Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Taylor Kitsch [sic] as John Carter.
JOHN CARTER (aka John Carter of Mars/2012). Director: Andrew Stanton. Disney Studio.

Civil War vet John Carter (the unfortunately named Taylor Kitsch), looking for gold in a cave, touches a medallion that transports his essence millions of miles through space to Barsoom, the planet that we call Mars. Due to his ability to jump vast distances because of the difference in gravity, Carter is sort of adopted by the six-limbed warrior race, the Tharks, especially Tars Tarkas (voice of Willem Dafoe) and the kind-hearted Sola (voice of Samantha Morton), who turns out to be Tarkas' daughter. There is also a red-skinned human race which lives in the city of Helium, including Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who wants to turn the Tharks into allies. However, the princess has been betrothed to a man she doesn't love by her father for political reasons, not knowing that she and Helium are only to be betrayed. To the rescue comes John Carter and the Tharks on flying machines.

John Carter is based on Edgar Rice Burrough's novel, the first in the Mars series, "A Princess of Mars." On the plus side John Carter has impressive special effects, scenic design and beautiful settings. Even people who have read the books may find the story confusing at times [audience members unfamiliar with the books and John Carter may wonder what the hell they've wandered into], and the action scenes are a bit too cluttered and busy to be fully thrilling and satisfying. Somehow the whole picture, despite it's eye-popping aspects, just lacks that certain punch. [Director Andrew Stanton previously directed only animated films, and while there is a lot of computer animation in this film, there are also live-action scenes that are not nearly as well done.] Kitsch is an okay actor and makes a fairly sexy Carter, but his approach to the 19th century character is much too 21st century. Lynn Collins, while not beautiful in the conventional sense, is attractive and more on the mark as Dejah Thoris; Dafoe and Morton are also excellent. There is an unnecessary framing device with Edgar Rice Burroughs as Carter's nephew on Earth, and tedious opening sections involving Apaches and the Army. Carter does a little too much jumping around, as if he were a super-hero, and the Heliumites are nearly disfigured by ugly facial tattoos. An added plus is lovable Woola, the great big Martian dog and companion who is assigned to Carter and is always faithfully by his side. A problem with the film is that it tries too hard to be a big epic when Burroughs' entertaining novels were basically pulp fiction and nothing more. The pure storytelling in the books is superior to what Disney's 250 million dollars put on the screen. Both Kitsch and Collins were in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Verdict: Not a mega-bomb by any means, but not all it could have been. **1/2.

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