John Carter is a valiant attempt at Edgar Rice Burrough’s sci-fi classic The Princess of Mars, but is not the epic film I was hoping for…Period.
I have read The Princess of Mars several times over the years. I love the book. As one would imagine, I was very excited when I heard that it was going to be made into a movie. Sadly, this movie has gone through development hell for close to a decade and perhaps the time took its toll. In 2004, Paramount owned the rights and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) was attached to direct, and then Kerry Conran (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), and then Jon Favreau (Iron Man). And then, finally, in 2007 Disney got the rights back and hired on Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) to direct this science fiction classic.
Stanton’s vision of Burroughs beloved book is flawed, yet still an enjoyable film. The film opens on Earth in the 1890’s. John Carter (played convincingly by Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) is a Civil War Solider who gets chased into a cave by a group of Indians. Here is where he gets transported to Mars to awaken only to find a race of green, 12 foot tall, 4-armed aliens known as Thark’s. John quickly realizes he has super hero like powers due to Mars’ change in gravity. He can jump hundreds of feet and has the strength of a dozen men, and this impresses one of the Thark’s greatest warriors, Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe, Boondock Saints).
Tarkas brings John back to their alien city, and John starts making friends (and enemies) quickly. Soon there is complex political story involving the other ‘human-like’ alien race who control most of Mars, which is where the genuinely beautiful Princess (Lynn Collins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) comes in. She is set to marry the villainous Sab Than (Dominic West, The Wire) but wants nothing to do with him and eventually falls for our hero, John Carter.
One of my favorite characters from the book, Woola (a six legged creature with dog-like tendancies) who becomes a sort of guardian to Carter, was a standout character in the film as well! Still, I really wanted to love this movie… I didn’t.
I was surprised at how many things were changed (seemingly for no real reason) from book to film. John Carter can still be considered a faithful adaption, but it could have been better. The visual effects are absolutely stunning, and perhaps the best reason for seeing this film on the big screen. They convey a beautiful alien world, and (animated) characters that interact with the live action flawlessly. The 3D was also a nice treat. It actually added noticeable depth to the world of Mars. Unfortunately, I found the movie somewhat slow, and at times, uninteresting except for the striking visuals. With that said, the film does have some great action sequences featuring alien on alien combat.
Overall, John Carter is a valiant attempt at Edgar Rice Burrough’s sci-fi classic The Princess of Mars, but is not the epic film I was hoping for. If you have read the book or love sci-fi or big visual effects movies, it’s worth checking out on the big screen. Otherwise, wait for the DVD. I’m sure it will be out in just a few months!