John Carter

I've been waiting for this movie pretty much since I picked up the first book in the series when I was eleven. There are early reviews all over the place, and while some are positive, others trash it pretty darned hard. I wasn't sure what to expect.

So -- here's the good news.

This movie is fun to watch and a feast for the eyes, and if you love science fiction in any way, shape or form, you are probably going to enjoy it. Barsoom is a fully realized fictional planet as detailed and glorious as (dare I say it) Avatar's Pandora. Everything I loved about the books: the green people, the fliers, the arena, John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Tars Tarkas, Sola and Woola, are all beautifully, wonderfully, a hundred percent present and accounted for. I've told people that Avatar is worth watching despite its story flaws because it is so incredible to look at. I will say exactly the same thing about John Carter. It's awesome. In fact, I liked it better than Avatar. Although I will readily admit that it could be my childhood talking.

I am also surprised and pleased to report that I liked Taylor Kitsch in the title role. The original John Carter in the books is pretty much a manly swordfighting stereotype, but Taylor Kitsch added some necessary hotness, charm and fun. Even better, I loved, loved, loved Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris. She was the high point in this movie for me, a kick-ass heroine with incredible eyes who absolutely dominated the screen and eclipsed the Dejah Thoris in the books. I liked the two of them as a couple, too.

The Tharks, the green people, were utterly fabulous, and Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton were terrific as the voices of Tars Tarkas and Sola. They felt like real people and I *liked* them, and that was a massive accomplishment. I particularly liked how natural the four arms looked. And I loved Woola, John Carter's Martian watchdog, who in the books as well as the movie is exceptionally ugly, exceptionally fast, and exceptionally loyal.

There were several areas where the movie was less successful. Burroughs never tried too hard to explain certain things, but audiences are a bit more demanding these days. So the producers of this movie tried to make up for it by introducing elements in the second and third books – the evil therns (priests), the worship of Issus, and so on – and added new stuff that came out of nowhere, and I don't think it worked. They also jumped headlong into world-building and Martian vocabulary instead of bringing it in gradually, and that was a mistake. I was able to follow it because I know the books, but I kept thinking that people who haven't read the books would be going, what?

If you haven't read the books and just saw the movie, I'd appreciate hearing what you thought. Were you able to follow it? Did it lose you?

John Carter can leap tall buildings in a single bound and land without breaking bones because of the lesser gravity of Mars. I thought that both worked, and didn't work. The early scenes where he was learning to walk were great. Later, though, it felt a bit like it was edging into Superman territory. I also thought that the red cities of Helium and Zodanga, while gorgeous, weren't as compelling as Thark. And while I'm complaining, can I direct my ire at the marketing department? The trailers and billboards did not give me any sense whatsoever of how rich, dense and full of detail this movie is. There are a number of memorable moments that they could have used that stayed with me after I left the theater, any one of which would have represented the movie much, much better. Maybe it was just an embarrassment of riches. Maybe they were going for the action movie crowd. I don't know. All I know is that someone was asleep at the wheel.

Some reviewers have referred to John Carter as derivative, but they've got it backward. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote some of the very earliest American science fiction, and writers and movie makers have been ripping off his Mars series of books for literally a hundred years. The only reason we didn't get a movie long ago was that it was impossible to translate the important elements of this story to the screen; we had to make do with our imaginations. I would like to personally thank Andrew Stanton for putting Burroughs' amazing vision of Mars up on the big screen in vibrant, living color, even if he didn't get it absolutely perfect.

I'm going to divulge a small secret. When I'm trying to decide how many stars to give a movie or an episode of television and a number doesn't immediately pop into my mind, the first thing I usually think of is, do I want to see it again? Hell, no – one star. Probably not – two stars. Yes – three stars. Hell, yes – four stars. I definitely want to see this movie again, and I will buy a copy. And quite selfishly, I hope it makes enough money to get me a couple of sequels. (I understand the scripts are already written.) Dan thinks John Carter will improve on repeated viewings, and he isn't emotionally invested in the property like I am, so I believe him and hope he's right.

Three out of four cheesy but actually pretty delicious science fiction epics,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

12 comments:

Morgan India said...

I've never read John Carter and I had only heard of the movie when I was trolling the James Purefoy tag on Tumblr. I think my Rome fangirl passed out when I found out that both James and Ciaran Hinds were both in this movie.

It's not out in Australia yet, but I might go see it for Purefoy and Hinds when it does.

Josie Kafka said...

Billie, I'm so glad you liked this movie: I'd read some of those negative reviews and thought of you, because I remember you being excited about this movie since it was greenlit (with a different director, I think?).

And how cool is it that movie technology is getting so close to what we imagine?

Dan O. said...

