John Carter is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, from Disney Pictures and directed by Andrew Stanton.
I watched the movie in 3D on opening night here at Hyderabad. Having never read the source material, I initially wasn’t too keen on watching the movie. The trailers seemed interesting and I’d read that they’d spent $250 million on making this. But I was worried that it would be a bunch of effects that still managed to be boring.
On the other hand, I’d got some good feedback about the movie from friends, and probably the strongest selling point for me, was that it was directed by Andrew Stanton, a Pixar animation director (Wall-E) making a transition to live action. Another recent example of such a thing was Brad Bird (The Incredibles) who did Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and I absolutely loved that movie. So, I went ahead and booked my ticket for the 11 PM show.
The movie opens with Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara – I’ll always remember him as Juni Cortez, one of the original Spy Kids) being called in by his uncle’s lawyer. His uncle – John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) – has mysteriously died, and has left some personal effects and instructions for Edgar. Among the items is Carter’s journal, which forms the narrative for the story.
Carter is a soldier with the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. A mysterious medallion transports him to a place called Barsoom – the planet we know as Mars. On Barsoom, due to lower gravity, Carter is sort of like a Superman (who can “leap tall buildings in a single bound”), and he is taken in by the Tharks (a four handed species indigenous to Barsoom).
There is a conflict between the societies of Helium and Zodanga, and the outcome would have implications for all of Barsoom. The titular Princess of Mars (actually Princess of Helium), Dejah Thoris (Lily Collins) is at the center of this conflict – due to diplomatic reasons, her father has promised her hand in marriage to the slimy Zodanga prince Sab Than (300‘s Dominic West – who seems to always play this type of slimy character!).
Once circumstances bring John Carter and Dejah Thoris together, the reluctant Civil War solider realises that he has an important role to play in Barsoom’s fate.
As you can probably make out, there is a lot of meat here (characters, story elements), which necessitates quite a bit of exposition. This made the first half a little sluggish for me but I guess the movie could not have done without that. It was at least more interesting to me than the Economics / Politics stuff in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (which frankly, totally disinterested me whenever that was up on screen).
As John Carter went on, I quite enjoyed it, and it built up to a very satisfying ending. The action scenes were nicely done. There is a tendency for movies to throw in a lot of effects into the mix but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the audience will be thrilled. This movie I think didn’t fall into that trap.
Imagination is certainly not in short supply here – while we tend to have a cold, jaded view of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the filmmakers have portrayed it as a rich human-like world. The visuals in the movie were great. The director of photography here is Dan Mindel, who also shot J J Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek. In fact, though I watched it in 3D, I felt the extra dimension didn’t actually add anything, the visuals would have worked well enough in 2D. The CGI is well done but at certain points of time, I felt the uncanny valley still was yet to be overcome.
Another J J Abrams / Star Trek ‘crewmember’ returning here is composer Michael Giacchino. The music was nice but not memorable (in my opinion) like Giacchino’s other works.
All said and done, I enjoyed John Carter, and especially by the end I think the movie did capture a sense of wonder. Only, as I mentioned in the beginning, I have no familiarity or affinity towards the source material, so this being my first exposure to this character, I liked the movie but wasn’t necessarily blown away by it.
- When I think of Mars, the first movie that comes to mind is the awesome 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall, directed by the crazy Dutchman Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Basic Instinct). So if there was ever a Total Recall / John Carter mashup, one line from that movie would probably be “Get your ass to Barsoom”!
- Another thing that comes to mind when one mentions Mars is the classic game Doom. I wonder what the people of Barsoom would refer to their moons as (was it mentioned in John Carter? I may have missed it). We know the moons as Phobos and Deimos, and I know this because of Doom (I even released a Doom level called “The Other Side of Phobos“).
- As far as I can make out, the font used in the posters for John Carter is Akzidenz-Grotesk. This was released in 1896, which is a few years after the events of this movie take place.
- And finally, if you want to read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel A Princess of Mars, you can do so on Project Gutenberg.