John Carter

Disney’s “John Carter” is a maddeningly inconsistent movie.

At times it’s adventurous, imaginative, and spectacular to watch. At others, it’s ponderous, clumsy, and even occasionally silly. For every moment of awe that is created by its lavish special effects, there’s an offset by a line of terrible dialogue. For every moment where the Martian culture and creatures make you think “Oh, that’s kind of cool”, there’s and offsetting moment that makes you go “Tsch… Come on…”

It’s certainly not a bad ticket purchase, but it’s a long way from living up to its potential.

John Carter is an ex-Confederate soldier who now seeks his fortune prospecting for gold. During an attempt to escape arrest, Carter encounters a strange man who appears out of this air inside a desert cave. After shooting him, Carter examines a mysterious device the man was carrying… and winds up finding himself transported to Mars.

On Mars, Carter’s Earthborn physiology lends him tremendous strength and leaping abilities. Which he will need, as he is captured soon thereafter by an indigenous race of creatures known as Tharks. The Tharks are a hardened, warrior race of creature standing ten to twelve feet tall, with six arms and green skin. Due to his fantastical leaping abilities, they keep Carter alive as a possible soldier for their internal clan struggles… but there wind up being more pressing issues at hand.

Carter has landed on the planet during a time of war.

Due to the behind the scenes machinations of a race known as the Therns, the Barsoom city-states of Zodanga and Helium are pitted against each other in a destructive conflict. The Princess of Helium is struggling to discover the scientific basis for the Zodangan’s power weapon, but her house would rather see her pledged in marriage to Sab Than, the warrior leader of Zodanga. Of course, John Carter’s arrival changes everything…

I mention so much of these elements by name, because if “Green Lantern” taught me anything, it’s that its difficult to get audiences to accept strange new mythologies, terms, places, etc. (amongst other flaws of that film, that’s certainly not the sole factor in that film’s lack of acceptance). So the fact that there are so many different types of creatures, and strange place names like Barsoom and Jarsoom (for Mars and Earth respectively) and creatures called Therns and Tharks with names like Sola and Tars Tarkas. It’s just not a simple step for a lot of people to take, and especially if the film isn’t wowing them or winning them over. Without the magic of the movie encouraging them to buy in, they’ll resist the strangeness and find it off-putting.

The dialogue of the film won’t help. At all. Every line… honestly, I felt like every line was just a big, epic, over-important, over-written, rimshot-worthy clanker. The characters speak in a constant stream of clichéd nonsense that manages to seem simultaneously dumbed down and aggrandized. This movie should have come with a cymbalist to clap his cymbals together at varying volumes each and every time someone spoke. Seriously, this is some George Lucas level dialogue right here, people. The special effects in the trailer should no longer be the only reason people are comparing this flick to the Star Wars prequels…

I know that a lot of that will wind up reflecting on Kitsch and Collins as collateral damage, but I was able to tell that it wasn’t so much the acting as it was the material. Kitsch has the look and the requisite charisma to pull off this role. I know from FNL that he has the chops, and in fact, he wasn’t bad here, he was simply handcuffed with terrible lines. Collins has an exotic touch to her beauty that makes her perfect for the role of a princess from another planet. She too, did a fine job, considering the handicap she was given via the script.

As a story, the film isn’t bad. It’s kind of simplified, but that’s to be expected I suppose. But it will keep you interested enough as the battle sequences and special effect shots play out. Unfortunately, I never felt that any of those scenes were fantastic enough to win the day. They were decent throughout, and occasionally good, but the film lacked that one set piece that was jaw dropping or memorable. That special “WOW” moment that will sell Blu Rays down the road… I just never felt that with any of the action scenes.

Given the uphill challenge of introducing new characters, new creatures and new cultures, “John Carter” does an admirable job. However, encumbered by bad dialogue and a story that’s composed of well-worn elements, the movie never really grabbed me. Occasionally the spectacle of the film rose to the occasion and provided some enjoyment, but there wasn’t enough of it to overcome some of the more glaring weaknesses for me.

