviews were mostly mixed though the usual sentiment is that it's a good-looking if average film. However the box office returns were very poor, ultimately bombing in the American market. So much so that Disney Studio Chief, Rick Ross, resigned because of the failure, and Disney estimated they'd lose about 200 million on it, making it one of the biggest flops of all time (when it comes to money lost). Fortunately, Disney was able to make up the loss with The Avengers three months later, and the film actually barely broke even.

The film includes the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Badass: In the novel, Tal Hajus is a lazy Villainous Glutton who pretty much never moves from the throne he's parked himself on. He's just as cruel, but much more active and in much better shape, here (not that it saves him from an ignominious end, though). See also Xenafication below.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: John takes on aspects of this after he is sent back to Earth by the Therns and searches the world for a way to return.
  • Aerith and Bob: The two rival Red Martian city-states are named Zodanga and Helium.
  • The Ageless: The Therns do not die from old age, but can be killed. Also, it seems that John Carter stops aging after his visit to Barsoom.
  • Alien Blood: Barsoomian life all appears to have bright blue blood.
  • Alien Sky: The two moons of Barsoom. (Truth in Television, as Mars does have two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Though in real life the moons aren't round, or anywhere near that big. They're more like 10- and 5-mile-long potatoes, respectively.)
  • Aliens of London: Red and White Martians speak with an English accent, which must stand for a more sophisticated dialect of the Barsoomian tongue.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted with the Tharks. When John Carter first meets them, they speak their own language with English subtitles. When he is initiated with the other hatchlings, there is an interesting scene where Sola gives him some kind of elixir that allows him to understand their language. When he asks what it is, she first says, "The Voice of Barsoom", subtitled. Then she says in English, "You can hear it if you choose." The subtitles read the same thing. During this quick scene, her dialogue morphs from the Barsoom language to English, and after that, there are no more subtitles; English is used to represent the Barsoom language. (The Red Martians and the Therns are depicted throughout as speaking English, but this is presumably a Translation Convention; Carter doesn't meet either until after the Voice of Barsoom scene.)
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Woola, the Tharks' guard-dog-lizard-thing. John refers to him as a dog when he finds it following him about. Woola has very doglike body language, and at one point makes a noise that is unmistakeably a bark. It's even an Evil-Detecting Dog - but John Failed a Spot Check.
  • Alternate Self: John Carter learns he is actually a duplicate, and his Earth body was left in some sort of Suspended Animation while his consciousness is on Mars in a carbon copy. He compares the process to the telegraph (copies of messages, etc). Becomes important in the end, as he will die on Mars if his Earth body is killed. See Batman Gambit below.
  • An Aesop: Spelled out in the ending scene: "Do something with your life."
  • Amazon Brigade: With Bare Your Midriff armour.
  • American Civil War: Referenced. John Carter is a former Confederate cavalryman and has trouble adapting to postwar life.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The Therns are heavily implied to have visited Earth before and influenced our world's history. In the credits, the Barsoomian symbol is seen on Egyptian bas-reliefs and other historical artifacts.
  • Anticlimax: The fight between John and Tal Hajus; the fight is just as short in the source material, though there it's Tars Tarkas who kills him.
  • Arc Welding: The Therns don't show up until the second book, though the religion of Issus is introduced from the beginning. Here, they're tied to both the Helium vs. Zodanga conflict and how Carter gets to Mars in the first place.
  • Arc Words: Played with. The first word spoken in the movie is "Mars". The last is "Barsoom" (the name for the planet in the Martian language).
  • Arranged Marriage: Dejah's father wants to give her hand to Sab Than in order to win peace and prevent his city from being conquered. As she is a Rebellious Princess, you can imagine how well this pans out.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The Tharks.
  • Badass Adorable: Woola.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dejah Thoris, Regent of the Hall of Science and Lady of War.
  • Badass Longcoat: John Carter in his first scene.
  • Badass Princess: Dejah again.
  • Bald of Evil: All Therns are naturally bald.
  • Bare Your Midriff: John for most of the movie, and Dejah, all while wearing a suit of armour.
  • Base on Wheels: Zodanga is a city that moves around on mechanical (?) legs.
  • Batman Gambit: At the end, we find out that most of the framing story has been one big one by John to get back to Barsoom by luring a Thern to his house and taking his medallion. He pretended to already have found a medallion, faked his death and hid the instructions on how to open his mausoleum (where the Therns thought they would find his body in order to kill him) in his letter to Edgar. He knew that the Therns would be watching Edgar to find out how to get into the mausoleum, so he hid back and ambushed one of them when they were focused on stalking Edgar.