Despite occasional moments of silliness, the old-fashioned sense of adventure and brilliantly rendered aliens elevate this above other derivative big-budget sci-fi fare. I still wished that Kitsch did a lot better in this lead role but he was only there for eye-candy really. Good review Billie. Check out mine when you can.

drnanamom said...

I just went to see this and love, love, loved it. What fun! I did read the series when I was younger but have forgotten most of it and my friend hadn't read them at all and neither of us were lost. We weren't sure about the father/daughter thing but it didn't really bother us much. There were also lots of cheesy moments but that just made it even more fun for us. I liked Tars Tarkas and Sola too and loved Woola. I am with you on wanting sequels. As for throwing too much in too soon, I don't mind that they over-reached a bit. It was glorious. Sometimes I think that we think we have to be critics when just enjoying yourself is as good, if not a better goal.

Eris said...

I never read John Carter but I was so impressed with the cast and I love a good sci-fi movie adventure so I was always going to go. And also, Taylor Kitsch is a big draw for me, shirtless or not! (Big Friday Night Lights fan and thought he was damn near perfect as Gambit in Wolverine.)

Anyway, I wasn't confused or lost, nor did I feel bogged down in exposition. I really enjoyed it. The scale and world-building were so impressive - it felt very alien and yet very real. The romance felt believable, with great chemistry between John Carter and Dejah Thoris. She was such a strong heroine. The effects served the story and never felt intrusive. I also wasn't expecting it to be so funny! I had a great time at John Carter and it's such a shame that it seems to be faltering at the box office already, because I would have loved to see more of him.

CrazyCris said...

I haven't read the books but I've been looking forward to this film since I saw the first trailers! Seems like a fun action/adventure/scifi romp! Plus I'm a fan of Taylor Kitsch after his fabulous work in Friday Night Lights.

Glad to see you raving about it Billie! I just hope it won't lose too much in translation since I'm going to have to see it in Spanish... :s

Question: did you go for 3D or 2D? I'm hesitating between the two...

Billie Doux said...

I decided to go for 2D this time, if that helps any.

Mark said...

I've never read the books. I wasn't lost, but I was willing to take whatever they gave me and fill in the rest from all the sci-fi I've watched over the years. I agree with everything you said: enjoyed it, beautiful to watch, script didn't always work (but it could have been worse), Lynn Collins was absolutely gorgeous (and older than the male protagonist!!), and I hope it does well enough to give Stanton another crack at it.

After seeing the film, I wish the ad people would have introduced the story, instead of trying to quick-cut flashy scenes. Just start with Carter after the war, see him broken down (probably with the voice over "I was too late once"), then show him waking up on Mars. After the "where am I", THEN flash-cut to the craziness.

I only glanced at a number of negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and I noticed that about half of them bring up the budget right away. I can only infer that if they think a $250 million dollar film isn't 250 times better than a $1 million dollar indie film, these reviewers wouldn't like it. But considering that I'm paying the same ticket price for either film, they shouldn't get so bogged down in the budget.

tricksterson said...

Billie if John's leaping tall buildings and superstrength seemed to "edge into Superman territory" there's a reason for it. The original Superman, an alien whose powers came from Earth's lighter gravity, was partially based on John Carter. The creators originally wanted to do a comic book version of the Barsoom books but couldn't convince the publisjer that their idea would sell

Billie Doux said...

tricksterson, I didn't know that! And I even said in my review that John Carter was not derivative, it was the original. :) How about that?

So far, the box office isn't doing all that well. At this rate, the movie will be lucky to make its money back. I hope word of mouth helps and people give this movie a chance.

CrazyCris said...

I finally saw this last week and LOVED it! No worries about not understanding things that weren't explained, I'm smart enough to understand the subtext and fill in the blanks, although I could see there were probably story elements that would mean more to people familiar with the books (the blue guys whose name I can't remember now?). I thought the scene where he had to re-learn to walk was fun... makes sense the creators of Superman would have been inspired by that!

I ended up watching it in 2D, simply because of scheduling. But I went to see Hugo in 3D this weekend and was treated to an extended preview of John Carter in 3D (where Thars Tharkas asks him to jump,plus more) and damn! Looks really good! Now I wish I'd waited until I had time to make it to a 3D session! (but not enough to pay to see it again... unless by some chance I could see it in 3D and in English... some of the dialogue wasn't too convincing in Spanish)

I hope it makes enough so that we get the two sequels! But if not, they did wrap it up nicely. :o)

danielle vejar ramirez said...

I loooved the Barsoom series (books) , I've read them all a few times now, the movie was good but I wish they wouldn't have taken things from the second n third books I really believe they could have made just as good of a movie by only using the first book and if they wouldn't have added so much of their own ideas n tried to stick more with Burroughs story but it was worth watching so I guess I shouldn't complain I guess my imagination just imagined barsoom and everyone n thing in it much better