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;'John Carter'

A film directed by Andrew Stanton Loosely based on the character by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Burroughs' Space Opera Comes to the Big Screen

  • Mar 9, 2012
Star Rating:

Like all good space operas, John Carter relinquishes virtually all restraint on common sense and plunges headfirst into pure intergalactic melodrama. In spite of the obvious narrative anchors to reality – feuding tribes, political corruption, romance, advancements in technology – we’re immersed in a world and a time that exists solely in the imagination. Yes, this is in part due to the film’s 3D presentation (which is admittedly decent enough for my seal of approval), but mostly it’s due to the care with which the artists and technicians designed and built the environments. In other words, the sets, the characters, the costumes, and most importantly the special effects are all appropriate and convincing, albeit with the kind of heightened reality one would expect from a Saturday matinee serial.
The film is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, which began in serialized form in 1912 and would ultimately be collected into the first of eleven books in 1917. Its journey to the big screen was surprisingly long, beginning when Burroughs was approached by Bob Clampett in 1931 for permission to turn the first book into an animated film. Burroughs agreed, and five years later his son teamed up with Clampett to create test footage via rotoscoping and other hand-drawn techniques. This footage failed to impress exhibitors and investors, and the project was abandoned. It would languish until the 1980s, when the rights were bought for Disney. It would remain in development hell before the rights were returned, then picked up by Paramount, returned once more, then finally picked up again by Disney in 2007, at which point Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton was hired as director. Like Brad Bird with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, John Carter marks Stanton’s live-action debut.

This winding road was surely a blessing in disguise, as it’s hard to imagine this story being told without today’s advancements in computer technology. This would include motion capture, a process I continue to champion in spite of persistent backlash. I also think contemporary audiences would better appreciate the clever narrative technique of making Burroughs a character in the film – in this case, John Carter’s eighteen-year-old nephew (Daryl Sabara), who’s eventually advised to settle down and, perhaps, write a book. If this movie had been made seventy-five years ago, as was originally intended, this wouldn’t have worked at all. After all, the real Burroughs was still alive at the time. It would have seemed strange and perhaps even a bit self-congratulatory.
The plot, while at times difficult to follow, falls well within operatic conventions and is appropriate. It begins in the late 1860s, at which point Virginia-born John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a captain for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, has become apathetic and disillusioned. After finding a cave full of gold in the Southwestern desert and nearly being stabbed to death by a mysterious robed man who appeared out of nowhere, a strange metallic device somehow transports him to the habitable and populated planet Mars – or, as the locals call it, Barsoom. After learning how to navigate the planet’s lower gravitational pull, he soon finds himself embroiled in a bitter feud between three clans, one that, if not settled, could spell certain doom for the entire planet.
We first meet a race of tall, green-skinned, tusked, insectoid beings called Tharks – computer generated creatures animated from the movements of live actors. Their leader, Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe), is a proud yet noble warrior, and he rescues Carter when the other Tharks are ready to tear him limb from limb. They initially speak a Martian language, but for simplicity’s sake, Carter is made to drink a liquid that, somehow or another, gets him (and the audience) to understand what they’re saying. Then there are two humanoid races, both covered in red tattoos, both engaging in deadly territorial disputes. There are the arrogant, manipulative Zodangans, led by the cocky Sab Than (Dominic West). Then there are the sensible citizens of the city of Helium, the Heliumites. Their leader, Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds), believes that the only way to achieve peace is for his daughter, Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), to marry Mors.

Carter initially refuses to take anyone’s side. But then Dejah enters his life. Apart from being a fierce warrior, she’s also a scientist who’s on the verge of making a groundbreaking discovery, one that could ensure the survival of her people and the welfare of the planet. But if she’s to succeed, she’ll need Carter’s help. He reluctantly agrees. At the same time, he must also help another Thark, the nurturing Sola (Samantha Morton), escape the wrath of the power-hungry Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church). Carter, Sola, and Dejah eventually travel by river to a sacred temple, where it’s possible Carter will get the answers he has been looking for. But he must be cautious; a fourth race of mystical, self-serving beings called Therns, led by the manipulative shape-shifter Matai Shang (Mark Strong), is ever watchful of the situation.
If you haven’t been able to follow along, take comfort in the fact that the real purpose of John Carter is to be a crowd pleaser. There are plenty of decent action sequences (aided in no small part by the special effects and, to an extent, the 3D), and there are several amusing sidekicks, none more memorable than the Martian equivalent of a dog, which clings to Carter like a boy who found a best friend. The dialogue and the performances are perhaps a bit theatrical, but keep in mind that this is an archetypal serial fantasy, in which half of the fun comes not only from recognizing the familiar but also from witnessing the impossible. Knowing this, I’m admittedly baffled by the criticism that the film is derivative. By now, we should all know that certain stories are intended to be formulaic. Would we enjoy them any other way?


