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John Carter

John Carter

What She said:

She

I have to say, never have I been less interested in a movie than I was for John Carter.  I don’t think I was alone in thinking that the trailer made it look like a real bomb, and that’s saying it nicely.  I knew little of the background of the film.  It’s apparently based off an old book by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I’ve neither read it nor have any interest in ever reading it. 

I, like so many Americans, took a pass on seeing this one in theaters.  And when it came out on Blu-ray, I wasn’t exactly lined up at the Redbox to rent it.  Buuuutttt, I softened to the notion one Saturday night when there was nothing else out there to rent.  Afterall, I reckon John Carter (the character that is) would at least offer some eye candy.  I sucked up that nauseous feeling of dread, sat my tush on the couch, and yes, I survived.  And, John Carter wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Before you get too excited, I’m not going to say it was the best movie ever either.  It was a popcorn flick—epic, filled with fight sequences, and driven by top notch special effects.  Before pushing play, I cleared my mind the best I could, and watched as the movie hit the ground running.

Here are your basics:  John Carter is an explorer-dude whose sudden death summons his nephew, Ned.  Ned is bequeathed all of Carter’s goodies, including a huge estate and a journal that only he is allowed to read.  When he opens it, he, as well as viewers, are introduced to the real story of John Carter.  We’re taken back to a time when Carter is being chased by authorities in what appears to be the Wild West.  He happens upon a cave, and while he’s hiding out, a mysterious dude teleports in.  Carter kills the guy and takes his amulet, which teleports him to another world.  Mars, to be exact.  Of course, Carter has no idea where he is—all he knows is that there’s lots of dirt, red rocks, and he can jump really high.  He meets some Tharks, which are your basic run-of-the-mill alien warriors, and gets involved in a Martian war between different groups of human-like creatures.  I call them human-like because they’re technically aliens, but they look just like us except they’re all tan.  They also dress like ancient Romans.  So yeah, Carter gets involved in all that, falls in love with a princess, and then is disappointed when he’s eventually zapped back to Earth.  There’s a bit more to it, but I don’t want to spoil everything.

The story is a little out there, and I’m not sure if I cared enough to fully understand it.  It seemed pretty self-explanatory, if you can get on board with the whole alien thing.  I was mostly on board, even though I laughed at some of the particulars of it all.  The movie is pretty harmless, and the acting is fine.  It walks the line between hokey and taking itself too seriously, which I found somewhat amusing.  I admit to falling asleep for about 10 minutes, but I reckon I didn’t miss too much; maybe some buff arms or chiseled abs.

All in all, I certainly didn’t hate John Carter, and I found that to be a huge relief.  For that reason I’m giving it a pretty positive review.

Thumbs about 75 percent up.

 

What he said:

He

John Carter is based on a novel called A Princess of Mars.  The book is made up of a series of short stories that appeared in pulp magazines and other publications about a hundred years ago. It was written by a man named Edgar Rice Burroughs (played by Daryl Sabra in this movie). The average person probably doesn’t recognize his name, but will probably know one of his other works: Tarzan. In Princess of Mars – and other books that followed in the series – Burroughs put forth ideas that have influenced science fiction and fantasy even to this day.

In the movie John Carter’s nephew Edgar (Burroughs made himself a character in the story) gets news of his uncle’s sudden death. He had not seen his uncle in years, but was always very fond of him. Carter constantly told him all kinds of tales that he loved to listen to as a boy. This bond is important, because in his death Carter has left his nephew everything. Edgar is shocked to find out his uncle was very wealthy, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. His uncle had some very specific burial instructs; which he laid out in his personal journal. The journal explains the instructions behind his odd request and also has clues as to why the two hadn’t seen each other in years.

Long before his sudden death, John Carter was on the losing side of the Civil War and has also experienced some personal tragedy; so he is something of a drifter. He spends most of his time prospecting for gold. The U.S. Cavalry has other ideas for him. They still see him as a member of the military. They want him to help with the problems they are having with the Apache. Carter resists and they arrest him. He eventually escapes and while pursuing him they all get involved in a firefight with the Apache. Carter and Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame) flee to a nearby cave. The Apache pursue them until they see some markings on the cave that scares them off. Carter enters the cave and encounters a strange looking human. He’s wearing some kind of futuristic looking robes, is extremely pale, and is as bald as a baby. He looks like a man, but not exactly like we are used to seeing.  You can tell something is different about him. The man attacks and Carter shoots him. Carter then picks up a device the man dropped and then disappears.

Carter awakens in a desert. He quickly notices something is wrong. He can’t quite walk right. He tries walking, but every time he does he’s sent a few feet into the air. It’s as if the simplest of movements seems like too much effort.

John Carter

The next thing he knows he is being chased by a bunch of 10-15 feet tall green monsters with 4 arms! Several of them immediately begin shooting at him, but one takes an interest in him. His name is Tar Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and he is the leader of his people. The green Martians are a primitive race and have a very war-like culture. They don’t like outsiders. Tar Tarkas is a little different from most of his people. He is a little more compassionate and rational than just about all of them. The only one remotely like him is one a young female named Sola (Samantha Morton). Tars is curious about Carter and doesn’t see him as a threat. Actually, he sees him as a potential ally due to his tremendous jumping ability and strength; which we discover is a result of Martian environment affecting him different than the natives (think of it as being similar to the explanation behind Superman’s power on Earth).

