Lets deal with the giant white ape in the room; this film will go down in history as a major flop, despite a worldwide take of $283 million. Titled simply ‘John Carter,’ rather than the more evocative ‘John Carter of Mars’, this was due to other films with Mars in the title performing badly, such as ‘Mars Needs Moms’. Disney – perhaps not wanting to invest more in the already over-budget film, ran a very lacklustre marketing campaign and the film grossed a mere $78 million during its theatrical run in the US.
But you know what? John Carter turned out to be a rather good and enjoyable flight of fancy. I had first read the book, some six months prior to seeing the movie, and found the film to be faithful to the source material. Of particular surprise to me was the charismatic performance of the under-rated Taylor Kitsch, who is supported by a wonderful cast, including the superb Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas) and the beautiful Lynn Collins ( as the red martian, Dejah Thoris).
One of the early reviews that I read berated the movie for being derivative of Star Wars, flagging up the scene with Carter fighting the giant white apes in the gladiatorial style arena. What this rather ignorant logic exposes is rather that Lucas was ‘inspired’ by Edgar Rice Borough’s 100 year old novel, in much the same way as Lucas found ‘inspiration’ from the original Star Trek series (in turn inspired by Forbidden Planet).
John Carter is superior to the modern Star Wars prequels, mainly because we care about the characters in the movie.The dialog, whilst sometimes stilted by the 100 year old source material is generally well scripted. Fans of steampunk will find much to enjoy in this film, and director Andrew Stanton acquits himself well, especially considering that this was his first live action movie.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect, far from it. There is an uncertainty over the tone of the film, Stanton struggles to keep the film light and breezy. It’s creatures are perhaps to frightening for young children, and the film hesitates to demonstrate the savage brutality present in the book. Ah, the book. Perhaps the film is too much a slave to the source material. Those unfamiliar with the books may find John Carter to be a bit too byzantine to follow. Jeddak, Woolas, Barsoom, Zodanga, Therns, Tharks are confusing terms tossed out to the audience in a very short space of time.
I watched this on blu-ray, and if you are looking for a demonstration disc then look no further. Michael Giacchino’s score is outstanding, audio is wonderfully clear and the picture as pin sharp perfect as you’ll ever see.