Finding John Carter On Mars Is A Win – A Review

Why are you interested in this adaptation?

Elena-

Mostly because it’s a sci-fi movie, and I do try to watch most of them.  To be honest there’s not a whole lot of a deeper or more compelling reason than that.  Nothing in the trailer excites me, and if there were more going on at the movies this weekend John Carter probably loses me.  But when my other options are The Lorax or Good Deeds, you know, Mars starts sounding like a fine destination.  Fine.

Rachel-

So, I secretly hope that this movie is amazing. How could I not want to see this? Published in 1917, A Princess of Mars, on which John Carter is largely based, is the first of a long series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Tarzan guy). We can arguably connect most of the planetary science-fantasy stories of the last 100 years to this book. Conan, He-man, Dune, Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast, Star Wars…the list is endless. Sure, it’s outdated and weird, and the science isn’t even close, and they were inspired by those old theories that you could see evidence of ancient civilizations on the Martian surface (Google the canals of Mars), but this is science fiction HISTORY. Crazy stuff, sure, but mostly awesome.

And come on… THAAARKS! Plus, Michael Chabon wrote the script, and it’s being directed by Andrew Stanton. There’s a part of me that thinks this just might be great.

What would make it awesome?

Elena-

Um…can I be real here and say that, given the amount of CG I saw in that trailer, that I don’t think there’s anything this film can do to be excellent?  If I have to pick a path for it, how about some just ridiculous popcorn B-movie fun?  There’s a place for that, and maybe this movie could be it.

Rachel-

Despite the sexist overtones, I REALLY want it to look like the artwork I’ve associated with the stories. They just come hand in hand. I find it impossible to disconnect the story itself from the Frazetta naked asses and most especially the super lush, beautiful old-style illustrations of Frank E. Schoonover (who very graciously put some clothes on the princess for us.)

From what I’ve seen of the trailer everything looks nice and red. They’ve kept the barbarian-style clothes, and I’m REALLY impressed with the Barsoonian ships. They look awesome.

I guess what I’m saying is, I want the damn movie to be pretty. That would be awesome.

What would make it suck?

Elena

If it takes itself really seriously and is half-CG (as its trailer makes it look).  Basically…if this shit is like Avatard, Mars Edition it is going to suuuuck asssssssssssssssss.

Rachel-

I don’t really care of there’s a lot of CGI as long as it looks good and it’s not a half hour of blurriness like Transformers.

It will suck if the story is a disaster. This is an adaptation of a pretty sprawling novel that has its own problems with pacing, so this could all go horribly wrong. It could be full of confusing lore and never explain anything about why this culture as at war or how anything works. I’m a little worried about the super-powers. The telepathy and the super-strength. The science behind it is pretty silly now; I hope it’s not something the entire audience laughs at every time it happens.  I’m pretty worried about it. I think Chabon can handle it, but it’s all the executive driven decisions I’m scared of.

This whole movie could be a hammy, horrible, convoluted mess.

Any additional thoughts on production/trailer?

Elena-

Why is this movie 2 hours and 10 minutes?  I may not have read the book it’s based on, but I know this much about Edgar Rice Burroughs:  he wasn’t writing fucking Dune.  You don’t need a mini-series to tell that story.  What the hell?  I better come out feeling like it was shorter than it was…and I especially better not feel like it was LONGER than it was!

Rachel-

Yea, I agree. More than two hours? Is this Lord of the Rings? This is a movie based on the king of all pulp novels. Yes, there are going to be large-scale battles in this movie but they don’t need to be Helm’s Deep!

In general I’ve been enjoying the trailers coming out. The Tharks look great, everything looks pretty damn epic. I just don’t know how sincere it’s going to be. Will this be the podraces on Tattooine horrible or will I be enamored of the cinematography? Will I want to be Princess Dejah for Halloween, or will I want to kill her and all the girls I see dressed as her on Halloween? I’ve been hearing via word of mouth that the film isn’t that great, so that isn’t encouraging. But I might like it, I mean… I still watch Conan marathons. This might be a matter of preference.

 

Reaction to Film:

Elena-

That…that wasn’t NEARLY as bad as I thought it was going to be!  In fact, dare I say it was actually kind of good?  I mean, it wasn’t like top 10 SF films of the decade material, but it was eminently watchable.  And here’s the thing, and why I never take for granted that a film which I expect to be bad can’t possibly be as bad as I’m expecting:  Avatar was WORSE than I expected, and I expected that James Cameron self-indulgent-whack-fest to be bad (for me as an audience), so I am by no means damning John Carter with faint praise when I say it was better than I expected.

That is not to say there were not…flaws.  There is still a visual divide between characters that are live-action and characters that are animated.  The gulf is not as wide as it once was, and the animation looked good, but it still looked like animation.  Until it doesn’t I am going to point it out as a flaw.  I expect to go to my grave still complaining about this issue.

John Carter’s jumps were also problematic.  They looked like someone in Earth-gravity being hoisted aloft or an animated object being zoomed along a CG trajectory.  The bounces lacked the true buoyancy that happens in lower gravity.  Actually those scenes reminded me of the jumping about in Gentleman Broncos, which is very much an ode to this type of pulp SF story (and, by the by, well worth the watch)…but to extend my point, the rendition of the SF storyline in that movie is very much meant to be comedic.  It’s okay if the jumping doesn’t look real because that’s not really the point (in fact looking too real might undermine the point in that movie), but since John Carter was actually taking itself mostly seriously, the silly-looking jumping was an issue.