    • Sab Than, on the advice of Matai Shang, uses one to persuade Dejah to go through with the wedding: he puts his life in her hands, knowing that she's too honorable to kill him in cold blood and that she'll sacrifice her own freedom to end the war.
  • Big Bad: Matai Shang, Holy Hekkador of the Therns, is The Man Behind the Man to Sab Than.
    • Big Bad Wannabe: Sab Than is under the illusion that he's actually the Big Bad. The therns allow him to think that when and only when it suits them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Inter Mundos, the inscription on John's crypt, means "Between Worlds" in Latin.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Played with. There is blood in the film, but Martians have blue blood. John Carter, of course, is a red-blooded American.
  • Blue Eyes / What Beautiful Eyes!: Dejah Thoris.
  • Breaking the Bonds: John Carter is Chained to a Rock, but uses his strength to break them -- after that the Tharks make sure to use stronger chains, not that it always helps.
  • Breakout Villain: Matai Shang isn't mentioned until the second book, and hangs around the edges of the story before being introduced in person in the third. Here, he's being set up as Big Bad from the beginning.
  • Call a Smeerp a Rabbit:
    • Gigantic predators with six gorilla-like limbs, hippopotamus-tusks and white fur - called simply White Apes.
    • Woola is referred to as a "dog" sometimes.
  • Challenging the Chief: Whoever gets to be Jeddak of the Tharks has to have defeated (not necessarily killed) the previous one in a duel, though onlookers have to support the challenger. Tars Tarkas loses his position to Tal Hajus who in turn loses to John.

 "I claim the right of challenge! ...Who will pledge their metal to mine?"

  • Character Title
  • Classical Antihero: John Carter starts out as a decidedly unheroic character because he simply doesn't give a damn about much of anything. He does finally pick a cause, however.
  • Common Tongue: The various races of Barsoom appear to speak a common Barsoomian language. The term Jeddak (king/chief) is used by both the Red and Green Martians. However, individual languages are also present, as shown by assorted prayers and terms unique to the Green Martians (which the film doesn't render in English).
  • Composite Character: Several minor characters from the book were merged into more major ones - Than Kosis (Jeddak of Zodanga) was merged with his son Sab Than; Lorquas Ptomel (the original Jed of the Tharks) was merged with his lieutenant Tars Tarkas; Mors Kajak was merged with his father Tardos Mors, making Tardos Dejah's father, rather than grandfather.
  • Cool Airship: Barsoomian airships belong to the Those Magnificent Flying Machines type.
  • Cool Pet: Woola, a bear-sized, ten-legged, super-speedy pug-dog... reptile... thing, who will literally follow you anywhere just because you were kind to it, occasionally bite people, and predict your every movement.
  • Deuteragonist: John Carter is the protagonist, Dejah Thoris is the deuteragonist, and Tars Tarkas is the tritagonist.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: John first meets Dejah when he catches her in mid-air, saving her from falling to her death. Fitting, as this movie's source material helped inspire the latter. Probably a lot of other unintentional/unavoidable examples due to the source material.
  • Dope Slap: Tars Tarkas towards John when it's discovered the wedding is being held in Helium.
  • Dual-Wielding: Multiarmed Tharks wield up to four weapons at once. John often fights with two swords.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Though he witnesses an entire aerial battle between Zodanga and Helium, he doesn't jump in until Dejah (whom he has not yet met) is in danger. No more than five minutes later, Tars Tarkas gets John to join him by threatening her. It's lampshaded by Dejah.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Despite saying he no longer wanted anything to do with humanity, John Carter quickly came to the aid of the wounded cavalry officer during the Apache encounter.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses
  • Evil Brit: All Zodangans and Therns.
  • Exact Words: Tars Tarkas dubs John Carter Dotar Sojat, "my right hands". Later, when John unexpectedly challenges Tal Hajus for the Thark leadership, the latter protests that he's not even a Thark. Tars Tarkas says he is "my right hands".
  • Fantastic Rank System
  • Fantastic Romance: John and Dejah.
  • Faustian Rebellion: Briefly teased and then defied. The first thing that Sab Than does when he gets the power of the Ninth Ray is try and use it on the Therns. They effortlessly deflect it and knock him on his ass, with the collective expression of, "Do you think we're stupid?"
  • Faux Death: When John is banished back to Earth, he takes puffer fish toxin that puts him into a death-like sleep to throw the Therns off his trail.
