JOHN CARTER (2012)
As a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian Chronicles, I have been waiting for someone to adapt these nearly 100 year-old pulp sci-fi adventures to film since I was a boy. Now after years in development hell, Disney finally brings the adventures of Earth-man John Carter and his adventures on Mars to life. And it’s not quite the classic epic I was hoping for, but definitely not the bomb it’s sadly labeled.
The simply named John Carter takes a lot of liberties with Burroughs’ stories, too many to list here and in result comes up with a tale that is a bit talky and more plot heavy than needed. Burroughs’ books were short, action packed and to the point. So should have John Carter been. The book based story tells of Confederate Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who is whisked unintentionally by a series of events to the planet Mars, where he finds an ally in four-armed, green warrior Tars Tarkus (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and love with beautiful princess Dejah Thoris , who has now graduated from the damsel in distress in the books to also being a scientist and woman warrior here, played by Lynn Collins.
Adaptation is directed by Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) and is not bad. Stanton may have written a lot of dialog scenes, but when there is action, it is fast moving, epic in scale and exciting and he gets good performances out of all his cast. He does set a good pace for a film with an over-complicated plot and he does capture some of the pulp charm nicely in many scenes as well. It‘s too bad he couldn’t follow Burroughs’ lead and keep John Carter a bit simpler and get to the spectacular action a bit sooner. It’s never boring, but there is a lot of traveling back and forth before the plot really gets moving and Carter, with his enhanced abilities due to Mars‘ thinner atmosphere and lesser gravity, gets to the business of saving Mars and his lady love from the devious Therns, who weren’t even in the first John Carter novel A Princess Of Mars. Plot and character development are obviously important, but I still feel the film’s 132 minutes could have been better managed.
Criticisms aside, the film is sumptuously, though somewhat derivative-ly, designed. The SPFX are flawless and spectacular and there is nice atmosphere from Michael Giacchino‘s (Star Trek 2009, Super 8) beautiful score. Stanton does give the film a lot of charm and charm is what makes those century old books it’s based on still so enjoyable. The enormous budget is on screen and despite it’s flaws, the end had me wanting to see more of Carter’s adventures on Barsoom (their name for Mars) as there are 11 books and now that the central characters have all been introduced, we can get right to the fun. And John Carter wasn’t without fun, it just needed a bit more of it and a little less of the politics and conspiracy elements which fill it.
The film also stars Mark Strong as Matai Sheng, Dominic West as Sab Than, James Purefoy as Kantos Kan and a vocal performance by Thomas Hayden Church as Tars Tarkus’ dangerous rival, Tal Hajus. Despite it’s flaws I like John Carter and it has grown on me even more with repeated viewings and it’s status as a box office bomb gives it a bad reputation that it doesn’t really deserve. It’s a good movie, but just not the great one that the source material warranted. But I still recommend you give it a chance if you haven’t seen it.