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JOHN CARTER? It’s terrific!

Brian Hibbs

I thought the trailers were all incredibly blah, but I thought “Well, it’s the director of FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, so it’s probably got to have something going for it.”, so when the envelope arrived with the free movie tickets, I thought, “OK, for once, I’ll go stand in line for one of these”

(Though, god, am I schmuck or what? I shoulda just put the call in, and I totally could have reserved seats to a press screener…)

Also? Took Ben with me — and he loved it too.

Here’s the first thing I’ll say? The “Host” of the screener was KOFY TV. They’re an independent local station. And when I say “independent”, I don’t mean “The WB” or something — seriously, go look at their web site… they host a dance party on air, for god’s sake! Actually, I think they’re great because how many markets truly have a indy TV station like this any longer? But, from Disney’s POV, it’s the promotional partner you go to when you’re trying to help the movie, but you expect it’s just going to die.

The second thing? The theater was like half-empty. Damn, I didn’t even need to stand in line, I guess… (oh well, an hour with my boy is an hour with my boy!) — but clearly, the movie is in trouble, if they can’t even get people to see it for FREE.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually read the ERB original (most everything “I remembered”, but was it from the prose, or from like an adaptation or pastiche or homage, since there have been so many? If it was the prose, it was when I was maybe 12 or something? I know I didn’t read them all), but there is a surprisingly deep world and backstory going on here with three different factions in battle, and another pulling various strings. There’s culture and language and all kinds of crazy-ass world-building going on, and yet it’s very open and very accessible, and very… mm, what’s the right word? “Vital”, maybe? I actually began to care about the cultures and the CGI characters inhabiting them, in a way that I very much don’t usually get in Science Fiction.

The action is big and grand, the characters vivid, and the world engrossing; it’s got a nice light touch for humor as well — pretty much everything you want from a big Science Fiction movie… and if AVATAR made 2 gajillion dollars, there’s no reason this shouldn’t make at least a zillion.

I have problems with the movie (when do I not have problems with things?): It is a bit long, and I think that’s almost all from the ERB-related wrap-around story that, while charming (IF you already knew that “Ned” was Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I kind of think less than half of the audience understood), it didn’t add much to the tale itself. I also thought the flashbacks to pre-War JC didn’t fit in the jump-cut way and when they were inserted, but that’s small concern.

We saw a 3-D showing, but I didn’t think it added anything — I’d not hesitate to see it in regular old 2-D. In fact, there were maybe 2-3 places where I thought the 3-D made the CGI look really fakey. At least I assume it was the 3-D?

The lead, Taylor Kitsch, was actually quite good, but his look is a little “pretty boy” for me. Dejah Thoris was played by Lynn Collins, and she played both “hot” and “lethal” and “smart” equally well. Dejah kicked ass, and I think would be a good “role model” for girls, for those of you who care about such things.

I took Ben (who is 8 and in third grade), and it’s probably a smidge more violent then I should have let him see, BUT virtually all of the blood is blue, so I was … well, not “OK”, but less than “annoyed” about the spurting blood. There wasn’t any language stronger than “god damn”, that I remembered. His favorite scene was the White Ape fight, and especially the end when JC comes bursting through the monster, sword in hand, which, had it been red, would have been gory and gross, but in blue was actually pretty funny.

The media has it marked as DOA, and the turnout at the theater would seem to indicate the audience doesn’t know it wants to see it — the marketing has been atrocious (and the end credits say that the name of the film is “John Carter of Mars”, BTW), and while I don’t know that I necessarily have any interest in making Disney profitable, this might really be one of those places where we need a Nerdtervention — I strongly think you should see it because it’s far far better than the trailers would seem to indicate.

Ben gave it a 9 (but, to be fair, he gives anything with a high enough wonder-factor a 9), and I’m quite happy to report that I thought it was VERY GOOD, and you definitely should go give it a see in a movie theater.


I’d ask “what did YOU think”? But it’s still like a week from release, sorry.


10 Responses to “ JOHN CARTER? It’s terrific! ”

  1. And yet, I can tell you what I thought, through the miracle of the same type of passes that you used… and I (almost) completely agree with you. Especially the ‘nerdtervetion’ part.

    The marketing has been crap and our theater was not only not completely full, but a smaller theater as well. (The friend I took had no idea what this was, despite me talking about it with him, off-and-on, for weeks; from the title he thought it was a Terminator spin-off, mistaking “John Carter” for “John Connor.” Dropping “Mars” from the title really undercuts any recognition past the immediate geek audience.)

    I didn’t really think it was too long, liking the ERB framing (which is pretty much straight from the books) and how that tied the start and end of the film together. If I saw a flaw- and I don’t really think it was a flaw, but intent- it was in the slow development of characters and of the background for Mars.

    There’s no sitting-around-the-campfire scene where everything is explained to the audience, and as a result the characters felt a touch underdeveloped, and Martian society a little like we already had to know the set-up before we saw the movie.