  • Flash Step: Woola can run so fast that John seems to mistake it for teleportation in his first encounter with the creature.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: John and Colonel Powell can't exactly be called friends but they did save each others' lives and it was via rescuing Powell that John ended up on Mars in the first place. If John ever remembers he left a badly wounded man behind he never shows it - until he returns to Earth and finds Powell's decomposing remains still stuck in the cave.
  • Genius Bruiser: After his banishment to Earth, John Carter reveals his intellectual side, studying ancient cultures and pulling off a masterfully executed Batman Gambit.
  • George Lucas Throwback: One review claims that "John Carter tries to evoke, to reanimate, a fondly recalled universe of B-movies, pulp novels and boys’ adventure magazines".
  • Gilligan Cut: "Tharks do not fly."
  • Gladiator Games: John Carter tests his mettle in an arena fight.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Zodanga and Helium has, respectively, red and blue as the colour of their banners and cloaks. In traditional military usage, red denotes enemies, and blue represents allies. Nevertheless, see Light Is Not Good below. Though considering the blue blood of the Barsoomians one might expect them to use the reverse colors.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When an unlucky Thark is in the grasp of a white ape, we see her being ripped in half a la the shadows on the wall.
  • Grandfather Clause: John Carter gets a free pass for using really old fantasy and sci-fi tropes due to the original book being either their Ur Example, Trope Maker, or Trope Codifier. (However, see Critical Dissonance and Seinfeld Is Unfunny under the YMMV tab.)
  • Green Aesop: Attributes Barsoom's "dying" state to industrialization, even making Zodanga into a mobile "predator city" strip mining the planet as it goes.
    • And it discards entirely the atmosphere generator that was the only thing keeping Barsoom barely inhabitable.
  • Gunship Rescue: The Helium airship that rescues John and co from the Thark horde working for the Therns.
  • Half the Man He Used To Be: A Thark who was bullying Sola the entire film and tried to throw her to her death gets torn in half by a White Ape.
  • Heavyworlder: John, with Earth as the heavy world. Dejah and one of the Therns note that his bone structure and musculature from living on Earth makes him almost superhuman on Mars.
  • Historical Domain Character: Edgar Rice Burroughs is the young nephew of John Carter in this story, who obviously uses the tale of Mars in his uncle's journal for inspiration to write the Barsoom series. This was a feature in the original novels as well.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Martians use rhino-like eight-legged mounts (called Thoats in the books).
  • Hot Chick with a Sword: Dejah Thoris.
  • Hot Scientist: Dejah Thoris, by virtue of being Regent of the Hall of Science.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: It takes some time for John to get used to Martian gravity and master his great leaps.
  • Human Aliens: As per the books, the Red Martians and Therns are visually virtually indistinguishable from Earth humans.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Therns give off this vibe.
  • Humongous Mecha: Zodanga walks along across the martian surface on hundreds of giant legs
  • I Choose to Stay: At the end of the film, Carter decides he likes being John Carter of Mars better than John Carter of Earth. Moments later, he's ambushed by Matai Shang and sent back to Earth to get him out of the way.
  • Immortality Immorality: The biologically immortal Therns look down upon all other creatures and style themselves the rulers of the universe.
  • In a Single Bound: Huge leaps are John Carter's specialty.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, but kept mostly off-screen.
  • Inherently Funny Words: The name Helium has all the wrong connotations...
  • In Memoriam: Dedicated to Steve Jobs, director Andrew Stanton's former boss at Pixar, who died several months before the film was released.
  • In the Blood: The reason Sola is one of the kindest Tharks? Her father, Tars Tarkas, is too, though he hides it better, presumably her mother was as well.
  • Just Before the End: Lampshaded - Mars is called a "dying world" several times, and several characters speculate that civilization on Barsoom will soon fall apart.
  • Karmic Death: Sarkoja.
  • Killer Space Monkey: White apes, Barsoom's most dreaded predators.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: Sab Than gives Dejah his sword and a chance to kill him, but she agrees to marry him instead.
  • Lady of War: Dejah Thoris.
  • Light Is Not Good: The villainous Therns dress in shining silvery robes.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Thanks to the Heavyworlder effect, John can leap incredible heights AND pack a hefty punch. Also, Woola: it runs with great speed and is quite dangerous in close combat, and is capable of holding down John, who isn't easily held down by the weaker Martians.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: John's nephew (and Secret Keeper) is Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • Logo Joke: The Disney castle is lit by reddish light, under an Alien Sky.
  • Magic From Technology: The source of the Therns' more spectacular powers.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Matai Shang to Sab Than.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Matai Shang. May qualify for Magnificence.
