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.