Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe and Mark Strong
Few films, if any, have had quite the pre-release conversation as John Carter. With a 250 million dollar budget, no stars, no marquee director and the task of starting a new, rather than being part of an existing, film franchise, the moneymen at Disney have been rightfully concerned about their investment. In changing the title from John Carter of Mars to John Carter, Disney executives thought the film would all of a sudden be appealing to a much wider audience. I mean, I know a lot of people who flat out refused to go see John Carter of Mars, however cannot wait to see John Carter...an incredibly more captivating title. The theory behind the change was that mainstream audiences don’t like science fiction...I mean, that Avatar...what a flop. Ironically enough at the film’s end, its titular protagonist even says the line, “John Carter of Mars...sounds much better” probably the only time in this film where every audience member could genuinely relate to one of the characters.
The problem John Carter faces is that the film adaptation of this book has already been made. Star Wars and Avatar, two of the most successful films of all time have their roots firmly sown in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 book, “The Princess of Mars” Therefore how can this film appear original, when everything in it has been done before, even if this story was actually the first? The answer is, that it doesn’t try to be. John Carter is as formulaic as it gets, with no identity of its own and it looking like a visual and narrative collage of both successful and unsuccessful, sci-fi and fantasy movies to date.
The fact that the film is not presented or told in a way which makes us forget the fact we have seen it before, without realizing it, means that we are presented with a predictable, clichéd, cheesy and unsurprising two and a quarter hours at the cinema. What makes this so much more depressing is the fact that it is the live action directing debut of Andrew Stanton (Director of Wall-e) He has been a fan of the book since childhood and has been waiting his whole life for this story to reach the big screen. It is a shame that his dream has been realized on such a shoddy script. Given how long this movie has been rotting in development limbo, you think they would have settled upon a solider, more coherent and focused screenplay.
The film starts with an incredibly arbitrary and alienating voiceover, setting up the planet of Barsoom rather than the films protagonist, who was supposedly so interesting that the film was named after him rather than the planet he saves (Oh sorry...did I spoil the ending?) this opening is indicative of the rest of the film’s lack of focus or coherence. John Carter is meant to be the protagonist, yet we are never excited by, or interested in him. This is through a combination of Taylor Kitsch’s performance and the screenplay; John Carter just takes everything in his stride and not in an intriguing way. He is an incredibly boring, walking archetype and is more Abercombie and Fitch model than revolutionary war veteran.
The romance he forms with the princess of Barsoom is borderline painful to watch at times. These scenes made me think that Matt Damon would respond to this film the way he did to Sarah Palin, except this time, it really is, “A really bad Disney movie” I understand this is a film aimed at a younger audience however even younger ones will struggle through this laborious, lethargic, overly long, poorly constructed, bore of a movie.
The excessive exposition means that there is no sense of discovery to this film. The world of Barsoom is certainly no Pandora and all the creatures look like leftovers from the Star Wars prequels. Watching the film you would have no idea it cost 250 million dollars. When you spend that much money on a film, you want people to realize it. However, the level of visual effects in John Carter is now the norm rather than the exception. If you’re going to spend that much money on a movie, which is this poorly written, acted and paced, relying on spectacle and visual effects, then there has to be some revolutionary leap forward rather than merely a continuation down the same path.
However like the film itself, the effects have no focus. In Avatar, the film’s effects were based around creating the world of Pandora. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the effects were built around constructing the character of Caesar. In John Carter, the effects are spread across the film and spread thin. The film’s cinematography and effects also suffer from being clouded under the haze of post-production 3D. Once again the 3D is merely a forced, money grabbing inclusion, which adds nothing to the quality or presentation of the film.
I went into John Carter, really wanting to like it. However by the time the film reached its third act, I couldn’t wait for it to end. The film’s cheesy, convoluted nature ultimately weighed me down, as it was ponderous rather than wondrous. It’s too boring to be a guilty pleasure (A man two seats across from me fell asleep...I was envious) and too derivative and tedious to be in any way memorable. 100 years on, people still read and talk about the book this film is based on, 100 years from now, nobody will remember this film’s existence.
Only the film’s effects remind you, that you are watching a 2012 release. Otherwise with the costumes, character names, dialogue and performances, everything else points to a cheesy, eighties, bad, straight to DVD, B movie. The final ten minutes actually excited and interested me, however it was too little, too late. The rest of it was a mash-up of all the worst elements of recent films such as Green Lantern, Prince of Persia, Cowboys & Aliens and the dreaded Star Wars prequels...you would hope that even George Lucas would object to the majority of this film’s script.
An uninspired, uninteresting and poorly developed and performed protagonist, leads a film which is about as exciting as its title. A directorial talent and 250 million dollars are wasted on a screenplay that gets the basics wrong and despite not having read the original source material comes across as an awful adaptation. It throws everything at you hoping it will stick, with its strangeness being suppressed by studio “sensibility” resulting in a jarring experience. Too long for kids and too stupid for adults, John Carter has been mishandled every step of the way, next time Disney, let Donald Duck do the work.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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