By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Based on the fantasy novels by author Edgar Rice Burroughs (also known for Tarzan), John Carter is the story of a Virginia Cavalryman shortly after the Civil War moving to the southwest in pursuit of a cave made of gold. Here he encounters a strange being who, in his last dying breath, accidentally transports Carter to Mars, which the residents of the planet call “Barsoom”. There he intercedes in a wedding between a Princess of the city of Helium, and Detective McNulty from The Wire. But not before he also makes friends with a tusked alien warlord and escorts his daughter down a river.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: you’ve watched the trailers, and were unimpressed. You also read a synopsis, or maybe just the one I wrote above, and that did very little to help the situation. The truth is, you can take everything you think you know, and throw it out the window. Because the ad campaign for John Carter might be one of the best examples of what can happen when the studio’s marketing department doesn’t understand what they’re releasing.
Unless you’re familiar with the fantasy novels, chances are you went into this like I did, mostly blind. I did do a little research in advance, reading a couple wikipedia articles on the Barsoom novel series, but that is as far as I went. The good news; John Carter is a fun adventure film in the vein of classic serials, it creates a world for the heros and villains to populate, and does so with style. The special effects are fantastic, even groundbreaking. The story is nothing new, but what Director Andrew Stanton does here (and has done well in his efforts with PIXAR in the past) is to take a well used story and inject new flavors by giving characters depth. Oh… and Lizard-Dog on speed is pretty awesome.
The film’s greatest strength is in building a sense of infinite wonder about the world of Barsoom. From the Warrior tribe of the “Tharks”, with their barbaric rituals and violent challenges, to the Romanesque City-States of Zodanga and Helium, everything is depicted with a great degree of detail, allowing the viewer to absorb a lot of backstory without too many unnecessary monologues.
That said, there are some flaws, the largest and most glaring of which is the pacing. The story moves along at a steady clip, however, sometimes it feels downright rushed. For a 2 hour and 2o minute movie, I suppose it should be a compliment that it moves so fast. I felt like major story points were being touched on very quickly, and wish that they’d spend a little more time to get a feel for things. Since the book it is based on was originally serialized (published and released a chapter at a time), it seems to me that this story might have been more suitable to miniseries format on television. Unfortunately, that would have surely meant a lower budget, so the special effects wouldn’t have been as good. And so Lizard dog wouldn’t have been so adorable.
And he will be my friend, and I will call him George, George K. Muttonchops…
Michael Giacchino’s score is alright… but a serial-fiction based movie needs something bigger… and Queen was already taken.
For its weaknesses, it is actually quite a lot of fun. And I hope it makes enough money for a sequel, I want to see these characters again.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the word “Helium” is used
Take a Drink: every time John Carter is called “Virgina”
Drink a Shot: every time the word “Barsoom” is used