John Carter

John Carter (2012)
· The advanced word of mouth on Disney Studio's John Carter was that it was a flop. No one was willing to give a film based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic character half a chance. That's a shame, for while it won't win any major awards for acting or screenwriting, this is as good way to waste two hours as any. And frankly, I was interested to see how the movie would be able to update Burroughs' work.

· I should mention that I've never read the Barsoom book series. But I grew up when luminaries like Carl Sagan were promising that manned missions to Mars were just around the corner. So I'm a sucker for anything that recaptures that spirit of wonder. And the sword-fighting action doesn't hurt.

· Given that John Carter established the template for fictional works from Flash Gordon to Avatar, the plot is already well-worn. An Earthling, preferably a white male, goes to alien planet and becomes a hero to the natives. The racial overtones must have stood out even more in the original books. John is a former Confederate soldier who encounters green-skinned aliens and "Red Men". The movie naturally tames much of that. John is played as a disillusioned man who is sick of war rather than as a belligerent imperialist. But the movie also reinforces the subtext in it's own unoriginal way. The more "civilized" human characters of Mars (all of them of aristocratic lineage) talk with British accents while the more tribal nonhuman Thark speak with non-Anglicized accents.

· John Carter isn't self-consciously campy, but it doesn't take itself too seriously either. The Jokes emerging from the material don't feel forced. The cast in general is pretty competent. And there's just enough world-building to impart a sense of a longstanding struggle involving nations possessing different technological levels, and varied complex cultures. It's by no means perfectly paced or wholly cohesive, probably a byproduct of adopting the source material to the filmic structure. But it went by quickly enough. Even the disorientating parts were fun.

· Dejah Thoris is easily the best-written character in the movie. It's obvious that she's cut from the classic "damsel in distress" mold, and that her falling in love with the hero is inevitable. But whatever was done to update her doesn't fall into the "strong female character" cliche either. She's fully capable - strong, fierce, intelligent, and cunning. But she's understandably driven by desperation, as she's the only person in the story who comprehends just how bad things will get if she's forced to marry the power-hungry Sab Than. She lies to the non-committal John because this is the only way to convince him to take up her cause.

· I watched the 3D screening, and found that it didn't add anything to the movie. If anything, it made the Depth-of-Field framing shots look noticeably worse.

· This isn't a particularly violent movie. But making the blood blue was an effective way to portray some of the gorier scenes.

· Woola is cute.

· The Barsoom series marks the general public's early fascination with the planet Mars. Unfortunately for the movie, this fascination is at a low point right now. And while the movie isn't bad, its story would feel familiar to fanboys, because it it is.