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Movie Review: John Carter

March 9, 2012

John Carter – A Walt Disney Pictures’ Release

Release Date: March 9th, 2012

Rated PG for violence

Running time: 132 minutes

Andrew Stanton (dir.)

Andrew Stanton (screenplay)

Mark Andrews (screenplay)

Michael Chabon (screenplay)

Based on the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Michael Giacchino (music)

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris

Samantha Morton as Sola

Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas

Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus

Mark Strong as Matai Shang

Ciarán Hinds as Tardos Mors

Dominic West as Sab Than

James Purefoy as Kantos Kan

Bryan Cranston as Powell

Polly Walker as Sarkoja

Daryl Sabara as Edgar Rice Burroughs

©Walt Disney Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) in John Carter.

Our reviews below:


John Carter Review By John C.

** (out of 4)

The John Carter books by Edgar Rice Burroughs are an integral part of science-fiction history.  Perhaps the lasting legacy of the series is what makes Andrew Stanton’s largely unfocused big screen adaptation feel disappointing, despite some cool special effects and a handful of admittedly entertaining scenes.  I really wanted to love this film, but for Disney’s sake I still hope it does reasonably well at the box office, if only to help make back the rumoured $250 million budget.

A veteran of the Civil War, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself mysteriously transported from Virginia to Mars, or Barsoom as the planet is known to the locals.  Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) is a warrior amongst the four-armed Tharks and he befriends the Earth Man, leading the oppressed inhabitants of Helium in a battle to take down the evil city of Zodanga.  John Carter must fight alongside Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who is the princess of Helium, and save her from being forced to marry the evil Zodangan king, Sab Than (Dominic West).  The ensuing battle scenes are reasonably well put together, but the needless 3D does nothing to enhance the experience and the story is confusing for those who haven’t read the books.

Some of the visual effects in John Carter are cool, and the scenes on Earth are nicely toned in sepia.  But other effects just strike that weird balance of being both under and overwhelming at the same time, like the scenes where he is jumping around on Mars and some of the character designs are surprisingly unimpressive.  Taylor Kitsch does his best in the leading role, but the dialogue is sometimes inadvertently laughable.  Lynn Collins constantly overacts as the princess, leaving her most memorable scenes to the highly sexualized costume designs.  Daryl Sabara just seems lost in his few Earth-bound flashback scenes as Edgar Rice Burroughs, delivering a strained performance that is hard to take seriously.

The film shouldn’t be completely written off as there are a few cool scenes and some entertaining moments.  But there is just too much going on in terms of action and not enough in terms of coherent story or character development to make the film overly engaging, past being a visual spectacle.  Lead actor Taylor Kitsch was in attendance to introduce the screening, and he kept stressing what an amazing “journey” it was to bring John Carter to the screen.  I have no doubts that those behind the film were passionate about what they were making, but I unfortunately didn’t feel the same sense of connection while watching it.


John Carter Review by Erin V.  

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the classic books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, many have been anticipating the adaption to the silver screen for a while.  Helmed by director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL•E) in his live-action directorial debut, this version of John Carter fails to shine.

More specifically based on the 1911 book ‘A Princess of Mars,’ we first meet title character John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) in London, in 1881, where he sends a mysterious telegram to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) asking him to meet him.  Then we get a flashback to Arizona years earlier when Carter was a cavalryman in the civil war.  It is there that he ends up in a fight with a mysterious humanoid called a Thern, and after stealing its medallion, finds himself transported to Mars.  On Mars he is soon captured by these four-armed green creatures called Tharks.  The Tharks take him back to their village, where he soon discovers the fate of the planet they call Barsoom (Mars).  He meets the princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) during a fight nearby between the kingdoms of Helium (where the princess is from) and the predatorial Zodanga.  The Tharks try to stay out of the civil war right outside their doorstep, but thanks to John Carter soon find themselves having to help him protect the princess and save Helium, which in turn could end up saving Barsoom and even Earth (Jarsoom).

It’s a lot to take in – during the movie, I wasn’t even sure which side was good until nearly the end battle (Helium wears blue capes, Zodanga red), and to confuse things more, the Therns which play a big behind the scenes role in manufacturing the fighting, are shapeshifters, taking over different character’s forms at times.  The film is also 2 hours, 12 minutes long.  I get that the filmmakers wanted to put a lot from the books in here, but maybe a 100 minute film would have been easier to take.  As it is, the script jumps from scene to scene in a confusing manner, especially when it cuts between Earth and Barsoom.  Overall though, the biggest problem for me is not the sci-fi elements or story.  When done well, I can quite like that kind of thing, even if it is hard to follow at times.  The truth of the matter is that John Carter is just not that well made, acted, or written.  Essentially, it feels like a generic film that I would have found on TV and been mildly entertained by on a Sunday afternoon ten years ago.

Which brings me to another point – the special effects here seem to have come straight out of the ‘90’s – early CGI type stuff.  I must also note that the score by Michael Giacchino definitely sounds more impressive on its own than in the film.  Over the scenes, it sounds pretty generic, although on the CD you do realize that it is quite well-written – it follows in a similar style to his other work and uses the orchestra well.  If this had been the score to a better movie it could have worked very well, but as it stands, it just overscores the whole thing and makes even a few scenes laughable.

