From Academy Award winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton, and based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter tells the story of a military captain who is transported to a mysterious planet amongst conflict. Can Disney do justice to the grand daddy of all science fiction.
John Carter is a former Civil War Captain of the U.S. Confederate Army from Virginia. After certain events transpired during the war, John decides to hang up his Cavalry hat and look for gold in the Arizona Territory. Still needing to be of service to his country against Apache Indians, a Colonel tries to recruit John for the cause. John refuses and is imprisoned until he “changes” his mind. After a daring escape, John find himself in the middle of a stalemate between his captors and a band of Apaches. John escapes again only to find himself hiding out in a cave full of gold. Suddenly a mysterious figure materializes and attacks him. John shoots the strange man, but as the attacker is saying his final words, John grabs a medallion that the attacker is clinging onto. He is then enveloped by a bright blue light and astro-projects.
John wakes up alone and face down in a desert. But something is wrong. He can’t seem to walk without launching himself into the air. It’s as if gravity is missing. John is able to leap great heights and distances. This does not go unnoticed, especially by the green, four-armed, indigenous species known as the Tharks. Thinking that he is a god, the tribe leader, Tars Tarkas, asks John to fight for them against the two human kingdoms who are involved in a bitter civil war. Just like the offer he was given by the US Army Colonel, John refuses. He has no cause. He doesn’t want to get involved. He just wants to go back to his cave of gold.
In the meantime, the Jeddak (King) of Helium, is being overtaken by Sab Than, the Prince of Zodanga. His cities are getting decimated by a new weapon that the Prince and his Red Army have mysteriously obtained. Knowing that there is no way to defeat the threat, Jeddak Tardos Mors is given no choice but to offer his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Red Leader in order to finally bind a treaty between the two kingdoms. The Princess, Dejah Thoris knows this will never bring peace and that it is only the first step towards a tyrannical rule by Sab Than.
Eventually John and the Princess cross paths. She becomes aware of John’s strange powers and begs John to fight for her Kingdom. She also informs him that he is on the Planet Barsoom, or Mars as we call it on Earth. Once again John wants nothing to do with fighting. He just wants to go home to his cave of gold, but he does need her help to decipher the strange medallion that brought John to this world. Will John get home or will he reluctantly become the hero of Mars?
I went into John Carter with very little knowledge of the character or the story. But after a bit of Wikipedia research, I found out to my surprise, that the character has been around since 1912 in magazine serials and novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Disney film is the centennial celebration of the character. So if you are curious to see the movie. keep this bit of knowledge in mind: John Carter came first and there would be no major science fiction stories without its influence. John Carter is not ripping off all of our beloved stories, it seems like it’s actually the opposite. I think this is going to be the major problem with this movie. The general public is not going to know about the novels or even the Marvel and DC comic books from the 70s. To explain the story, I even have to use references in sci-fi pop culture to explain whats going on. Imagine John Carter is the Marine from Avatar who meets a green version of its aliens who are cross bred with the Jar Jar Binks species. He fights a huge white ape in an arena like in Attack of the Clones, flies a craft like the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi, and he falls in love with a Princess Leia type strong female. The main battle is between the forces of good and evil, and evil is not only armed with a powerful weapon, but also lead in the shadows by a mysterious almost religious presence. Damn! The more I write this, the more I think George Lucas and James Cameron need to be sued by the Burroughs’ Estate.
John Carter is Directed by Andrew Stanton who also co-wrote the screenplay. Ironically the film isn’t based on the novel, John Carter of Mars, but rather A Princess of Mars written in 1912. Stanton is better known for his directing and writing of Pixar’s Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Both films earned him an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. So if you had any doubt that the character was in good hands, just look at Stanton’s resume.
The film’s visuals and special effects were spectacular. Where Lucas and Cameron may have “borrowed” concepts for their movies, John Carter definitely benefits from the CGI technology that the other movies created. All of the creatures look amazingly life like. The ships and technology are fantastic. Even the 3D added depth to not only the environments but to also the effects. I cannot emphasize it enough in saying that the movie is pretty impressive to look at.
The only thing I wasn’t super impressed by was the acting of John Carter by Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine/Snakes on a Plane). His performance wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t rooting for him in the same manner as I did Luke Skywalker. The real bad ass was the Princess played by Lynn Collins (True Blood/X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Not only is she beautiful with gorgeous blue eyes, but she was strong, intelligent, and very sympathetic. Not to keep using Star Wars references, but imagine a tough Princess Leia in her iconic gold bikini for the whole movie. Rounding out the major cast was William Defoe as the Leader of the Tharks and Mark Strong as the leader of the Holy Therns who are the messengers of the goddesses.
I really enjoyed John Carter. If it was released in 1977 instead of Star Wars, the sci-fi world would be a lot different than we currently know. But to tell the scope of the story, it needed to have today’s technology to pull off the visuals. I almost wish my mind wasn’t tainted by George Lucas, to fully be amazed by the experience. Because of this, my nerd self just wasn’t overly overwhelmed. For those who absolutely love the novels and especially the comic artwork, you may be disappointed by the amount of clothes Dejah is wearing. But let’s be honest; it is a Disney movie. And even though the novels came first, other major franchises already own our attention. I do recommend seeing it in 3D. I was not able to see it in IMAX, but if you love the big screen and sound, then it shouldn’t disappoint. I cannot emphasize this point enough: go into John Carter with a clear mind and pretend you’ve never seen a science fiction movie or you’ll make the same comparisons I did. Just enjoy the ride.
If 2012’s blockbusters follow the lead that John Carter has set, this year is gonna be fantastic for for movie goers.
Runtime: 2 hours 12 minutes
In Theaters: March 9, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, with Thomas Hayden Church and Willem Dafoe
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Official Site: http://johncarterarrives.com
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