C

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43 thoughts on “John Carter

  1. Well, we’re definitely apart on this one… while there were some lines of dialogue that stuck out to me as being clunky, I can’t say that it ever really bothered me much. I got a big kick out of watching this film.

    • Yup. I’m with CO on this one. I had a blast! The whole movie worked for me. Even the extraneous plots and side bars. I thought all the actors were top notch, Especially Lynn Collins who really did seem ‘incomparable’ to me. It was the one major structural character change from the ERB books which they could have made and did: Making Dejah Thoris a real live heroic character, rather than just the ‘prize’. I really liked that. Also I thought Taylor Kitsch was very strong as John Carter, although his dialog should have been a bit more in the format 19th century vein. And of course Mark Strong is just plain awesome. (as he always seems to be). Even Willem Dafoe seemed to have dialed it back a bit and turned in a really good CGI performance.
      My only major complaint (i have a handful of very minor complaints which I wont dwell on here) was that Barsoom should have looked much redder, instead of the primarily yellow cast it seemed to have.

      The people I saw it with (3 adults and 2 children, 14 and 9) also all came out with very strong positive impressions. The oldest girl complained at first the it wasn’t really Sci-fi enough. I explained that what it really is is ‘Retro Sci-fi’, closer to what she knows as steam punk, and then she got it and started raving about how great an idea that was. lol

      Summing up: great Sunday matinée type film, a real popcorn muncher with thrills, chills, sword fighting, romance and most of all, FUN.

      I just wish we hadn’t seen it in imax 3D, because I always wind up with a headache after seeing anything in 3D (Hugo excepted)

      • All right, Gelf’s got my back!

        Definitely true about it being “retro sci-fi”, and that’s one of the things I like about it — that they didn’t try to modernize ERB’s stories by making huge modern-style sci-fi ships, or making John Carter a 2012 Earthman. Unfortunately, that is likely to be something that causes people a perception problem on it… it is so retro, and the story it’s based on has been cribbed from by virtually everything sci-fi, so people may not credit it as being original because they’re not aware that it’s drawing directly from the original source that all the rest is drawing from indirectly.

      • Ohhh shitt. It’s the dreaded Hallsian tag team.
        :D

        Yeah, CO, I see you have a review up, I’ve just been a busy blogger today. Three reviews and a Lambcast baby!

        Sorry about your headache Gelf.

        You know? This film just didn’t stir me in one way or the other. Its a sad thing. You guys want to say its better, etc etc, I’m actually fine with that, I can see how people could enjoy it. Sure.

        For me, the dialogue destroyed it. I swear, I wish I had a hi-hat and a drumstick with me. LOL. The acting was fine.

        I will give it this, the humor beats worked. There weren’t a ton of them, but every time they put one in they did score with it. The opening scene with Bryan Cranston was very funny, the dog brought some laughs, etc…

        I was just underwhelmed. :shrugs: sorry boys, wish I could match the enthusiasm…

  2. This film reminds me a lot of Prince of Persia. What I mean is both are films not good by any means but from a purely popcorn, check your brain at the door, adventure film it’s at least worth the price of admission. Would I see it again? Probably not, unless maybe it’s on Showtime and there is nothing else on, but still I don’t regret seeing it.

    • Yeah, that’s a solid comparison.

      I probably would have C’ed that movie too, LOL.

      It wasn’t really a bad flick, to me, it just didn’t get me too excited at any point in time. I was unimpressed generally…

  3. I keep seeing commercials for this one that say “The first blockbuster of the year.”… But I think I may pass on this one. I don’t need another series to follow (presuming that they make it into a series), and the fact that they released it now instead of in the middle of summer has me suspicious. You review and that C grade tells me I’m probably not really missing too much.

    • Well in fairness there’s been some enthusiasm for it in the comments do far.

      To me, I just found it your standard big budget actioner. There were some good special effects at times, some funny moments here and there, but all in all, I wasnt too impressed…

  4. This is the review that I’ve been waiting for. You know what, I was expecting something better. This movie has been getting a lot of hype, especially being dubbed as “the first biggest blockbuster of 2012″

    I was planning on watching this movie tomorrow, but now I don’t know.