For those interested in action/sci-fi films, or the original books, they may want to check this one out, but if you are, save the money and go in 2D.  Unless of course you want to see Barsoom with four moons instead of two, because the 3D image ghosts at times.  For the rest of us though, watch the trailer and decide.  The film is certainly watchable and kind of entertaining, so I didn’t mind sitting through it.  The best way to describe it would be not as a bad film, but just as a pretty generic one.


John Carter Review by Nicole

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the classic John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter follows the adventures of a 19th century Virginia cavalryman (Taylor Kitsch) who finds himself on Mars, known to the Martians as “Barsoom.”  There, he falls for princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), battles and befriends various creatures and must stop a Martian civil war.

With some cheesy special effects, poorly written dialogue and mediocre acting, John Carter is hard to follow as the characters aren’t that in-depth either.  Although I did like the large hippo-pug-dog creature that follows John Carter around.  While I have never read the books, I am sure they are superior to this film.  However, if you are looking for a film that is nothing but action and special effects, then John Carter is a fun diversion.


John Carter Review by Maureen

** (out of 4)

In the early to mid-1900’s, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of inter-planetary fantasy books that featured an American civil war captain, John Carter who finds himself transported to Barsoom (Mars) and in the middle of that planet’s civil war.  Director Andrew Stanton’s film John Carter focuses mainly on the 1917 book A Princess of Mars.

Never having read the books, I found the film somewhat hard to follow and only mildly entertaining.  Perhaps fans of the book series will get more out of it.  The problem with the film is that we are bombarded with so much frenetic and often violent action and so many creatures and characters in the overly long two hour-plus running time without any sort of emotional connection to any of it.

John Carter’s (Taylor Kitsch) backstory is somewhat interesting and the twist at the end is one of the best parts of the movie.  Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) felt like a caricature and it didn’t help that her lines were delivered as if in a stage play.  Perhaps better written dialogue would have helped move the story along, though I suspect it was written this way to reflect the original books.

In a sci-fi fantasy film part of the appeal is the look of the alien creatures, the planetary landscape, and the technology.  Some of the visuals in John Carter are interesting but for the most part, the creatures are unappealing.  Woola, the lizard-dog that follows John Carter around at hyper-speed is amusing and, for me, the high point of the film.  With special effects being such an important part of a film like this viewers should expect better than mediocre or at times laughable effects.  However, John Carter will have a solid fan-base of those who are familiar with the book series.  Casual sci-fi or action film fans may find it mildly entertaining, but not worth the extra premium for 3D.


John Carter Review by Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

John Carter is based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs story of a hundred years ago that may have influenced better known comics and films such as Star Wars and Avatar. The film opens with Carter summoning his nephew Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) by telegraph. When he arrives, Burroughs is informed that Carter has just died and left a journal to him. As a former Confederate cavalry officer from Virginia, Carter had moved to Arizona to search for a cave of gold, lashing out against any attempts (Bryan Cranston) to recruit him in the U.S. army (sort of like Unforgiven). What he finds in a cave is a dying alien with a medallion which transports him to Mars (like in Green Lantern).

Barsoom (as Mars is locally known) is a desert planet, largely due to environmental pillaging by the city of Zodanga, that resembles a huge mobile strip mining platform. Only the good city of Helium can save Barsoom but it is about to fall under siege by Zodangan airships. The Helium jeddak (king) (Cíaran Hinds) is offered a truce if his daughter Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) marries the Zodangan prince. This of course is a trap set by the immortal shape-shifting villain Matai Shang (Mark Strong). The inhabitants of Helium and Zodanga are humanoid, dressed like in old biblical epics (or the apes in the original Planet of the Apes) and adorned with more henna than in a South Asian wedding.

Carter, however, finds himself in the middle of the desert. Since Mars gravity is only about 39% of Earth’s, it really can’t hold an atmosphere, but as is typical in space stories, breathing on alien planets is rarely a problem. Carter therefore doesn’t realize at first that he is on another world, except for his remarkable jumping ability. (Superman didn’t fly in the original comics. His ability to “leap tall buildings in a single bound” was due to the much greater gravity on his home planet Krypton.) He is captured by a very different race, like green Na’vi with four arms and tusks.

Their jeddak (Willem Dafoe) and his daughter Sola (Samantha Morton), impressed with Carter’s fighting prowess, defend him against the challenger (Thomas Haden Church), and when the latter later seizes power, they all must prove themselves in a gladiatorial contest against huge white apes. Carter is also befriended by a large dog-like creature with a hutt-like head that runs like a cartoon road runner. Somewhat predictably, Dejah Thoris escapes from forced nuptials and falls in with Carter and the desert critters to help fight the oppressors. The final outcome is slightly less predictable, and admittedly rather clever, opening it up to sequels.

At over two hours, John Carter is challenging to sit through, particularly for non-fans of the books unfamiliar with all the arcane language and situations. Dialogue is cheesy at times, doing the cast no favours. Taylor Kitsch is not bad and the rest of the cast is fine, except that the classical thespian Lynn Collins is rather declamatory for someone dressed like Prisoner Leia. Though there are some fine sequences, special effects and overall production are disappointing for a film that reportedly cost a quarter billion dollars. Not in the top tier of fantasy films like Avatar and Star Wars, John Carter is more in the middling class of Titans or Prince of Persia, so if it doesn’t do well, it may indeed find itself remembered along with Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar as a super-expensive flop.


Consensus: Andrew Stanton’s John Carter could have used some editing and better character development, but fans of the classic books by Edgar Rice Burroughs still might find the cool visuals of this sci-fi film to be worth the price of admission.  **1/4 (Out of 4)

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