Review: John Carter

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong.

Rating:   Running Time: 130 mins.

Based on the series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (starting with Princess of Mars), written almost a decade ago, John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) in the title role, as a former Captain in the Confederate army during the American civil war who now searches for riches (namely gold) in caves. After declining to get involved with the conflict between the army and native indians, Carter finds himself caught in the middle of a shoot out between the two, and is forced to hide in a cave that the natives will mysteriously not enter.

Through the cave, he finds himself transported to the planet Mars, where he encounters Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), the leader of a tribe of green skinned, four armed martians called Tharks, who take him in as a potential soldier for them due to the increased jumping ability that Mars lower gravity allows him. After declining to fight for them, stating he no longer fights for any cause, Carter intervenes in the battle between several air ships fighting in the skies above them to save princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) from falling to her death.

Her pursuer, Sab Than (Dominic West), a dictator who is being guided by the mysterious and powerful Matai Shang (Mark Strong), plots to to take over Mars, and Dejah, now taken capture by the Tharks, asks Carter for his help in defeating Sab Than who is winning the war. Carter now finds himself stuck with the decision wether to focus on finding his way home to Earth, or joining the fight to save the alien planet on which he now finds himself.

I went into the movie, interested to see it but with lowered expectations and, while I will asmit that I did have an enjoyable viewing experience, the movie has a lot of issues going against it.

From the very start, if you’ve been following events leading up to the movie’s release, you know the movie’s had a bumpy ride during production. Focus groups in the U.S. gave Disney executives pause regarding the title, due to a number of people disliking the original one: John Carter of Mars, and eventually the of Mars part was dropped. This alone presents the movie as having somewhat of a split personality, being that it opens with not only the Disney logo animation with an all red sky, but then the first actual shot we see is an establishing shot of the red planet with a voiceover explaining that it is not lifeless and in fact is undergoing a civil war. We are then treated to a lengthy airship battle sequence on Mars which establishes the villains of the movie before we even see the hero, most likely because someone decided the movie needed to open with a bang.

And therein lies one of the movie’s main problems.

This scene (and the expositional voiceover) screams ‘for the stupid people’ as it does with any movie with an expositional voiceover (see such movies as The Phantom, or last year’s The Green Lantern if you disagree). It should have been either left out entirely, or inserted into the movie later with the clever use of some quick flashbacks. Another problem is the writing for the characters – it’s not that there aren’t any attempts at character development, it’s that they, along with storytelling, have been scaled back in favour of action sequences. As a result, characters act randomly or make odd decisions, and when they do we’re told why instead of knowing why. The unecessary opening action sequence could have easily been explained later in the movie with a few well written lines of dialogue or a short flashback – something that director Andrew Stanton actually knows to use – during a later action set piece we are shown a flashback to Carter’s past, but it’s wasted and should instead have been the opening scene of the movie.

Given that it’s the one thing the movie tries to focus on, let’s mention the action. While the action sequences are competent and fairly entertaining, none of them is original, and even the amateur science fiction viewer would recognise the references to sequences from several movies. At times i was reminded of ship battles and sword fights from Pirates Of The Caribbean and in particular  the arena fight and speeder bike chase from Star Wars movies  Attack of the Clones and Return of the Jedi. Granted, the Star Wars movies have influenced many science fiction movies, but never before have I been reminded of those action sequences to such a degree as to be distracted.

One thing that the movie gets right for the majority is it’s special effects, with the landscapes of Mars, the airship light sailers and the alien Thark characters (which are some of the best e-motion captured aliens since the Na’vi of Avatar) making the world of Mars visually believable. Special note should also be made of Carter’s dog-like companion Woola, which is one of the weirdest CGI character’s I’ve ever seen but genuinely found likeable as well as not annoying (*cough* Jar Jar Binks *cough*). The only effect i had issues with was the jumping effect during some of the action sequences – at first, when Carter initially arrives on Mars and has to effectively learn to walk again in the lowered gravity, this is done with practical wire effects, but at later points, when the jumps are more fantastical, it sometimes looks unfinished.

Taylor Kitsch gives a not unconvincing performance as Carter, given that his character has been given the most focus at the writing stage, but others in the cast are not so lucky, with Lynn Collins at times appearing to struggle with her dialogue, though she does a lot better than Mark Strong who is largely forgettable, and Dominic West who is sadly unforgettable for just being a bland one tone villain. Willem Dafoe gives a good voice performance as the leader of the Tharks, though it’s unclear wether any of the character’s facial experssions are from him or just from animators, oh yes, and Cairán Hinds is in the movie, or at least I’m pretty sure it says so on the cast list.

The 3D conversion is wasted, which is a shame as there was a real oppertunity to take advantage of a movie that certainly has the epic scope required to make the technology shine, but it’s seldom used to it’s full potential, and even at some scenes doesn’t seem present at all. I really wish they had filmed this as a 3D movie, but instead it was filmed 2D and retro-converted in post-production, and it shows. If you’re going to see the movie, and have the option, just see the 2D version and save yourself the extra charge.

Overall, I would state that I enjoyed the movie, but afterwards find that I am annoyed by just how much of a missed oppertunity there was for it to be the first great blockbuster of the year, instead it’s just an average sci-fi flick, which is left open ended so that further books in the series could be adapted, but given that it cost $250 million to make, it’s unlikely that it will prove financially successful enough to warrent them being made. One to see if you’re looking for a dumb special effects popcorn movie, but if you’re looking for something to really get the sci-fi synapses firing, look elsewhere.

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Posted on March 12, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The title is just awful. It’s so bland and nondescript. I find John carter of Mars so much more evocative. Supposedly women wouldn’t see a film with Mars in title. Yet the trailer plays down the romantic aspects of the film. The marketing was schizophrenic to say the least. The film looked good, but didn’t find it compelling or thrilling. The script was just incomprehensible. I actually struggled to stay awake watching what I feel is another example of soulless Hollywood product. Glad you enjoyed it so much at least.

  2. I wanted to see this at the cinema, but it only lasted about a week so I missed! I guess that was because of all the negative press, although many non-critic reviewers seem to think it was ok. I would have liked to have found out for myself – if it wasn’t any good I would still have take pride in seeing it at the cinema as I do for seeing the ‘Waterworld’ (or ‘Water-Turkey’ as we called it!) another epic dud!

    • I think it’s a shame that the movie was so poorly recieved, and that Disney stands to lose around $200m from it (i think it may do well enough to help resolve a this a bit once it’s released on DVD/Blu Ray), but it’s Disney’s own fault. While the movie’s far from perfect, it IS enjoyable and deserved to do better, the problem has been with the handling of the movie’s promotion, which has not known firstly HOW to promote it and secondly what to call it, changing the name of the movie and mis-advertising it as something it’s not. No wonder word of mouth was bad, the first people who saw it went in expecting one kind of movie and got something completely different, of course their views are going to be negative.

  1. Pingback: UK Box Office Top 10 – 13/03 « mondaymovieshow

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