    • I’d still check it out Jen… It’s not that bad or anything. It’s been getting mixed reviews.

      I just checked the Rotten Tomatoes score… it’s at exactly 50% at this moment. LOL. Which means evenly divided between thumbs up and thumbs down. :D

      So….

    • Thanks Adam, that’s cool of you. LOL. I’m still cut off by them, I think my last share (not my site) got 17 hits. Eesh.

      Yeah, that’s where I’d recommend it, although if you were going to wind up a fan, the big screen would probably help the visuals.

      You guys arent going to hit this one this weekend to review huh?

    • I definitely would recommend seeing it on the big screen. It’s a huge tentpole blockbuster, with amazing imagery and spectacular effects. Dont let some of these middling reviews dissuade you. It’s fabulous!

  5. I don’t think this was as bad as people have been saying it is but I definitely do think that there is something left to desire with this sci-fi premise. However, I had a lot of fun here and Stanton’s direction also brought a lot more to this material than I expected at first. Good review Fogs.

    • Thanks Dan, yeah, saw your write-up, I think you liked this one more than I did.

      It was the dialogue more than anything for me. everything just sounded a shade of silly to me.

  6. I actually really enjoyed this movie. I will say I agree with you about the dialogue but it was never eyerolling for me. Probably my favorite thing about the movie is the score by Michael Giacchino since I’m a aspiring composer myself but its my favorite score of the year. But, I thought the movie was a really goofy but solid genre film. And, I love my genre films haha.

    • Cool, man, glad you enjoyed it. I always hope people like a movie rather than dislike it…

      And in all honesty, I didn’t hate it, I just wound up… nuetral on it. Didn’t leave thrilled or anything, but dont want to badmouth it much either, you know?

      • It’s all good man. I won’t be adding it in my collection or anything down the road but I enjoyed myself. I did buy the score though LOL

  7. I think Disney did a really poor job of marketing this movie which has contributed to the tepid buzz. However, I do feel there is more to it than what the trailers suggest. I’ll wait for the DVD to rent but this looks like it could semi-decent as a science-fiction fantasy.

  8. I agree with your assessment on this one Dan. The movie was an uphill battle with the terminology. Also, I found the story line to be ok. The one thing that the movie didn’t address for me was the fact that even in the mid to late 19th century, the technology existed to view Mars at a distance. They certainly would have picked up cities. But that is something that can be easily overlooked since most people wouldn’t know that. It was an ok movie not a great movie. You nailed this one on your review. I know when you and I saw it I gave it a higher grading but after I thought about it, not much to this one. Ok special effects and the 3D were good but that was about it. NPR had a review on this one this morning on my way into work, yes I do listen to NPR, and they indicating that Disney spent a quarter of a billion dollars on this one. This weekend take was dismal and they expect Disney to lose about 120 million on it. But they had record numbers in Russia. Know accounting for taste. Either that or people just don’t go to the movies much there. They did say that the reason why this movie didn’t take off was because there were too many unknowns. Unknown story line, not that popular of an actor for a main character for the cost of the film, and like you said, to much new terminology that people couldn’t follow right out of the gate. Well like I said, not great but good but not worth the cost of the 3D price. Till next time…

    • “yes I do listen to NPR”

      LOL, I love it, you’re defending against my ragging on you without me even getting a chance. The pre-emptive defense strategy!

      I dunno, why wouldnt I think you listen to NPR? :D

      Anyways, yeah… but you weren’t THAT much higher than me on it, even when we were walking out. And actually, its funny I know I was telling you my grades start changing in my head the minute I put them out – I’m actually thinking I should have gone C+. The C makes me seem a little more down on it than I am. I’m not a hater or anything.

  9. This is pretty much how I was expecting your review of the film to pan out. It does sound like everything I was expecting it to be. Though no doubt, I’ll be seeing it for myself soon.

    • Yeah, I mean, dont let me dissuade you from checking it out. If anything, the big budget spectacle of it alone is worth checking out.

      Plus… this has been a really divisive one… really splitting opinions as you can see from the comments. So yeah, check it out, circle back… keep in mind, I’m really kind of 50/50 on it. It did have a lot of good stuff, just had some let down moments too.

