Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Carter

I was excited for John Carter after I saw the very first teaser trailer, which provided infuriatingly little information about any plot or even basis for the story, but it looked completely bizarre and so, naturally, I was hooked.  I went on Saturday.  In short, it did not disappoint, although comparing it to the epic film and special effects pioneer Avatar or the brilliantly and artfully executed Cowboys & Aliens would be a mistake.

The movie is based (I don’t know how loosely) on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the first in an eleven-volume series written between 1912 and 1943.  Why they just now thought to make a movie out of it is beyond me, although I am glad it was done now that CGI and other special effects meld darn near seamlessly with live-action content.

Image... uh... borrowed from IMDb
Something that often suffers when writing plot-driven books (and suffers again when adapting them for the big screen) is character development.  Perhaps John Carter’s writers used this to their advantage, because the only character who really needs to be developed—the titular hero himself—is surprisingly deep.  His backstory (fought in the war, family died, nothing left to lose, etc.), albeit not the most original of them all, is valid and emotional, not fully revealed until he relives it himself in flashbacks while slicing and dicing aliens in a slow-motion rage.

The plot felt a bit crammed in places, which is often the result of trying to fit too much book into too little movie.  When you’ve got a few hundred pages and a committed reader, sub-plots are delightful.  But when you have 120-or-so minutes with an audience constantly trying to pick the next scene to skip for a popcorn refill or bathroom run, sub-plots become incommodious, and a couple of them—such as one of the tharks’ (a race of Martians) discovery that she is the leader’s daughter—could have been sacrificed for the sake of development more integral to the overall plot.

Undue emphasis was placed on the war between the two cities, when the really interesting stuff (like the conflict between John Carter and the supernatural therns who seem to be the real antagonists) tended to slip between the cracks.

The film draws a few giggles, and convincing the audience to like—adore, even—a downright ugly monster that looks like a very large frog. It panted and whined like any earth dog, and I even think I heard it bark once.  According to John Carter, if you’ve suspended enough disbelief to handle civilizations on other planets and magical drinks that translate alien languages, Martians are not so alien.  In fact, they could have been made to act a little more alien, if you ask me.  And not so British.  There are apparently a lot of Brits on Mars.  However, the damsel in distress—who, to her credit, does an impressive amount of butt-kicking—does literally shake John Carter’s hand, jiggling it by the thumb, which was pretty funny, if predictable.

The end was well done, though I suppose I won’t talk about it too much.  Based on what the rest of the Internet has to say, it doesn’t look good for a sequel, but if they make one, I’ll go see it.


  1. Thanks for the review! I read the books when I was a kid and have been looking forward to this movie.

  2. my favorite line is "like an earth dog". hahaha those damn earth dogs, always whining and shit!

  3. Love (and respect) this review. Nicely put together, Raz, really! Can't believe you thought Cowboys and Aliens was well done. I like believable science fiction, but even Star Wars lost me at Jar-Jar. But you make me want to see this movie. I looked and looked for the number of stars you gave it.

  4. @Kevin - really? I haven't read the books but I want to now. How are they?

    @ihateeverything - not a dog person i take it?

    @Tom - I loved Cowboys & Aliens! However, as with that movie, my opinions in this review differ greatly from most other critics. If you didn't like Cowboys & Aliens, you won't like this one. I know I need a concrete rating system. I'm brainstorming and open to suggestions.