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Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter Movie: Review

Let me state first off that I have read the ERB "Barsoom" books multiple times, I have looked forward to this movie since the first teaser trailer was released. So in that, I was biased to like it. I also heard and read many negative reviews and comments on the intertubes stating the movie was a mess before I went to see it this past weekend. So in that, I had prepared myself to be disappointed.

How wrong I was.

This movie is AWESOME! It is probably the most enjoyable science fiction movie (I exclude "comic book" movies from the genre, though it beats out most of them too.) that I have seen in years, especially in theaters. I may have to go back to the first Matrix movie to top it. The critics who gave it poor reviews, claiming it was difficult to follow must have been tweeting instead of simply listening to the dialogue, because everything was explained in a way that was actually internally consistent; a fact that puts it in the 99th percentile of sci fi films (and leaves the pathetic Star Wars prequels wallowing in the dust).

Spoiler-Free Part:

As far as the source material, it does vary slightly, but not in any way that tampers with the tone of ERB's stories. The brutal honor of the Tharks, the nobility of the Heliumites, these rang true. Even the look of Barsoom was neatly achieved through a combination of CGI and the Utah desert.

The movie is not about sci-fi action, it's about the characters. Burroughs wrote action romances: Carter's love for Dejah Thoris, Tarzan's love for Jane Porter, these themes run deep in his stories. While Carter's character is giving a slight tragic tweak, and Dejah is made into somewhat more than a trophy, I felt these changes made for a more engaging story.

Another wonderful thing about the way the film was done is the lack of stupidity. I can't think of a case where a character does something dumb just to advance the plot (a transgression present in nearly EVERY FILM EVER MADE!!) The mistakes they make are honest ones, and their successes are earned by overcoming a dangerous foe, not dumb luck.

Overall the plot is a pastiche of the first two books, with a few additions to make a more cohesive plot. Viewers expecting a page by page rendition of A Princess of Mars will be disappointed. People who want to see John Carter having an adventure on Barsoom with many elements of the original material will be thrilled.

All this isn't to say there is no action. JC leaping into battle nigh-single handed against a horde of green martians, airships battles, flier chases, gladiatorial arenas. My one minor peeve was that Carter's prowess as the "finest sword on two worlds" wasn't emphasized. He kicks major buttock, no doubt, but it's a little more Conan and a little less Errol Flynn.

The inclusion of ERB as a character (in keeping with the way the books are written) was a very nice touch, and the slight deviations from how John Carter first arrives on Mars actually hold up better in some ways than the original text, IMHO. The ending was also a slight tweak, but kept the major elements of the story well intact.

Minor Spoilers Ahead:

  • The real villains are the Machiavellian Therns, who are manipulating events for their own agenda. They are mysterious, they are deadly, and they are smart. Their technology and powers explain much of the tension in the film and even how Carter gets to Mars. A neat trick, I thought, and it made the story that much more interesting.
  • The presentation of the Green Tharks, and several of the other CGI creatures, was exceptional. Making the white apes gigantic was probably the greatest liberty taken.
  • Woola is nigh-perfect. He skirts the edge of pure comic relief and cuteness, but stays believable and uncloying. He is portrayed as loyal, ferocious, and so-ugly-he's-kinda-cute calot he is supposed to be.
  • At first I thought Lynn Collins wasn't pretty-pretty enough to be the "Deathless Beauty" that is Dejah, but seeing the character portrayed as more than just a trophy (which is pretty much what she is in the books), I found a more "real" appearance satisfying. Also, Ms. Collins on screen, acting and emoting, as opposed to simply a still, are two very different things. She is positively radiant. No, she is not naked in the film. She is sexy enough five times over in her clothes. Get over it. 
  • DeFoe as Tars Tarkas is perfect. 'Nuff Said.
  • The never really get into the whole issue of Carter never aging or Barsoomians living to be a thousand. Which is just as well, as it would have been an unnecessary complication and muddied the waters in regard to the Therns supposed immortality.
  • Kantos Kan was always one of my favorite minor ERB characters. I viewed him as a Barsoomian Faramir; not quite on the level of Tarkas or Carter in prowess, but a close second and totally their peer in honor. James Purefoy does not disappoint. The escape scene was one of my favorites in the whole film.
  • The ending gave a delightful twist and was extremely satisfying to me.  

That'll do for now. Ignore the film critics that dismiss the film. Go see it. 


  1. Great review! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks. I'm afraid I'm being too soap-boxy about this, but it seems such a shame that this film is getting shafted by poor marketing and people who seem unwilling to see the work on its own merits.