    But in thinking about it afterward I realized that what was really missing was the typical geek ‘shorthand’ language that is so typical for explanations; Stanton instead let us learn as the characters learn. Carter really starts as lost, and his confusion is mirrored in what we (and he) knows, or doesn’t know.

    So yeah, a great show, good use of humor, simply stunning visuals, 3D that is good but isn’t intrusive (you really could see it 2D with no problem, too), and a great story start to end. Well worth a look.

  2. Dammit! Missed the L.A. screening with director Andrew Stanton in attendance for a Q&A, partly due to work, partly due to ambivalence.

    And, yeah, lotsa problems with the marketing, from the trailer which made it look like last summer’s lame CONAN redux, to the lackluster just “JOHN CARTER” title. (I remember encountering this series as a kid and trying to figure out what it had to do with the President. (Yes, Jimmy Carter, Warlord of Mars.)) Seems like they had so many other, better options. The story’s original title, UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS… Dynamite’s option (and the series’ traditional subtitle) WARLORD OF MARS. And, okay, I know “Mars” has been a kiss of death for many Hollywood pics (but if it’s that big a concern, why greenlight in the first place?) So, maybe JOHN CARTER: WARLORD or, hell, just BARSOOM. But just JOHN CARTER? Whuh?

    Anyway, thanks for getting me fired up again — fond memories of this series, and it sounds like they’ve retained the quintessence of Burroughs’ baroque pulp madness.

  3. Thanks for the review Brian!!
    I read these books years and years ago (read alot of ERB actually, who knew there were so many hidden cities in Africa?), and was very excited for the movie.

    Now I’m even more excited for it. Looking forwards to going with my kids!

    And I agree about the title, so many better options than just John Carter.

  4. just finishing the first book. from the stills, it doesn’t look as if the red barsoomians are as red as I had imagined, and I would agree with your pretty boy comment. Wish I could have gotten a hold of some preview passes. didn’t think to go out and look for any though. really enjoying the book and plan on making my 11 year old daughter read it.

  5. I’d go see it for free.

  6. I only finally read “A Princess of Mars” last month and loved it, and was in the same audience last night as you, Brian. I thought this film was quite good, but it never really coalesced. It was like a really good recipe with really great ingredients that didn’t come out of the oven quite right. It wasn’t quite … there yet.

    It’s no surprise that a John Carter adaptation would have many of the flavors of Star Wars, but it lacked the narrative clarity of the Lucas films. I think audiences will enjoy the movie, though, if they don’t avoid it due to marketing that seems calculated to cause complete indifference among the general populace. Disney is clearly scared of/confused by this property … No Mars in the title (after the flop that was “Mars Needs Moms,” I read somewhere …), silhouetted billboards that tell you nothing, the mistaken idea that “John Carter” means anything to most people in 2012

    Best addition to this version, apart from making Dejah Thoris a smart, kick-ass heroine, was humor. Not a lot, but there’s some effective levity on Earth and among the Tharks, especially. And I loved the quick opening narration, that basically said, “You’ve probably heard that Mars is airless and lifeless. Well, it’s not. Enjoy.” No fussing about “science” and “reality,” just, “buy this premise, and have fun.”

    Unlike a lot of films that I’d rate as “better” in execution, though, this is one I’d enjoy seeing again. One weird thing: Mars itself was not as red as I would’ve expected. Am I the only one who found that weird and, for the first few minutes, kind of distracting?

  7. I’m not sure they’ve even started promoting this in the UK yet, but it’s certainly not looking good in America – unless the word of mouth is incredible, of course, in which case you never know.

    But I suspect there’s a fundamental issue with audiences just not understanding why they’re supposed to care. I wonder whether this is just a property whose time has passed – Mars just doesn’t have the air of mystery and possibility that it did in 1912, and maybe the whole Mars-as-fantasy-world concept is bound up in that.

  8. I’ve been reading the books since I was five. I loved the movie. Red martians are red, white ones are white and green are green. Tharks might be the stars but it’s all there. Could this be another Fantasia for Disney (i.e. didn’t make a profit when it came out but has been making money ever since) ? It deserves a massive audience but because it doesn’t dumb down might not get it. I’ll do my best to help it by seeing it every chance in any form it is released in!

  9. I read the books as a kid and all the comics as well. I’ve been going around asking people if they have any idea what the movie is about from the trailers and they haven’t a clue. I am excited to see it now from your review. I had heard it was a turkey, but will gladly support it now.

  10. Saw it. It’s both pretty good and pretty fun, which is not always the case. I do think that commercially they might have been better off going for an R-rated version like the original Conan. Of course, I’m not sure what kind of cast they could have gotten if being naked all the time was a requirement. And while Disney royally botched the marketing, the basic problem is that the public thinks they’ve seen this sort of movie plenty of times before because they have.


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