  • Market-Based Title: In some countries, the title has more than just "John Carter" in it.
  • Mighty Whitey: Technically an adaptation of the first such story to use the "human among aliens" version (although in this case, his Heavyworlder status makes the "mighty" part a bit more literal than most uses of the trope). Subverted with the actual White Martians, the Therns, who are evil.
    • The movie also goes to some trouble to establish Carter as a Badass Normal before he goes to Mars.
  • Motive Rant: Subverted. Matai Shang gives one to John Carter, but it's highly disjointed and doesn't actually explain anything about the therns' motivations beyond revealing their A God Am I attitude.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Taylor Kitsch shows off his pecs.
  • Ms. Fanservice: ...and Lynn Collins wears some very skimpy outfits. She lampshades it when wearing a very strategically designed wedding dress, saying it's too vulgar for her tastes.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: The Tharks have four arms.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: The Tharks never stop calling John "Virginia", after he introduces himself as Captain John Carter of the Army of Virginia.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Sola's kindness and compassion make her, at best, an oddball among her merciless Proud Warrior Race Guy brethren. Seems she gets it from her father.
  • Nanomachines: What the Therns' technology is implied to be based on.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Averted with the Tharks, where only a mild dimorphisism differentiates the two sexes. Played kinda straight with the Reds in that they, at least in the source novels, lay eggs too, but have normal human breasts.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Zodanga has a distinct lack of guard rails, even on the open-air elevators and walkways above the industrial machinery.
  • No Time to Explain: Tars Tarkis is rather puzzled as to why he just saw two John Carters, one of which vanished into thin air. The real John says he'll explain later.
  • Not Quite the Right Thing: John Carter bravely saves the wounded Colonel Powell from a probable quick death at the hands of the Apache and thereby (unintentionally) condemns him to die a lingering and lonely death from exposure and blood loss in a cave. Even worse if you consider the battle with the Apache took place out in the open probably close to the cavalry camp meaning rescue - though unlikely - might have been possible if Carter had left Powell for dead.
  • Not So Different: John's claims of having no cause are mirrored by the Therns.
  • Off with His Head:
    • Tal Hajus's death.
    • Almost happens to John when Thars Tharkas attempts to kill Matai Shang impersonating him.
  • One Hit KO: Tal Hajus against John; justified, given his abilities. Earlier, done by John to an unlucky Thark - accidentally, as he's not in full control of his abilities yet.
  • One-Man Army: John, particularly in the scene where he takes on a horde of enemy Green Martians all by himself (yes, Woola helps him, which he doesn't like at all).
  • One-Scene Wonder: Kantos Kan (played by James Purefoy) doesn't have much to do besides act as Number Two to his king, but he gets the spotlight when he helps John escape one of the several times he's taken prisoner or detained.
  • Path of Inspiration: The cult of Issus is implied to have been set up by the Therns to further their agenda on Barsoom.
  • Planetary Romance: Of course!
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie retains the spirit of the books, but considerably reduces the Unfortunate Implications from a hundred-year old story (actual quote from A Princess Of Mars about John: "We all loved him, and our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod"). It's an adaption of the first book, A Princess of Mars, but also fleshes things out a bit by borrowing characters and situations from The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Tharks, and to a lesser extent the Red Martians.
  • Psychic Powers: The Red and Green Martians are mildly telepathic (which is how Carter learns their language so quickly); the Therns have much more expansive abilities.
  • The Red Planet: Of course!
  • River of Insanity: John's, Dejah's, and Sola's river journey leads them to an important revelation, but also gets them ambushed by Warhoons.
  • Serkis Folk: The Tharks, who end up looking pretty seamless in most live action scenes. Considering how faithful they are to Burroughs' original descriptions and previous artist depictions, it was no easy task.
  • Schizo-Tech: Lots and lots. For example, Red Martians can build Those Magnificent Flying Machines and walking cities, yet fight with swords and rather primitive firearms and use beasts of burden instead of automobiles for land-based travel.
  • Sequel Hook: The film ends on John Carter's return to Barsoom, where he will likely have to deal with the consequences of his long absence and the Therns' intrigues, particularly since the Therns, their rivals the First Born, and the cult of Issus are the primary focus of the second book, The Gods of Mars.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The making of the film itself. Hollywood had been trying to get it made in one form or another since 1938, and after 74 years it finally comes out...sinking like a stone at the box office and getting middling reviews.
  • Shapeshifter Guilt Trip: One of the White Martians tries something like this near the end.
