Lemme start off by prefacing this review with a quick mention of the book. I had no fucking plan to ever read it, but I was at a buddy’s house and we started talking about the movie and he said he had seen the trailer and slowly put two and two together and realized he had read the first three books of the series. I only read about 3/4ths of ‘A Princess of Mars’ before seeing the movie. I figured, what the fuck? I haven’t read a book since 9/11 and now was a good time to start. I thought it would be interesting to only read MOST of the book before seeing the movie. If this were any other movie I wouldn’t have bothered but the years and years of nonsensical hype about the series and the influence of it’s mythos on so many other films had me intrigued. I wanted to know what the fuck it was all about. TURNS OUT, after seeing the movie, I found myself loving the book more than I thought had whilst reading it.
Not to belabor a point, but I was interested because at this point the biggest complaint from dorks internet-wide is that so many films we know have copied elements of the story in some form. So I suspected a Watchmen-like level of of every page spewed on the screen adaptation to really hammer it that THIS WAS THE ORIGINAL.
The biggest issue with John Carter the film is that it takes zero risks. Right off the bat they hire the world’s blandest no-name as the lead (luckily Sam Worthington and Timothy Elephant had better things to do, because either one of them would’ve nailed it). This no-name they ended up with isn’t terrible. He’s there, and he’s fine. He’s perfunctory, which is a good summation of the movie as a whole. Everything is there, working fine….but nothing has the power to lift this movie out of its ‘who gives a fuck?’ slump. Even the visuals and big spectacle nature aren’t enough to make it worth seeing in the theater. Because of all this, it makes the whole thing seem so odd to me. It’s like, you have all this professed LOVE of the book, yet there is zero passion on display. Even Andrew Stanton, in all his grand storytelling wiseness, saw that HE HAD ALL THE RIGHT BEATS, all the action and story ingredients to meet his prerequisites for crafting a good movie….the problem is he never stepped back from his efforts to realize NOTHING FUCKING HITS!
There is no emotional backbone.
Whoa shit, I just got a text from Disney bro....they said they're a little concerned.
And the film suffers from a lack of narration (only when Spy Kid is reading a letter do we hear Taylor’s voice), and for a movie with this large sprawling scope, we needed to HEAR OUR LEAD’S FUCKING VOICE. I wonder if Stanton views narration as a crutch, and he’d rather have people onscreen explaining everything than rely on the classic voice-over. This is part of the main problem. The film takes all the simple aspects of the book and makes them needlessly complicated, then it takes all the interestingly complex aspects of the book and dumbs them down.
For instance, the simplifying of the language process, in the book Sola (an alien, or Thark) slowly teaches John Carter the native tongue. It strengthens the bond between those characters, that bond is a central theme of the book. In the movie, Sola forces John to drink the LIFE WATER OF MARS, and that magically makes him understand the language. I get the idea behind it, to get past a concept that once felt fresh and might now come off as played out, but if you wanna PROVE to me your source material came BEFORE STAR WARS and BEFORE AVATAR, then you sorta have to go all the way and give us the classic sequences we’ve come to expect. To overlook those details is basically admitting you’ll never be as good as the films you inspired, which is exactly what John Carter does. It cowered and admitted defeat. Instead of going for the GRAND, it went for the bare minimum.
Some award winning fan art from our own Dickblood.
The movie is a mildly entertaining diversion. For 2+ hours, it never felt slow, mainly because Stanton and the new #EGGERS screenplay artist Michael Chabon are so intense with their approach to push the plot forward, the film never gets a chance to fucking breathe. There is never a silent, contemplative moment. We never feel the greatness of Mars that is so prominently on display in the book (think of the whole Avatar dragon scene, something to really showcase the majesty of this world). Interiors on Mars are supposed to be these amazingly great halls, sort of something out of a Tarsem film. But what we get in the film feels like leftovers from the Stargate cable series. Everything from the pace to the production design feels rushed. The one aspect of the book that the movie sort of nails is the fucking dog thing Woola. There could’ve been a great moment where John realizes what a great companion he is, but again, it’s wasted. Plus the thing looks like fucking Road Runner when he runs, so I don’t get what they were going for there. The love story, don’t even waste your time trying to get invested in it. It’s there, it’s very obvious, but there’s no connection between those two. They give John this dead family backstory, which wasn’t in the book. This felt like more of Stanton forcing his storytelling prowess on the film, and ends up another wasted opportunity because of the lack of emotional investment in these characters.
And not to babble on too long about the differences between book and film, all said and done it’s a fairly decent adaptation as a whole. But at this point in the JOHN CARTER LEGACY, ‘fairly decent’ feels SOOOOOOOO FUCKING WORTHLESS. I think had they gone with a closer adaptation of the source, the passion would’ve shown up on screen and the audience would’ve responded. What we ended up with feels like a bunch of people making the best film they could, not because they wanted to….but because they had to.
The fucking Thark design is pretty awesome though.
Parts of the film feel like Stanton and Chabon were confident they could do it better than Burroughs, rather than do their best to pay respect to him. Even the whole Mars aspect, John doesn’t realize he’s on Mars until like halfway through the fucking movie. In the book, he knows where he is the second he gets there. Why they wanted to dick-tingle with the mystery of it, I’ll never get. Don’t get me wrong, how they handled it works….on fucking paper, but unless you’re really fucking focusing on this thing, you miss a TON OF SHIT. And this isn’t a Pirates or Transformers or Saw kinda thing where the plots get so complex and unwieldy that unless you took notes throughout the fucking series you wouldn’t be able to completely follow. You can follow John Carter just fine, but there is a lot of lip-service tossed at the fans of the book that’ll go over most people’s heads and feel worthless.
Clearly, Stanton and crew were more excited by the whole battle aspects than the mystique of a man from Earth exploring Mars, and that’s what makes the finished product feel like a Star Wars wannabe. Unlike other recent Disney live-action films, there’s nothing here to stand out from everything else we’ve already seen do the same shit better. Tron Legacy had a look all its own and that music. Pirates had Johnny Depp playing against type and becoming a massive star. Here….there is nothing. Even the fucking score feels like some left over Star Wars cues. Maybe if they has some Phillip Glass shit, it would’ve given the movie a much needed personality.
ABOMINABLE SNOWCONE's wife and daughter hang with Taylor Kitsch at the Battleship wrap party.