Saturday, March 10, 2012

John Carter - A Review!

The early talk is that Disney's epic John Carter is going to be deemed a financial failure. A spectacular special effects movie, this one cost so much to make that it will take a long while for it to recoup its costs if ever. Too bad if that's the case, because it's an entertaining flick.

We are transported (literally) to the Barsoom envisioned by Burroughs and we meet the rough and tumble Tharks, the contentious Red Men of Helium and Zodanga, the Holy Therns, the ferocious White Apes, and most notably the lovely and fetching Dejah Thoris. It's a movie that struggles always to make sense of the avalanche of odd names and odd behaviors, but in my analysis does so just sufficiently to keep the audience connected and the story moving. I'll even go so far as to say that the some scenes are truly emotionally powerful, not something action epics always do or try to.

Go see it. I highly recommend it.

More after some SPOILER WARNINGS.

Don't read anymore until you've seen the movie.

I mean it, don't SPOIL these surprises.

Okay, then here we go.

The movie starts on an odd note, specifically it begins on Mars/Barsoom and introduces the conflict between Zodanga and Helium and shows the Therns and how they are influencing matters there. This is an odd choice since it undermines the the effectiveness of Carter's later transition to Mars and our discovery through him of that world. We see it before he does and that puts the viewer in a strange place I think, somewhat outside the narrative. Clearly the creators of the flick thought a battle might get the audience jazzed and the slow beginning frightened them. I wish they had trusted the structure of the original more in this regard.

After some intriguing mystery, character development and more than a small bit of action we get Carter into the cave which will see him transition to Barsoom but in the movie a Thern is involved and a amulet-like device used to transport people from planet to planet is introduced. It's this device that becomes something of a mild maguffin through much of the movie. It's a different choice than the novel and apparently the creators were again afraid of the mystery of Carter's actual transition to Mars, though thematically the idea of resurrection is key to understanding this movie.

The Thark society is well realized and they look great, save perhaps that a bit more work on the skin would've been good since from time to time they give off a plastic feel. It's rare but it does happen. The White Apes though are magnificently done. Woola the Calot is beautifully done and offers up some neat lighter moments in the story.

There is chemistry between Carter (Taylor Kitsch who works as Carter exceedingly well despite my pre-movie misgivings) and Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins who is thankfully a smart capable and deadly Dejah and not the bimbo the comics have transformed the character into) as there clearly ought to be, and so that aspect of the tale seems nailed down. The action in this movie is outstanding, and the sweep of the fights is excellent and rarely loses its focus. This is especially emarkable given how much territory some of the fights cover. Carter leaps about in classic Superman fashion to great effect, though I can see some audience members being put off by his heroics.

One fight in particular is magnificently done as it is intercut with scenes of a tragedy Carter suffered on Earth. The emotional intensity of this sequence is the highlight of the movie for me, and enough reason to overlook the few off-note choices the movie has elsewhere.

In the novels, Carter is a bloody bastard at times, and he's not always a likeable chap here, but even better than the books we find an interior life to John Carter which empowers his choices. For Burroughs Carter is a hero because he says so, here we find some more complicated motivations for a man needing more than smidge of salvation.

It even goes to the reason the movie is just called "John Carter", but I'll say no more on that score.

Go see it.

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  1. I tend to like a lot of genre films, but it is rare that I actually "love" one. John Carter was instantly one of the latter. I can't even put into words just how much the filmmakers got right about this film, but everything from the casting, the music score, the special effects, the performances and lest we forget, the perfect story immediately transported me back to my 11-13 year old self, as I first discovered the original ERB books and fell head over heels for them. The Barsoom books by Burroughs are a personal favorite, and considering its long absence from films (though it influences stuff for decades), not a property that I wanted to see fail theatrically. I needn't have worried!

    Who knows if John Carter will prove to be sufficiently profitable or not, hey we do live in an exceedingly dumb period of history where millions of dropouts are enraptured by TV shit like "Jersey Shores", but John Carter is OUTSTANDING. I will watch it many, many times (definitely getting the Blu-ray of this classic).

  2. I've read some of the early reviews and I have to wonder what movie some of them saw, because it wasn't the same one I was looking at. I was impressed at how much pure ERB got onto the screen, and that's going to be both a good and bad thing for modern movie makers. I hope too that they do well enough to warrant completing the trilogy as the producer has discussed, but I frankly doubt it given how much this one cost. But then, they are making "Wrath of the Titans" so anything is possible.

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  3. I thought they tried to put too much into the movie and rushed through things that would get you to care about the characters and the relationships between them. The visuals of Barsoom and its inhabitants were great; and Lynn Collins was the pleasant surprise for me as Dejah Thoris.

    This was my first experience with a 3D movie and I found it distracting. Maybe the glasses were dirty (I did clean them with a micro-fiber cloth first.) or scratched up. Things were hazy. I may enjoy a standard version better. I'll be happy to watch a future DVD or Blue-Ray version, to see if a director's cut or added scenes would have helped the movie flow better.

  4. I made a point to see a regular presentation, but for a while it seemed I might have to go with a 3-D version just to make it fit my schedule yesterday. I'm glad I didn't, because the action is pretty helter skelter and in 3-D it might well be overwhelming. I find modern action films in general are pretty dense, sometimes too much for me to enjoy completely. Transformers comes to mind.

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  5. I think that the problem was marketing. It should have been titled John Carter of Mars, as were the wonderful Dell issues that introduced the character to me in the 1950s


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