Maybe you’ve read our preview or maybe you haven’t (if not, why not?) but John Carter, the movie adaptation of Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs will be released Mar 8. The movie’s about a man, John Carter, who found a magical amulet and got transported to Mars (aka Barsoom) where he runs into a group of four-armed aliens named Thark and runs right into the middle of a war between two human-like nations: Zondanga and Helium – meeting the lady at the centre of it all: Dejah Thoris. I’ve had a chance to take an early look at it, so here’s what I think.
Barsoom. That’s a funny word, isn’t it? I still remember my days in secondary school when someone stuck a piece of paper on a locker saying “I am bassoon, take my things”. I’m not sure if the guy got robbed in the end, but that phrase sure stuck with me. Obviously bassoon and Barsoom are quite different things, one being a musical instrument and the other a planet, but that’s what the name reminded me of: Bassoon.
But enough buffoonery. Having watched the fun preview in 3D right before my own viewing of Hugo I had some hopes for the movie. Directed by Andrew Stanton and starring a whole list of people familiar with geeky genres, there was a certain amount of pedigree in the film that was really quite astounding. For those with tons of experience in such movies – it shows, especially when you have Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy pretty much reenacting scenes from Rome. A pity that it doesn’t quite live up to what it could have been, all thanks to a really weak point that almost breaks the show.
Which isn’t the huge white baboons, which, with six arms, does end up being a pretty epic fight. In fact there’s a lot of epic in the movie, from the scenery to the fights to the city designs. The show has some amazingly funny moments (many starring a rabid alien creature) with some of them teetering on being utterly ridiculous (but in an alien culture so it’s cool too) – so what held it down? Sadly, the charisma-pit that is Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris. There’s a whole long section in the middle where she gets to spend some time with John Carter (and where they inexplicably fall in love – you know, the “save the girl so you forget your ex-wife you’ve been mourning for eons right away” kind of inexplicable) where it just saps the movie of its energy and nearly brings it screeching to a halt. Taylor Kitsch isn’t the most amazing of actors around (but he did do a nice job) so with charisma pit around, everything just went to pieces.
So after taking in all of Barsoom, what do I think about John Carter? I think for a first feature film effort Brad Bird did a much better job with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but Andrew Stanton’s effort here is commendable. It seems he’s still more familiar with handling CGI, with the Tharks proving to be very well animated and emoted and given a spark to the movie I did not see coming. In fact, a very, very pleasant surprise. If it wasn’t held down by the saggy middle part featuring the long boring bits with Dejah Thoris, John Carter would have been a great genre movie. I know you can’t have an Edgar Rice Burroughs book adaptation without feisty damsels in distress, but if the show was just focused on her and John Carter, it wouldn’t be worth watching at all. I’m being very harsh on this, but only because it could have been so much more, and it fell all because on that one weakness – but I do think you will enjoy this movie no matter what, if only because of the Thark scenes.
(One thing I found interesting was how the movie tries to explain Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘ inspiration for the books by placing him within the movie itself. It’s not a bad or good thing mind you – just something interesting – as if it was saying the author didn’t pull out Barsoom out of his mind.)
Edit: I’m an idiot. I was wondering if this was from the books too, then forgot. Thanks to Brad from the comments below for correcting me!