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John Carter

March 11, 2012

John Carter: Good God… I’m on Mars.

There are two ways to approach John Carter, one being with an open mind, and the other with not-so-great expectations. I was kind of in the middle of all of that. I never found the trailers for the film compelling nor did it feature anything new or exciting that I have not already seen (Avatar, a perfect example). However, I was intrigued by director Andrew Stanton, who moved over from animation to his first live-action feature film. It was the massive amount of respect I have for Stanton that compelled me to see the film. What the film has going for it is the spectacular CGI effects along with a decent sense of adventure throughout. While that was enjoyable for the most part, the film is uneven throughout and has a running time that could have been cut down at least a good twenty minutes. With an estimated 250m budget (more expensive than Avatar), John Carter is a decent film that will satisfy certain audiences based on their taste, but don’t go calling it a worthwhile blockbuster.

As convoluted as the plot is, I’ll try and break it down for you. Taylor Kitsch portrays John Carter, a Civil War vet living in the late 1800s. Carter has various debts and tabs open, pleading that there is a cave with a massive amount of gold in it. After discovering something odd and eye-catching, he picks up a strange device and is instantly warped to planet Barsoom (known as Mars for people on earth). With no recollection of how he is here or what is going on, he discovers the superpowers he has on this strange place, including the ability to jump high and far. Any resemblance to the Hulk here? 

On this strange planet, he is approached by an alien life force, known as the Tharks. Their leader is Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Both foreign to each other, they have a tough time comprehending the others language. What intrigues the Tharks about Carter is his ability to leap far and high, which is the main reason they didn’t sacrifice him. Carter discovers that there are other humans on the planet after he rescues Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) from the evil Zodanga forces. Will John Carter stay on Mars and fight, or will he find a way back to Earth? 

I’ll start with the pros: John Carter has spectacular visuals, which in the end are the film’s saving grace. With a visual effects team of 100+ members, the visual style of the film pays off in the end. The scenery of John Carter is stunning, huge, and expansive beyond words. For the most part, the film was shot in Utah for the scenes in the film that take place on Mars. Even though I have no idea how all of this was $250 million, I can see that it was put to good use. The only complaint I have is that the creature design seemed sloppy and unoriginal. These creatures look like a mix of the Na’vi species from Avatar and the prawns from District 9. Aside from that, the visual style of the film is nothing much to complain about.

As much as I respect director Andrew Stanton (Wall-EFinding Nemo), I couldn’t help but think that moving from animation to live-action was a mistake. I say all of this because Stanton did nothing to make John Carter his own. It seems as if he stole most of the film’s basis from countless different source materials from the past decade. Yes, I am aware that John Carter is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series of science fiction novels, yet I was peeved throughout because of the constant similarities to various films; most notably Avatar. As much as I’d like to list the biggest similarity between the two, it would spoil [both of] the film’s for readers.

Other film’s I found similar to John Carter include the prawns in District 9, the arena sequence in Attack of the Clones, and some of the more obscure sequences in Cowboys & Aliens. I should also point out that I viewed the film in IMAX 3D. I’m not the biggest fan of 3D, but I am a big fan of watching movies in IMAX. While I was a bit disappointed with the upconverted IMAX format (common in film’s nowadays), it was enjoyable to see this beautiful scenery on an exponentially large screen. Despite the material having been mined endlessly, the visual effects of John Carter has enough eye-catching moments to keep the viewer mildly entertained. 

Taylor Kitsch is a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I liked the macho-ness and badassery that he gave to John Carter. On the other hand, it didn’t seem like he took his role very seriously. Unfamiliar with the original John Carter of Mars source material, I cannot fairly object to the whole complexity of his character, yet I doubt a book would portray a character to be bland at several points. Lynn Collins’ performance as Princess Dejah Thoris was just plain sloppy. Throughout the film, her character and performance seems unnecessary, forced, and non-engaging.  

Thankfully, we have an all-star supporting cast who help save the day. First off, Mark Strong is still a villain for hire, playing the shape-shifting Matai Shang, in another solid role. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston has a small but quintessential role early on in the film, as well as Don Stark (Bob from That 70’s Show). Later in the film, Dominic West and Thomas Haden Church show up as the alien-like creatures. The most surprising actors on the cast list have to be David Schwimmer and Jon Favreau, who both have 1-second long cameos as Thark Warriors, but it’s still a fun little perk to point out.

I had a reasonable amount of fun here, flaws aside. John Carter did not have a very good marketing campaign; this is true for various reasons although the most notable one is that the trailers didn’t give a very good outlook on the plot. All of that aside, John Carter is a pure spectacle of dazzling visuals and decent storytelling. While I have no interest to see it again, I recommend it be watched in true form: IMAX 3D. 

John Carter: 3 out of 5

One Comment leave one →
  1. TheWORSTfriend permalink
    May 18, 2012 3:37 pm

    David Schwimmer did not film the role of Young Thark Warrior. He is taking credit for Matt Lasky who did the MoCap and whose voice is still in the film sans credit.

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