Wowwee. Are we all bored hearing about John Carter yet? It’s been in cinemas a week already and people are already bored talking about how sucky it was meant to be…
Even Google didn’t feel too good about its box-office potential.
And in the last week alone I’ve lost count of the death-knell articles I’ve read. All of them worthwhile in their own weird little way…
- Vulture – The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer
- Film School Rejects – Missteps on Mars: Why John Carter Failed and How It Actually Didn’t
- Aint it cool news – Mr. Beaks Takes Issue With The Coverage Of JOHN CARTER!
- The Daily Beast – Why Did John Carter Flop At The Box Office?
WALL·E and Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton had earned a lot of goodwill from Disney for his success with those Pixar hits, but questions were raised after news of reshoots and the first trailer hit last summer. Critics have been festering away waiting for this to get a release, the fact he then admitted that he only made a film that he himself would enjoy watching didn’t help matters. The revelations that he OKed a lot of the film’s slightly dubious marketing calls certainly didn’t help matters as cinema-goers were left confused and un-excited by a pre-release campaign that seemed to recall Prince of Persia and Cowboys and Aliens.
The good news is that John Carter is a considerably better film than both of those abominations.
The film is the first adaptation of the John Carter of Mars “Barsoom” series of books from the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs who brought us the Tarzan series way back in the 1910s.
Before he was “John Carter of Mars” he was “John Carter the runaway confederate soldier”. These 1860s setup scenes and interplay with Bryan Cranston’s recruitment officer Colonel Powell are great fun and could easily have been a lot longer. But Carter is magically transported from a cave in Arizona to Mars (some mumbo-jumbo to do with a medallion) and the film spends a wonderful few moments in an existential bubble. Carter has lost the ability to walk. Gravity is failing him. He meets some aliens who speak the strange language of Barsoomian which he then magically just starts understanding (thank God, subtitles hurt my eyes). Oh and he can jump like reeeally high. And all soundtracked by LOST and Up composer Michael Giacchino.
Stanton in his element with this fish out of water approach. The alien “dog” Woola that appears soon is straight out of a Pixar movie and Dominic West and Mark Strong play the bad guys to great effect with lots of evil scowls and knowing smirks.
But then, as often happens, a woman comes along and ruins things. Lynn Collins’ Princess Dejah Thoris completely changes the direction of the film. Studios love a good love story to anchor a new franchise and she is the title character in Burroughs’ original novel A Princess of Mars, but I still couldn’t help wishing she was given a little less time on screen allowing the running time to be cut down a little.
Taylor Kitsch performs well in what was meant to be his elevation to major box office star. Propping him up is a wealth of talent including Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe (voice), Samantha Morton (voice) and the aforementioned Cranston, West and Strong.
For what it’s worth the CGI is all pretty flawless (I chose to see the film in 2D as the post-production cut-out approach to 3D doesn’t appeal) and action-wise it’s hard to have many complaints with lots of high-energy set-pieces and battles ticking all the right boxes. And a fairly solid story anchors the whole thing. It’s hard to see exactly where that $300million budget went but Stanton has at least created a great environment that feels like a living, breathing place. In space.
Ultimately what may be its undoing is an unwillingness to just let go and make the care-free camp action film we all craved. It seems like Stanton felt he was dealing with sacred material which deserved a dignified and solemn adaptation.
USA / Directed By: Andrew Stanton / Written By: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, / Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Bryan Cranston, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Dominic West / 132min / Action, Adventure / Release: 9 March 2012 (UK/Irl/US/Canada)