PaulRom Reviews: JOHN CARTER

Andrew Stanton's live action debut (which adapts the classic sci-fi novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs) will arrive on Blu-Ray/DVD next Tuesday, and has left critics and audiences divided since its theatrical release in March. Hit the jump for my spoiler-free review of the sci-fi epic.

Reviews Opinion

John Carter (2012)


Taylor Kitsch
Lynn Collins
Willem Dafoe
Thomas Haden Church
Mark Strong
Dominic West

Running Time:
2 hr. 12 min.

Plot Synopsis:

From Academy Award®--winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes "John Carter"—a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). "John Carter" is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

Various film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi novel A Princess Of Mars (the first in a series of novels featuring the character John Carter) have been in the works since the novel’s publication in 1917. From an animated film in the 1930s to Paramount’s unproduced vision of the story, none of these projects have moved forward…until now. Disney released Andrew Stanton’s adaptation of Princess Of Mars (simply titled John Carter) earlier this year to mixed reception, and the movie more or less bombed at the box office (it’s been said that Disney will lose about $200M from the film). But does it deserve the non-success?

One of the most common complaints for John Carter is its time length/pacing. At 132 minutes, the film tends to be very slow at times (particularly in the first act). The running time allows plenty of time for character development, probably too much time in fact. Most of the action doesn’t kick in until 30-40 minutes into the movie. While I’m all for allowing as much time for character development as necessary, some more editing could’ve helped make the story feel smoother and would’ve kept things more interesting.

The visuals are mostly excellent. While not as incredible as say, Star Trek ’09 or the Transformers films, John Carter is visually captivating. The Martians, Woola and Barsoom all look very convincing. The White Apes in particular look fantastic, and the battle scene between the two Apes and Carter is probably the best scene in the movie. The other action scenes are great, particularly when Carter takes on an army Matai Shang’s minions. The lovable Woola is another highlight; he reminds me a good deal of Star Wars’ Chewbacca.

The acting is mostly solid. Taylor Kitsch does what he can with the title character, who I can’t say is extremely likable. While there’s definitely better actors for the role (and Kitsch isn’t exactly ready for leading man material yet), the former Gambit does a decent enough job with what he’s given. Lynn Collins is pretty good as Dejah Thoris (the "Princess Of Mars"), rarely resorting to the “Damsel In Distress” cliché. Willem Dafoe is good in his mo-cap performance as Thark Jedak (aka King) Tars Tarkas, while Thomas Haden Church does well with Tal Hajus. Mark Strong is very good as Matai Shang, the film’s primary villain. Ciaran Hinds is okay as Tardos Mors, but everyone else (from Dominic West to Samantha Morton) do fine jobs with their respective characters.

The rest of the flaws in John Carter are mostly nitpicks. An example would be its “unoriginality” and depicting various elements seen time and again in sci-fi films. It’s understandable, since the source material has influenced everything from Star Wars and Avatar to Flash Gordon and Superman. Still, I can’t help but have a been-there-done-that feeling when I’d see a speeder bike chase very similar to Return Of The Jedi, or when I see one particular scene between Thoris and Carter which is eerily similar to Avatar. Again, I don’t mind this as much since the original story has influenced so many movies/characters, but I would’ve preferred if Stanton made these scenes feel less like something we’ve seen before.

This isn’t really a flaw within the film itself, but I would like to discuss the unsatisfying marketing. The $250 million budget could’ve been easily trimmed (although it’s a very CGI heavy production), and the apparently high costs for marketing weren’t necessary. Disney’s marketing made the movie look like any other science fiction film to the general audience, when it was something much more. Adding a tagline such as “From The Creator Of Tarzan”, “Based On The Century Old Story”, or even “From The Director Of Finding Nemo” would’ve raised much more interest from the general audience. Keeping the original title John Carter Of Mars would've been a solid marketing move as well. The lack of proper marketing is probably the main reason that so little people saw it in theaters (that and the mixed reviews, of course).

Regarding the rest of the production, it’s quite well done. Michael Giacchino’s score is great; while it’s not something that I’d listen to apart from the film, it works excellently with the movie’s scenes. Also, Andrew Stanton’s camera work is very good. It’s not near as impressive as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’s production (the movie was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, another Pixar veteran), but he does a solid job. Stanton’s love for the source material is evident, despite the film not being as close to A Princess Of Mars as it could have.

In the end, John Carter doesn’t deserve the backlash it receives. As a fan of the original novel, I had a good time watching the long-anticipated film adaptation. It’s not great, let alone perfect, but it’s a decently solid project with very high ambitions. The ending sets things up nicely for a sequel, so fingers crossed we’ll see Carter’s adventures continued (though it’s very unlikely, with its box office intake barely covering its massive production budget, let alone the additional marketing costs). If you’re a fan of sci-fi epics and/or an avid Edgar Rice Burroughs reader, I would definitely recommend this film.

Click here to pre-order your copy of John Carter, which hits stores next Tuesday.

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE Star Taylor Kitsch Reflects On JOHN CARTER And The Love It Still Gets From Fans

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE Star Taylor Kitsch Reflects On JOHN CARTER And The Love It Still Gets From Fans

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