Now let’s talk about some good things.  I loved the casting for John Carter and the Princess (seriously…why bother calling her anything else, especially her goofy-ass Never-Ending Story sounding name?).  The rest of the casting didn’t bother me or excite me, and Mark Strong got to add yet another villain to his villainous credits list.  Also the Princess had amazing eyes, and while I am fairly sure it was contacts/CG I’m not totally sure, so they sold it better than the Dune movies have so far.

The dog?  Was fucking awesommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmme.  Best part of the movie!  And proof that whatever form life takes, the human-dog bond is universal.  (Okay, at least galactic.)

However.

Doggie?  With his super-fast zoom run, utter fearlessness, and absolute loyalty?  Brought up a pretty damn huge problem with the military strategies of the various peoples of Mars:  WHY. THE. FUCK. DIDN’T ANYONE HAVE A MARS-DOG ARMY?!  That made no sense.  How could they miss the usefulness of that kind of animal in attacks?  So that was bit of a plot hole.

Another was John Carter’s Superman status.  So, I get that his magical physical abilities happen because he’s used to Earth-gravity.  Fine.  But…what happens in a year after he’s been living on Mars?  I mean, best case for him is that he’s equalized to everyone who is from Mars and built for it.  More realistically is that his bones start disintegrating and his muscles atrophy and he goes from being the secret weapon to the same as any other Mars-man/useless.  That’s not such a happy ending, is it?

Finally I want to give some props to the framing device.  Because it was ace. At first when the movie started with the whole random nephew reading his uncle’s diary, I thought, Jesus Harold Christ, not another stupid framing device that I was tired of after one 19th-century lit class.  But the frame turned out to be actually relevant to the story and took the ending up a notch, from bittersweet to kick-ass.  So that was good and worth mentioning.  Don’t roll your eyes at the frame until you get to the end!

Yeah.  In all it was a good two hours at the movies, and I’ll go see any sequels.  It might not be profound or profoundly memorable B-movie crazysauce, but it was fun enough and good enough that I don’t feel cheated out of 130 minutes of my life.  So I’m going to file John Carter (Of Mars) in the Win column and call it a night.

Rachel-

I LIKED IT!!! I really did!

I mean yeah, it had its issues. It was too long. It had a couple of slow bits; that I didn’t mind so much on the first watch, but I suspect I would if I saw it several times. It glossed RIGHT ON OVER all those issues of racism and classicism and the critique of the industrialized world beating out the “cultured imperialists”. Just RIGHT ON BY. Whatever. I understand why Disney did not want to deal with all the baggage a hundred-year-old novel that started a genre might come with.

They changed quite a lot to make it a tighter story, and to make it more appealing to a modern audience. Some of it I am quite grateful for. Princess Dejah, for instance, was intelligent, capable and did not spend the entire movie being repeatedly kidnapped and sexed. Good job, Disney. They left out the telepathic stuff. Probably a solid choice. That could have been hokey. They handled the super strength really well and quickly, and, yes…it IS funny to watch a guy moon leap everywhere he goes, and they acknowledged that.

The bit at the beginning with the Apaches and the Colonel…kind of clumsy. I think it was much longer and had to be edited, because seriously where is the MARS in this movie? I did absolutely LOVE the flashback to John burying his wife and child when he was fighting that one Thark army. It was actually really well done and does a great job highlighting the fact that when we romanticize violence, we forget that war is terrible and leaves innocent people dead. I think that might have been one of the best scenes in the film. The editing choice there was really spot-on.

Elena-

TOTALLY agree. That flashback sequence gave me chills.

Rachel-

They changed some details with the Tharks, as well. For example, it was Tars Tarkas that was aware that Sola was his daughter in the film rather than the other way around, and they completely cut out the deal with Kantos Kan being an arena prisoner that escapes with John Carter to Helium. Totally understandable, as they decided to expand Dejah to be far more involved in the plot than she originally was.  I’m really grateful for that. They did that in a really clever way. She still needs John’s help, otherwise what is the point? But she isn’t just this naked (seriously, in the books she doesn’t wear any clothes. The comment she makes about her outfit being vulgar is pretty hilarious in that light) princess who needs to be CONSTANTLY rescued by the big, strong white man from Earth. They really did that right. All credit to Michael Chabon for that. He did a great job with all this material.

I also thought they did a great job with the CGI. Sure, Woola never looked like he was REAL, but the CGI wasn’t distracting. The ships and the cities and the vistas in general (love the use of tilt-shift for several of the big wide shots) were all really enhanced by effects. Some of the battle scenes got a little CGI heavy. Maybe it was the 3D making the film a little dark, but I didn’t really detect that hated shininess that CGI can cast.

Speaking of Woola. WOOLA IS THE SHIT. Calots are awesome. I love that they made it sooooo ugly. They could have gone with a more lizard-like dog, but no. They went with a weird geko-turd. Love it. Ugly things make me happy. He basically stole every shot he was in. Woola appreciation society. I am in it.

Elena-

ME TOO!!!

Rachel-

Lookit that ugly, runty horrible scrotum-looking thing! We love him so!

That might sum up how I feel about this movie in general. It’s kind of a weird movie in that it’s an adaptation of a book that is now so dated as to almost appear as a farce, or at least an uncreative rip-off of everything produced in the genre for the last 50 years. Except it’s not. It’s the original weird, epic, pseudo-science-fantasy planetary adventure story. Everyone is naked! Everyone seems not to be choking or freezing to death! It’s a crazy world! Just remember to call it Barsoom!

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