Seeing a 250 million dollar action movie released in early March makes me wonder a little. The trailers for John Carter have ‘summer blockbuster’ written all over them, so you have to wonder if some studio exec lost his nerve. To be fair, I’d be a little nervous too. This summer is packed with big names like Spiderman, Batman, and the Avengers. It’s also been pointed out, when it comes to movies, Mars has a way of creating red ink.
The movie is based on what’s probably the oldest science fiction franchise around. John Carter first appeared in a magazine serial called Under the Moons of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. It was later republished in novel form as Princess of Mars. Burroughs ended up writing ten sequels in this Martian setting known as Barsoom (the native’s name for Mars) some of them were direct sequels featuring Carter while others focused on other characters. I’m going to have a post about the book sometime next week, after I get around to finishing it.
I decided to prepare myself for seeing the movie by picking up the original book. I only got about 2/3 of the way through the book before going to the theater, but I might as well have not bothered. Very little of he original story actually made it into the script. Most of the characters are there along with a few other basics, but the plot is well removed from what I’ve read of Princess of Mars. The movie does keep the stories original conceit of being based on Carter’s journal which was found by his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs, after his death.
I’m planning a post about the book after I finish it, but for now it suffices to say that the movie is much more complex. The novel was used as the base and a much more elaborate plot involving wars, energy rays, and a secret group of magical aliens manipulating Martian (and possibly Earth) civilization was built on top of that. It got a great deal more complicated than it really should have. The screenwriter was shooting for epic, and hit ‘confusing’. Also, I haven’t been able to pinpoint why yet, but John Carter was very reminiscent of The Chronicles of Riddick and more recently, Prince of Persia.
If you squint a little and don’t get too wrapped up in some of the weirder plot points, John Carter is a pretty good action movie. It’s a slow starter with lots of exposition in the beginning and some unnecessary moping on the part of Carter himself. Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch who was the brooding bad boy Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights and for awhile I was expecting Carter to crack a beer and start a “Clear Hearts” chant. To his credit, Kitsch did have me rooting for Carter to break out of his funk and ‘save the world already’.
The movie looks amazing and the CG characters mesh well with the real actors. The budget for the movie is rumored to be around $250 million and it really shows in the special effects. I saw the 3D version, but I didn’t feel like there was anything in the movie that actually made use of the extra D. The pre-movie trailers on the other hand….
John Carter was an entertaining two hours if you’re willing to over look the convoluted plot, and the deviation from the source material. When the plot does get bogged down you can always rely on the background visuals to entertain you until the action picks up again. I’d recommend the movie to action or science fiction fans, but stick with 2D because the up-charge for the 3D glasses isn’t worth it.