Good day all. Time for another movie review. Last night I saw John Carter. This movie is based on some novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs back in the early 1900’s.
As is my usual habit, I went to Chunky’s. However, this time I went with the Angry Brother in-law and his nephew, known as “The Kid.” The theater wasn’t busy, but there was a good crowd. However, Hunger Games was also playing so everyone was going there. That film is not on my list to see this year.
We had the usual beers, martini’s chicken wing appetizers and assorted dinners. The theater had some problems with the digital projector but they were able to correct it at showtime. However, that caused us to miss the previews. Normally I prefer to sit towards the back of a theater, but the Angry BiL and The Kid wanted to sit at a table in the front. No problem, but the pounding we took from the sound system proved me right in my habit of sitting in the back. It HURT!.
Now on to the movie.
There has been a lot of criticism over this film. Why, I don’t know. It was damned expensive to make at $250 million, but you can see the money was put to good use. The film is based on the book, A Princess of Mars1 and was written by one of the greats of Science Fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs2 in 1912. I will be honest and say I never read the books so I can’t say how closely the movie followed it. I suspect this is one of the reasons I liked it.
Now there may be spoilers here so stop if you don’t want to know anything.
Ok, here we go then.
After a brief introduction establishing that Mars is not a “dead planet”, but rather a dying one inhabited by warring civilizations with great airships, the film begins in 1881 with news of the sudden death in Richmond, Virginia, of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former Confederate Army cavalry officer, who has become an eccentric and wealthy scholar-adventurer. The arrival of his nephew Edgar “Ned” Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) at his “Uncle Jack’s” funeral reveals that, in accordance with his own instructions, Carter’s body has been put in a mausoleum, which can only be unlocked from the inside. The estate’s attorney hands over Carter’s personal journal for Ned to read, in the hope that he may discover the reason for Carter’s strange behavior and death.
The film flashes back to 1868 and to the Arizona Territory, where Carter is prospecting for gold and having violent encounters with both the 7th Cavalry and the local Apache Indians. After fleeing from both, he shelters in a cave with Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston), one of his pursuers, and discovers a large quantity of gold. A strange figure (later revealed to be a White Martian Thern) suddenly materializes in the cave; Carter kills him and, due to the stranger’s medallion, is inadvertently teleported to Barsoom (Mars). There, due to his higher bone density and the planet’s lower gravity, Carter is able to jump fantastically high and throw killer punches. He is soon captured, however, by the giant, four-armed Green Martian Tharks under the rule of Jeddak (King) Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe).
Elsewhere on Barsoom, the Red Martian cities of Helium and Zodanga have been at war for a thousand years. Sab Than (Dominic West), Jeddak of Zodanga, is now armed with a special weapon (the “Ninth Ray”) given to him by the Therns, and proposes a cease-fire and an end to the war by marrying the Princess of Helium Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). The defiant Princess escapes and is rescued by Carter. Carter, Dejah and Tarkas’s secret daughter Sola (Samantha Morton) embark on a quest descending the sacred River Iss to find a way for Carter to return home. There they find information about the Ninth Ray, the medallion, and the process by which the Therns teleport (“telegraph”) from planet to planet, but they are attacked by the Thern leader Matai Shang (Mark Strong) and his minions, the Green Martians of Warhoon. After the attack, Carter is captured and taken back with Dejah, while Sola is able to escape. Dejah grudgingly agrees to marry Sab Than, then gives Carter his medallion and tells him to go back to “Jarsoom” (Earth). Carter decides to stay back and is now captured by the shape-shifting Shang, who tells him about the secret purposes of the god-like Therns and their age-old manipulations of the histories of civilizations on different planets. Carter is able to make yet another escape, and he and Sola go back to the Tharks and ask for their help. There they come to know that Tarkas has been overthrown as Jeddak by the vicious Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church). Tarkas, Carter, and Sola are subjected to a gladiatorial contest with two gigantic white Martian apes. After defeating them and killing Hajus, Carter is acclaimed leader of the Tharks. A vast Thark army, with Carter at its head, advances on Zodanga, then on Helium, and defeats the Zodangian army, killing Sab Than. Carter then marries Dejah himself and becomes Jeddak of Helium. That night, Carter decides to stay forever on Mars and throws away his medallion. Seizing this opportunity, Shang re-emerges from hiding and banishes him to Earth.
Resuming the original framing story, it is revealed that Carter has undertaken a ten year long quest, looking for clues of the Therns’ presence on Earth and hoping to find another medallion. His sudden “death” and unusual funeral arrangements would seem to indicate that he has succeeded and returned to Barsoom, leaving his “Earth body” in a coma-like state. His presence on Mars was via a sort of virtual body, and the death of his Earth body would end his life on both planets. He has made Ned his protector, giving him clues about how to open the mausoleum. Ned now hastens to the mausoleum, opens it, but finds no body. He has been covertly stalked by a Thern. As the would-be assassin prepares to strike, Carter suddenly reappears and kills him. He discloses to Ned that he never found any medallion, but instead laid a clever trap for a Thern. Carter now takes the Thern’s medallion, invokes the necessary code words, and is instantly teleported to Mars, to resume his Barsoomian life with Dejah3.
Now the movie isn’t doing that well at the box office and frankly I don’t know why. The cinematography was excellent, the direction was good, the acting was also good and Lynn Collins prancing around in next to nothing was definitely not a problem.
The movie makes extensive use of CGI and that’s where a lot of the money went. It was technically very good and you can’t see the differences between a CGI scene and live action. There was a lot of comedic segments, such as John Carter trying to fly a Martian aircraft. Lets just say that in his case, he lived up to “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”
My BiL and The Kid both liked the movie as much as I did. In fact, everyone who has gone to see the film has come back and said they liked it as well. Of course, critics don’t get paid if they don’t criticize something, and this is a case where they are just blasting a movie because they need to blast at least one big budget film this year. As I recall, they gave James Cameron’s Avatar, (aka Smurfs in Space), a big tongue bath when it came out. That was also very heavily into CGI, but while very colorful, I don’t think it worked.
So how do I rate this movie? I’ll give it a 5 out of 5 stars. I thought it was good. I suspect it’s going to be like a number of other films and take a while to really take off. Once it hits DVD and HBO, I think you will see a lot more people saying this could end up a film classic.
So, if I were you, I would see it soon before it gets pulled from the theaters.
As I mentioned, a lot of people who have seen this movie like it. It looks like they think the major problem was how the movie was marketed. I can’t argue with them, and it looks like others agree and are doing something about it. Behold how John Carter SHOULD have been sold to the customers:
That is all
~The Angry Webmaster~
- Available for a Kindle, Download for FREE!! Pity I don’t have one [↩]
- Biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs [↩]
- Plot Synopsis lifted from Wikipedia [↩]