John Carter

by A. Journey

It was a rough weekend for Disney. They’ve been struggling to start up another successful Pirates of the Caribbean-like franchise in the past few years; in 2010 Prince of Persia flopped and TRON: Legacy really underperformed. John Carter was supposed to be the next big hit, but with awful marketing and middling critical reviews, it came in second at the box office this past weekend behind The Lorax, which was in its second weekend. For such a big-budget film, it’s embarrassing, actually. I am here, however, to defend John Carter, and implore you to see it. It isn’t a giant triumph in filmmaking, for sure, but for an escapist piece of sci-fi/fantasy, I had a lot of fun. There were twists and turns, romance, humor, heartbreak, and a well-formed mythology and environment. Best of all, I found myself invested in the characters and their plights, something more than I can say about a similar movie that comes to mind, the overrated Avatar 

About

2012 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Adventure, Dir. Andrew Stanton

Brought to life by PIXAR’s Andrew Stanton, John Carter is based on the near-century old novel A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story follows Civil War vet John Carter as he finds himself suddenly transported to Mars, which is on the brink of destruction because of its own civil war. With a new found ability,  John Carter attempts to return home while becoming more entrenched in the lives of the inhabitants of this strange new world.

Why I saw it?

I was very skeptical and had low expectations for the film. Why wouldn’t I? You’ve seen the trailers. But I’m also a big PIXAR and  Friday Night Lights fan (FNL‘s Tim Riggins is played by John Carter, himslef, Taylor Kitsch). Oh, and the one and only Michael Giacchino wrote the film’s score.

What Doesn’t Work

I’m going to start off with the negatives this time because the movie DOES have them, and I don’t want you to think that I’m just going to gloss over them.

-Opening Scene. The movie starts off with what has to be the most generic, sci-fi battle scene I’ve seen in a long time. There is no sense of space at all (as in the constant close-ups don’t let you know where the battle is happening, or who or what exactly is fighting whom), and it just isn’t that exciting. I physically rolled my eyes, and thought, “Great, I just paid money for this.” It isn’t until the very end of the scene that something remotely interesting happens.

-Too much/Too Little Exposition. This was an odd thing for a movie. At times the plot is so overly explained it’s almost funny. The audience doesn’t need to be told the same thing by different characters multiple times. At other times I found myself very confused and had no idea what was going on. Why are these characters going here? Why does John Carter care about gold so much? Who was John Carter really before this movie? Who is THIS person now?  What is THAT thing? I had a lot of questions at the same time I was saying to the movie, “I got it, I got it.” Very Strange.

-Less than Perfect Dialogue.  That’s being nice. It’s not all bad, but there are certainly some cringe-inducing gems here, all completly forgettable.

What Works

I know those seem like some BIG negatives, but hear me out.

Likable Stars. Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins (even a few of the aliens and even Spy Kid‘s own Daryl Sabara) are downright likable. I wanted John Carter to succeed the moment he stumbled through the Martian landscape early in the film. He’s gruff and dirty, but he’s a good guy with a tragic past, and no matter how cheesy the lines get, I was always on board with him. Same with Lynn Collins’s princess character. She was tough and smart and reminded me a lot of Aladdin‘s Jasmine. The performances anchored the film.

-A Whole New World. Mars, which in the film is known as Barsoom, really feels as though it has been inhabited for centuries with a long history of clashing civilizations. The film throws you into the middle of a social turning point, and while John Carter doesn’t explore the planet’s history or politics too much, it is developed enough for it to feel real.

-Earth VS Mars. The movie is bookended with sequences on Earth, and it serves as a great contrast to the rest of the film, one that accentuates how truly (and subtly) otherworldly the scenes on Barsoom are.

Indiana Jones and the Adventure-Comedy. A lot of the film reminded me of Indiana Jones. I say this because it’s chock-full of good old-fashioned, matinee-type action and adventure, with plenty of trekking, wonder, and swashbuckling. It’s also genuinely funny. Whether it be in John Carter’s interactions with the various Martian peoples, or  whether it’s the cute, fat dog-like creature that pops in and out, I found myself laughing a lot while watching.

-Cutting. The movie contains a lot of smart writing and editing, and it shows in the unique cutting during some of the film’s scenes.  I won’t spoil much, but in an epic battle sequence halfway through, John Carter is slashing though hordes of enemies; at the same time, the film cuts to shots of him burying his wife back on Earth. This and similar scenes  that take advantage of some refreshing editing add a lot to the story and the background of the John Carter character as a whole.

-Michael Giacchino. He’s done it again. The score is action-packed and heartfelt at the same time, and it’s classic Giacchino with a little bit of John Williams thrown in.

William and Mary. I was SO excited when the film referenced my alma mater. That doesn’t happen too often in movies.

See it?

Perhaps I enjoyed the movie so much because of the terribly low expectations I had going in. Perhaps I am championing the film to you in response to the unexpectadly massive amount of bad press John Carter is getting. Perhaps I will see it again in a few months and think differently than I do now. Even so, I had a very fun time, and it was well worth the price of admission (in 2D). Please go and see it; even if you are turned off by some of the more sci-fi and fantasy elements, John Carter is a great adventure story that is told against the backdrop of a well thought-out atmosphere and universe. See it.

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