  • Shout-Out: The very first time we see Dejah Thoris, she's looking directly at the camera in closeup and talking about the nature of Barsoom. This may be a deliberate reference to Princess Irulan's narration at the beginning of David Lynch's Dune -- and also a parody, since Dejah Thoris turns out to be rehearsing a speech.
  • Side Bet: Between two Tharks.
  • Someone Elses Problem: John Carter, for the first half of the movie, cares very little for the fact that Mars is going to hell.
  • Squishy Wizard: The Therns are ageless and wield enormous magical power, but die a from a single gunshot, like mere Puny Humans.
  • Stillborn Franchise: Before the movie was released, Andrew Stanton was talking about a trilogy. Then the media started talking it up as the flop of the decade, due to poor advance buzz and a weak performance at the US box office. However, Disney's losses are currently less than they had predicted at the end of March 2012, and there's a slight chance that Disney might go on with the rest of the trilogy after all. Of course, there's also the possibility that Disney may greenlight the second film if this one has stronger home video sales than box office sales.
  • String Theory: One of the drawings in John Carter's room in his estate. Also used as a visual motif in the end credits.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Therns are implied to be these.
  • Super Strength: Thanks to being a Heavyworlder: John is a real powerhouse in melee combat and can break really heavy chains. However, he is incapable of truly superhuman feats of strength.
  • Team Pet: Woola.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Sab Than pulls one on Dejah by offering her to either marry him or kill him. Both Sab Than and Dejah knows that, if he is murdered in cold blood, it would kill all hope of establishing peace between Zodanga and Helium, and Zodanga would probably raze Helium to the ground in retaliation - something that Dejah obviously doesn't want.
  • Time Skip: By the time John Carter was banished back to Earth, the Yankee Colonel was little more than a decaying skeleton, implying that he'd be away for at least months.
  • Title Drop:
    • "John Carter of Mars. This sounds much better."
    • Also, upon learning that Dejah is a princess, John sarcastically refers to her as "a princess of Mars", the title of the first book.
  • Tragic Keepsake: John wears two wedding rings. You might well guess what happened to his wife.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: They show the outcome of the battle between John Carter and the White Apes, which happens near the end of the movie. Except the trailer makes it look like a Curb Stomp Battle, but in the film, it's more difficult than that.
  • Translator Microbes: John doesn't understand one bit of the Martian language until he's force-fed liquor that allows him to listen to the "Voice of Barsoom" (i.e.: Martian language).
  • Trapped in Another World: Played mostly straight (well, duh, the original novel is one of the Trope Codifiers), then Inverted when John is banished back to Earth and desperately wants to return to Barsoom.
  • Troperrific: Inevitable for an adaptation of a book series that inspired countless fantasy and sci-fi tropes. As one reviewer wrote, "just about every sci-fi/fantasy/superhero adventure you ever loved is in here somewhere".
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: To John's life with his wife and daughter, and his later grim discovery.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Channeling his unresolved grief and anger from the death of his wife and child while he was away, years ago, John Carter takes on an army of feral Green Martians alone, immersing himself in slaughter in a blood-soaked catharsis. In a Disney movie!
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: The Barsoomian fauna, as well as the four-armed Tharks.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: All the Therns can do this, though it appears to be a function of their medallions and bracelets rather than a natural ability.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Taylor Kitsch, in most Barsoom scenes.
  • Whip It Good / Chain Pain: How John deals with one of the white apes.
  • Win the Crowd: In-universe. John makes the Tharks root for him by demonstrating his prowess in the arena.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: So the wedding between Sab Than and Dejah didn't go as planned and erupted in epic bloodshed? Why, we can marry her off to John Carter that very night, amid the wreckage of the city!
  • The Wild West: The action takes place there before John Carter gets transported to Mars.
  • Wizards from Outer Space: The Therns.
  • Xenafication: Book Dejah always had the attitude of a Proud Warrior Race Girl; the film gives her the fighting skills to back it up.
  • You Called Me "X" - It Must Be Serious: An interesting variant. Edgar Rice Burroughs realizes that something's up when his Uncle Jack addresses him as "Ned" in his letter instead of "Edgar". At the end, he finds out that pressing the letters N, E, and D on the "Inter Mundos" inscription unlocks John's burial chamber.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Sab Than tries to trade information on the therns for his life. A thern is watching.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle:
    • John Carter gets fooled by Matai Shang and sent back to Earth the very night he defeats the enemy army, marries Dejah, and becomes Prince of Barsoom.
    • Also, more literally, when Carter leads the Thark horde into Zodanga to stop the wedding, only to arrive there and find that it's being held in Helium.
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