Synopsis: Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Willem Dafoe
Director: Andrew Stanton
Running Length: 132 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Jon Favreau – Thark Bookie
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Ask anyone that has seen a movie with me in the past year and they’ll tell you that every time the trailer for this would start I would give my famous Joe Botten Heavy Sigh and exclaim “Not this trailer AGAIN…this looks SO DUMB!” And it did! Both trailers for John Carter made it look like another Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time…the 2010 Disney debacle that was a costly gamble for the studio.
Cut to a few weeks ago when I started reading online reviews from fanboys (and girls) that were not only positive but some were outright raves. Then reviews came out saying the opposite. Clearly this was a movie divided which meant one thing…I had to give it a shot. I love seeing movies that are polarizing to viewers because I know they’ll be challenging in some way. For instance, I really enjoyed The Tree of Life and found it to be a moving exploration of innocence lost. Others hated it with a vitriol reserved for foreign dictators.
As I put down my fork from eating a piece of humble pie, I’m writing to tell you that John Carter was one of the more enjoyable movie going experiences I’ve had in quite some time. Blending elements of Star Wars, The Hobbit, Dune, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even The Wizard of Oz , John Carter worked better than I ever thought it would. All the elements of a classic sci-fi adventure story are here from the epic battles sequences to an original back-story that keeps your attention. How a trailer so bad was made of a movie this good is a mystery. Director Stanton (Wall*E and Finding Nemo) makes the leap from animiated films to the big screen with great results. Another Pixar colleague of Stanton’s, Brad Bird, helmed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which was also equally as fun. Pixar seems to have a magic touch no matter the medium.
Usually when a review says the effects are the best thing about the movie it’s perceived as a negative – not so in this case. The effects are impressive, yes, but without them the film couldn’t sustain its pace and originality. Creating a whole solar system of creatures, machines, and elaborate landscapes give the film a true feeling of grand design…and our actors are blended into this mix seamlessly.
I saw this film back to back with Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace and couldn’t help but see a lot of inspiration in both films. Yes, John Carter was made after Star Wars but the source material surely had to have inspired George Lucas as he was creating his films. The Star Wars films and John Carter both have created a totally new universe that I found myself wrapped up with. True, at times the actors in both films would ramble off the crazy names/places with such abandon you weren’t sure what language was being spoken…but congrats to them for coming up with some creative names.
Kitsch makes for a nice leading man and he’s equaled by Collins as the Princess of Mars (the title of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale this is based off of). Collins was also the best thing about the ill-fated X:Men Origins – Wolverine and she’s nearly the best thing here too. Many of the supporting players in John Carter are not even seen onscreen. With the effects team creating an entirely new race of CGI beings, we just get the voices of Morton, Defoe, and Church rather than their physical presence. The rest of the players may make less of an impact when put up for comparison but all bring something to the proceedings that propel the story forward.
Bookending our trip to Mars are stops in London circa the mid to late 1800’s and while you may find yourself a bit shell shocked at how the movie bounces around time and space please be patient…it all is explained by the final reel when the movie is brought to a satisfying conclusion.
While John Carter was not originally filmed in 3D, the conversion to 3D was handled with great care. It wasn’t rushed so things pop out nicely and the IMAX screen I saw it on enhanced the 3D process with greater detail and serious megawatts of sound. If you can, try to see it on in IMAX to be fully immersed in this clever and intricate world.
A real unexpected pleasure, John Carter may not be breaking any box office records but if any movie deserves a sequel it’s this one. By the end of the film I was ready for another adventure and would welcome the chance to revisit these characters should Disney give a sequel the green light. With the middling box office take this had in its first weekend and it’s reported 300 million dollar budget that may not be in the cards…but fingers crossed John Carter takes flight again!