Carter soon comes to realize he’s on Mars (referred to as Barsoom by the locals) and he’s traded one civil war for another. Barsoom is a planet of several different races. There’s the green Martians, the red Martians, and the white Martians; known as the Therns. The greens are broken into several different tribes and generally don’t like anyone else other than their own tribe (and they even fight amongst themselves).  The red Martians (who look like people with a really deep tan) are a group of human-looking folk divided into two cities; Zodanga and Helium. The two cities are at war over control of the planet. The Therns (the pale white guys) are beings of myth and legend. Not many actually know of their existence. They are led by someone named Matai Shang (Mark Strong).  They appear to have advanced technology that they are trying to prohibit others from discovering.

John Carter

Sab Than (Dominic West) – the leader of Zodanga – has proposed peace talks with Helium onthe condition he gets to marry Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Dejah’s father Tardos Mars (Ciarán Hinds) isn’t crazy about the idea, but is willing to proceed if it means peace. He fears that Helium can no longer afford a war with Zodanga. Dejah finds this to be completely unacceptable and flees the city. This is how she ends up meeting John Carter; who she sees as something of a savior.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. It is an epic story.

So what does $250 million (and another $100 mil in marketing) get you? Not as much as Disney was hoping for, that’s what.  John Carter was one of the biggest financial failures in movie history while Disney was hoping it would be their version of Avatar. Disney was hoping to create the next big thing, but it just didn’t happen. Why? Some say the movie cost too much to make. Others say it was bad marketing. And some simply say it is a bad movie.

Even before this movie came out, there were murmurs this movie might end up costing Disney money. I mean, how couldn’t it? It is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Disney made a huge mistake in OKing that much money for a movie based on a book the average movie-goer has no idea exists. That was their first mistake. The book didn’t have as large as a following as they anticipated.

One of the biggest criticisms of the movie was that it was a little predictable. It was, I won’t lie. But so is Star Wars and a lot of people – myself included – loved that. So is The Avengers (review here) and audiences loved that too. You also have to bear in mind it’s based on a very old book; so of course after a lifetime of watching movies this might seem predictable to some people.

The movie had a bad buzz before it was even released. It didn’t help when critics didn’t fall in love with it either. I think the reverse of what happened with Avatar (review here) happened with John Carter.  A few people didn’t love it and that just carried over to more-and-more places as time went on. Look at Avatar now. Do you hear people talking about it the way they were when it came out? No, you don’t. It’s virtually forgotten considering it’s the highest grossing movie of all time. Why is that? Well, I think people started to realize it really wasn’t as good as all that money it brought it. It had James Cameron’s name behind it. It also helped that it was his first movie in over a decade. Well as time went on, people have started to come around to John Carter. A lot of people are defending the movie saying it isn’t as bad as its reputation. I have to agree with that opinion. Don’t get me wrong, this could have been better. With a little tweaking – it did drag in parts – it could have been as epic as they had hoped, but overall it wasn’t a bad ride at all.

The movie surprised me with how funny it was. It had kind of a hokey innocence to it that you don’t see in movies much anymore.  When Carter first finds himself on Mars and is figuring out how to walk, it was surprisingly funny. It was so simple and stupid, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t smile at it. The green Martians amusement at Carter’s super abilities was also kind of funny. They kept requesting he jump around like some kind of pet. Speaking of the green Martians, I also had to crack up at the babies who hatched from the eggs.  Again, it was simple, but did make me laugh. The little green slugs were quite funny. His sidekick Woola (think of a Martian dog) was also highly amusing. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to him, but he had a very R2D2 thing going on coupled with the likeability of a loveable pet.

 For the most part, the effects were quite good. I thought most of the environments were very convincing. There a few here and there that could have used some work, but overall they looked quite good. The ships also looked quite real. The creatures themselves were also impressive. The green Martians and great white apes looked fantastic. The apes were significantly larger than they were in the books, but it was not a problem with me. They looked every bit as good – if not better – than the creatures from the much more highly-praised Avatar. I would put these effects up against anything else I’ve seen lately. The only things I thought looked a little fake were some of the instances the Carter character was showing his tremendous jumping skills. I get they wanted to do it a lot because it’s supposed to be his thing, but it was a little much at times.  I felt the same way about Woola’s super-speed at times too. Is this where all the money went? The effects were some of the best I’ve seen in years, but learn how to be more efficient, won’t ya Disney?

John Carter

The acting was also pretty good for what the movie was. It’s an epic sci fi/fantasy so you need to find a balance between dramatic – if not soapy – and innocent or even hammy (in a good way). Lynn Collins really poured her heart into the role. I head heard reviews of that she gave it her all and you can tell. She was a good heroine. Taylor Kitsch was accused of being a little wooden. I agree his range could use a little improvement when trying to convey a comber character, but I was willing to forgive it when he pulls out something like this. Maybe it’s the epic music and the flashback sequences, but I was really pulling for the character during that scene. I absolutely loved Willem Dafoe as Tar Tarkas. He just really conveyed what the character was all about to me. Samantha Morton also had a similar affect on me in her portrayal as Sola. I heard some people complaining about Daryl Sabra’s performance as Burroughs, but I found him totally non-offensive. He wasn’t great, but I heard some people trash him and I didn’t think it was warranted.

Some diehard fans of the book were disappointed they didn’t’ get a closer adaptation. What can I say? What I always say, “If you want the book read the book.” The white apes were bigger, so what? Who cares about that kind of stuff? Yeah, the Therns aren’t in the first book and they are changed from how they appear/act in the second book. I don’t dispute that. It just didn’t bother me. I thought their energy weapons were pretty bad-ass. I also didn’t mind Zodanga being a moving city. Truth-be-told, I thought it looked impressive.

This movie got a bit of a bum rap. It’s by no means perfect, but I did not think it was as bad as its financial failure indicated. I was unsure of how it would actually be, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was like Star Wars in the sense that it was a nice mix of epic adventure and a simple story. If you enjoy that kind of thing, give it a chance.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on June 25, 2012.