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March 10, 2012
I probably won't see this in theaters. It does not interest me that much, and ticket prices are not necessarily cheap. Nevertheless, I'm glad you enjoyed it.
March 11, 2012
While I don't know what ticket prices are in Maine, you'll definitely save some money by opting for a 2D presentation. I liked the 3D in this film, but I never said it was mandatory.
March 11, 2012
Ryan, I saw this in regular DLP and it was fun to watch. This was entertaining; yeah, a little too predictable (wish they made a more faithful adaptation) and not essential but worth seeing even once. Nice review, Chris! You liked this a little more than I did, but even I could not help but be entertained by the film....that princess was attention grabbing LOL!
March 12, 2012
Perhaps it's because I'm not at all familiar with the books that I was able to enjoy it so much. There was a time when I thought I had to read a source before it made the transition to the big screen, but now I believe it's completely unnecessary. There's nothing worse than getting bogged down by endless comparison between book and film.
More John Carter reviews
review by . March 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
The Coming of
Perhaps I should have revisited Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars”, the first novel that featured his character John Carter before I saw this film. 2012‘s “John Carter“ is very loosely based on that first novel and the first live action film by Andrew Stanton who made his directorial debut with Pixar‘s “Finding Nemo“. Burroughs’ creations are indeed a great work of pulp; and his greatest creation may indeed be “John Carter” …
review by . July 04, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I know what you're thinking: John Carter was a freaking nuclear bomb. You know that, and so, like most people you're automatically associating the movie's puny monetary takeback with an especially rotten stench. Frankly, that's being pretty harsh, for one thing; between production, advertising, and every other expense filmmaking tends to incur, some financial whizzes got together and concluded that John Carter wouldn't have broken even without an intake of around $700 million. It's Disney's fault …
review by . March 09, 2012
Edgar Rice Burroughs is famous for literary creations that have inspired countless generations and given birth to numerous film and television projects. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody not familiar with Tarzan, one of Burrough's great series. John Carter of Mars is another one, and at long last has finally made it to the big screen.     The film is based on the first book of eleven, a series that began in 1914 and ran through 1964 when the last book was published posthumously. …
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I bought a ticket to another movie, but had to wait an hour, so I thought I would pass time watching John Carter.    As JC began I became swiftly swept up in it, forgetting the other movie entirely, as I was so transported.    If you're like me and like movies such Star Wars, I think you will love this movie. I'm not suggesting that it's better than Star Wars, but I certainly enjoyed it than some Star Wars movies.    Like many movies our …
review by . March 07, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Different planet, same contrived plot points
JOHN CARTER Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon Directed by Andrew Stanton Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe and Mark Strong   Introduction: Mars - So you name it and think you know it.   In all honesty, there are only two reasons I wanted to see JOHN CARTER. The first was to see the live-action debut from Andrew Stanton, a director who has given me two of my favorite films, FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, and who has established …
review by . March 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
George Lucas in his creation of STAR WARS, James Cameron in his creation of AVATAR, the creators of Buck Rogers, the creators of Flash Gordon, and countless other writers and film directors for almost a century owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom Chronicles (beginning with A PRINCESS OF MARS, first published as a short story under a different title in 1912). Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan. However, Burroughs dabbled in several different genres, …
review by . March 08, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
'John Carter' 'Two Jews On Film' Are World's Apart On This SciFi 3D Adventure (Video)
            By Joan Alperin Schwartz   Okay, so first I have to say that I loved 'John Carter', the Disney 3D SciFi adventure film directed by Andrew Stanton (WALL-E)...      The plot can seem slightly more complicated than it is...so I'll just give you the main points.       First, there's John Carter (the very handsome, Taylor Kitsch) a post Civil War Veteran who's absolutely …
review by . May 09, 2012
JOHN CARTER: Great Film, But Horribly Mismanaged Property
As one of the internet’s resident scribes on all things movie, I’ll not be the first – nor certainly the last – to lambast the treatment JOHN CARTER received at the box office.  The short version of this sad history is that JOHN CARTER was the perfect popcorn flick that deserved better – better from fans, better from the studio who made the film, and (far, far) better from the critical community that mostly drubbed it a ‘disaster’ for all the wrong …
review by . March 08, 2012
Without the Jeddack’s would there be a Jedi, what would Charlton Heston have worn when crashing on The Planet of the Apes, would Kirk have gotten so much inter-galctic tail if it hadn’t been for this hero created 100 years ago. John Carter is thought to be the inspiration for that and so much more in the science fiction world, so it is understood that fans of the genre have been crying out for the movie to be made. And with the technology to create other worlds, nothing is …
Quick Tip by . April 12, 2012
I finally saw "John Carter" last week and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I was excited to see it way back when Disney first started promoting last year. While it isn't necessarily a "great" film, it's definitely not a bad one. I'll review it soon enough.
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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John Carter is an upcoming 2012 action film featuring John Carter, the heroic protagonist of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 11-volume Barsoom series.[5] The film marks the centennial of the character's first appearance in 1912.

Former Confederate captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is mysteriously transported to Mars ("Barsoom") where he becomes part of a conflict between the various nations of the planet, whose leaders include Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Carter takes it upon himself to save Barsoom and its people from a growing threat.[5][6]

The film is the live-action debut of director/writer Andrew Stanton and is co-written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. It is produced by Jim Morris, Colin Wilson, and Lindsey Collins, and scored by Michael Giacchino.[1][7][8]

Walt Disney Pictures is distributing the film; it will be released in the United States on March 9, 2012.[9][10][11] Filming began in November 2009 and principal photography spanned from January 2010 to July 2010.[12][13] This project marks the first time that Andrew Stanton has worked on a live-action film; his previous work includes the Pixar animated films Finding Nemo and WALL-E.[7][14] The film will be released in the Digital 3D and IMAX 3D formats.

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Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Studio: Walt Disney Studios

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