  10. as you well know this one just didn’t do it for me. I think it was a matter of pacing more than anything else. I enjoyed the special effects most notably the Tharks, but there were too many stretches where not much happens. Avatar was 3 hours long, but felt much quicker to me despite a fairly weak story. You mentioned the many different names the characters had in JC, and I think trying to cram them all into this one didn’t help their cause either.

    • Yeah, I had issues with it too.

      I couldnt call it a bad movie per se though… I mean, there were moments I enjoyed scattered throughout. The big issue I had was that for every positive it checked off, it felt like a negative came right afterwards! LOL

  11. Entertaining review Dan.

    I truly enjoyed this film a lot more than you did obviously. ha. It was so much fun to enjoy visually and more. For me, it worked. Not perfect but not bad, and a heck of a lot more enjoyable than Pirates of the Caribbean 2-4! haha

    • Yeah, saw your review, dont recall if I put my two cents in or not though… busy weekend.

      Its cool, I’m never really out to defend my review, I always hope people love the movie even if I didnt. You know, for me, it just didnt connect. To much explaining going on, the plot was like “Fake intricate” it really wasn’t too complex at all, the romance didnt work, there were a lot of things that fell a little flat.

      Didnt want to be a hater though, I recognized the value in a lot of the special effects and action scenes. The humor worked well too.

      I hope they do get a sequel. I mean, I KNOW its a super longshot. But it would be a better movie….

  12. From Variety:
    “Disney expects $200 mil ‘John Carter’ loss
    Mouse warns Wall Street of big Q2 studio loss
    By JILL GOLDSMITH

    Disney expects a $200 million loss from pricey tentpole ‘John Carter.’

    Disney has high hopes for its upcoming pics, including “The Avengers.”

    Forget the monstrous Tharks — the biggest fight Disney’s “John Carter” has faced has been the intensity of the media’s focus on the sci-fi epic.
    The scrutiny of the pic’s mega-budget and underwhelming B.O. performance likely spurred Disney to take the unusual step of getting out in front of the bad fiscal news to warn Wall Street on Monday of a coming operating loss of about $200 million to be taken on the pic in the Mouse’s fiscal second quarter ending March 31. As a result, Disney expects its studio wing to post an operating loss of $80 million to $120 million for the quarter.”

    To which I reply:
    They spent 100 million dollars mismarketting this. They deserve it. Screw Disney up it’s little mousie butt.

    • Yeah… the blame on this belongs, first and foremost, on the marketing campaign. Still a definite downer though to see it do so badly. The only chance for a sequel is if this really takes of internationally, and that’s a long shot under the best of circumstances.

      • Dont see it happening now guys, sorry to crush hopes. $200 mil is a lot to eat.

        Could happen though I guess, I dunno. Tron Legacy and Green Lantern are both getting sequels in spit of underperforming, so…

    • Is this in response to my response on your facebook page?

      LOL #socialnetworkingoutofcontrol

      I’ll grant it was mismarketed, buddy, there’s no question. I was still underwhelmed over it though. Sorry.

      How big a fan are you on this one? You know you’re positioning yourself here as “Captain John Carter” going forward, right? :)

  13. “How big a fan are you on this one? You know you’re positioning yourself here as “Captain John Carter” going forward, right? :)”

    I can live with that. I really enjoyed and am happy to be it’s defender, although I think CO came out first as saying he though it was pretty good too.

    • Yeah, I know, and he chimed in here too. So you’ve got a sidekick. LOL

      I know the feeling, I felt like the only person who didnt drink the Hugo kool aid, and I’m still trying to live down my Green lantern review, so… :D

  14. Finally got around to watching this. Yeah, not nearly as bad as critics let on. Yes a lot of the dialogue was cliche, but I think it has to be somewhat expected given it’s pulp fiction roots. I also appreciated that Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins laid it all out in their performances.

    • I think it helps that you’ve had over a year of hearing how bad it was, and then finally caught it for free on cable (I presume) ;)

      It was halfway decent… lets put it this way. In spite of it making the rounds on cable, I’ve never been tempted to check it out again. :(

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