Cinematically, author Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known as the man who created Tarzan. In the literary world, however, he may be better known for his novels about the adventures of a human named John Carter, who ends up becoming the hero of Mars. The author’s first John Carter story debuted in 1912, meaning that it took an even one hundred years for the John Carter saga to finally hit the silver screen.
On Earth, John Carter is a former Confederate soldier in search of a cave full of gold. When he finally discovers its location, he is met by a mysterious figure carrying a special medallion. As soon as John Carter gets a hand on this medallion, he disappears from our world and magically appears on the surface of Mars. Simply walking is an issue at first, as his bone structure combined with the surface gravity of the planet wreaks havoc on his footsteps. Once he gets that sorted, however, he finds that he is essentially a superman, able to leap tall buildings—well, rock formations—in a single bound.
He is captured by an alien civilization, but soon his abilities are recognized to be an asset. While fighting a battle in a war that he couldn’t possibly understand so soon, he comes into the company of a Martian princess. A dangerous adversary in possession of a deadly weapon has promised peace to the princess’s people, if only she would marry him. Not wishing for such a union, she enlists John Carter to help her discover a mysterious power that could save her people without her having to marry the bad guy.
John Carter is the live-action debut for director Andrew Stanton, already well respected in the animation community after helming the hits Finding Nemo and Wall-E. His Pixar counterpart, Brad Bird, successfully made the same transition last year with Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but Stanton may have been given the bigger challenge. Right out of the gate, he is given material that tries so hard to be the next Avatar; but even a talented director like Stanton cannot keep that material from falling flat on its face, much like its lead character does when he first arrives on the red planet.
Even though this specific story has taken 100 years to get to the big screen, it is nothing we haven’t seen in the movies many times before. An outsider arrives and becomes the hero of a dying civilization, saving the princess who is unhappily betrothed to the bad guy. We saw it in Avatar. Heck, we even saw it in Titanic, so you might as well just pick a James Cameron movie.
Of course, the reason we have seen this story so many times is that it is a good one, and watching John Carter I can see why filmmakers have been trying to make it for decades. Unfortunately, the movie surrounding the story is mostly a dud. Although we are informed early that Mars is not the barren planet we have been led to believe all these years, there is still nothing about this version of the planet that impresses much. Visually, it’s just drab. That’s not to say that the computer effects aren’t well done. The digitally-created landscapes and characters are solid technically, but are far from visually dazzling. Unfortunately, where the movie’s effects team fails is blending the live-action characters with the digital ones as it is always clear that star Taylor Kitsch and company are just acting in front of a giant green screen. Also, I understand that the rules of physics are different on Mars, but that didn’t make Carter’s jumping ability any less ridiculous looking.
The characters themselves are uninteresting across the board, which doesn’t bode well if Hollywood plans to bring all eleven of Burrough’s Mars books to the big screen. The only “character” worth liking was John’s pet “monster dog.” Just imagine a silent, giant-sized Martian version of Dug, the dog from Up, and you have a reason to want to go to Mars. Unfortunately, that’s the only reason I can think of for seeing John Carter.
John Carter is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and action.” I question the use of the word “intense” in that description, but the rating is still appropriate.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of John Carter.