John Carter 2012
An ode to Tim who thinks my blog is just film reviews
Edger Rice Burroughs the writer is most famous for the Tarzan stories. As a boy I loved watching old black and white Tarzan movies on TV on a Saturday afternoon. They were exciting and full of adventure. Edger Rice Burroughs had the ability of capturing your imagination, of taking you deep into a jungle full of wild beasts, exotic native tribes, and lost civilisations. Tarzan is a seminal figure in literature, parodied, paid homage to and blatantly copied in various mediums and forms over the years.
Edger Rice Burroughs wrote many other works including The land that time forgot, and the Martian chronicles, also known as the Barsoon novels. The stories revolve around John Carter, a civil war veteran who is transported to Mars, where he fights monsters, wars and has high adventure. But while most people have heard of Tarzan, not as many know who John Carter is.
Disney has spent a very large sum of money (around 250 Million US) to reintroduce John Carter to the world. What was it like? Here is a Synopsis.
In 1891 John Carter invites his young nephew, Ned Burroughs to visit him in New York . Ned is surprised and upset to find that his favourite uncle has suddenly passed away since he received the invitation. Not only that, Ned discovers he is the heir to his uncle’s vast wealth and many possessions. These possessions include a locked diary which only Ned is allowed to read. Ned opens it to find that his uncle has a fantastic secret.
After the civil war had ended John Carter, late of the north Virginian Calvary was an itinerant treasure hunter on the Arizona frontier. While escaping some Apaches, John discovers a cave filled with gold and strange alien carvings. He investigates the cave only to be attacked by a mysterious robed man who appears out of no where. John shoots the stranger and takes from him a glowing talisman. Instantly he is transported to an alien world. On that world he encounters adventure, aliens, and that on this world his body reacts a little differently than normal.
Queue Martian hijinx!
John Carter is a Disney production directed by Andrew Stanton, who has previously directed highly successful movies such as Finding Nemo, and Wall-E. John Carter is Stanton ’s first live action film. Taylor Kitsch relatively unknown to cinema viewers plays John Carter opposite Lynn Collins who you may recognise from True Blood.
250 million $US, a director who has previously only directed animated films and no a-list actors in the lead roles, how can this be good idea?
In fact is a great idea. The production value is fantastic; half the cast are cgi aliens and the interaction with the human cast is virtually seamless. This is important because it keeps the narrative flowing and does not jolt the audience out of the story.
The supporting cast includes; Bryan Cranston, James Purefoy, Mark Strong, Dominic West, Ciarán Hinds, and the voice of Willem Dafoe. It is a strong supporting cast of character actors who invested themselves into their roles.
While studio has obviously spent a lot of money, it appears to be invested into the story, not just spent on the movie, if that makes sense. And that is the crux of it, the story. Great cgi, A-list actors and loads of money do not make a good movie if the story sucks (look at Clash of the Titans).
Andrew Stanton wanted John Carter to be true to the adventure stories envisaged by Edger Rice Burroughs. And if trying to capture the audience’s imagination the way that Edger Rice Burroughs did in his novels meant he got the science wrong, so be it. The story is rich with action, unexpected humour, and romance. And I don’t necessarily mean the love interest between John carter and the beautiful princess of Mars (yes a princess), I mean with the romance of a grand adventure.
The low points of John Carter would be the performances of Ciarán Hinds, and Dominic Wests. Ciarán as the ruler of the city of Heluim and Dominic as the villain did not give as strong as a performance as they could have done in my opinion. I would rate both actors quite highly and of the two Ciaráns performance seemed the most stilted. I think they were more disappointing than bad performances really, but not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.
Critics are completely divided over John Carter, some of them really enjoying it, others loathing it as a cheesy expensive mess. To me this is not a movie that critics will fall over themselves to rate. And the reason is it isn’t a grand experiment in acting or technical expertise, it’s not a dramatic work that challenges you. It is a story of swords, monsters, princesses and Mars. Also there are a lot of comments like derivative and John Carter is no Luke Skywalker, with out taking into consideration that these stories were the inspiration for a lot of modern science fiction.
I liked John Carter because it was an unpretentious fun story that fully delivered a grand adventure. Having read some of the stories I think it was a decent adaptation as well. I think, and hope that Mr. Burroughs would have enjoyed it for what it was too.
Seven Martian Monkeys
P.S. do not confuse John Carter with A Princess of Mars. That’s dire.