Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review of John Carter

100 years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs began to write a story called "Under The Moons of Mars" which featured what many consider to be the world's first space hero, John Carter. Burroughs wrote 12 stories that was later published as a novel called " A Princess of Mars." Ten books later, the "Barsoom" series, (Barsoom was Burroughs' word for Mars) was complete and has gone on to become one of the most influential science fiction fantasy stories of the 20th Century.

James Cameron and George Lucas both credit the John Carter books as influencing their films. It has taken a full century for John Carter to come to life on the big screen but it is finally here! I had the good fortune to watch this movie last week on The Walt Disney Studios Lot.
Director Andrew Stanton delivers another first class movie that brings Mars, excuse me Barsoom, to life. While he and the writers took some liberties with the book, this still remains a faithful adaptation of telling the tale of a Civil War Virginian Calvaryman who is tired of war and heads out West. While he sets out to find gold, he is mysteriously teleported to Barsoom.
Long story short, Barsoom has been in a Civil War for thousands of years. The Zodangans lead by Sab Than (Dominic West) have been fighting the Heliumites, whose princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) searches for a way to end the war and save the planet.
John (Taylor Kitsch) is captured by the Tharks, giant 10 foot tall, four armed creatures who are tribal and very primative. Carter wins the respect of their Jeddak (King), Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Tars helps Carter escape so he can try to find his way home. Dejah and Sola, a Thark female, accompany Carter to the Gates of Iss in an attempt to find a way home back to Earth.
In the meantime, Sab has convinced Dejah's father to agree to a political marriage to end the war. Sab is being controlled by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), leader of the Therns. The Therns represent themselves as the messengers of the Barsoomian Goddess Issus in order carry out their own plans. Their plan is not for peace however, but for ultimate control. Carter discovers the plan and sets out to stop Matai Shang.

This film is full of action and adventure! Amazing visuals, great characters, and great environments! But despite the massive scope of the film, it is a character driven story about a man who has lost his way. A man who is divided between giving up and doing what is right. He is a stranger in a strange world who, against his own choice, becomes extraordinary.

Another major selling point in this movie for me is its "authenticity." Everything feels real from the locations to the characters. The decision to shoot in Utah to double as Barsoom made the film feel grounded. I felt that it added to realism of the film. It should come as no surprise that the look and feel of the Tharks are Pixar perfect. The way they move, the facial expressions they give are uncanny. You will believe that the Tharks exist. 

Then you add  Michael Giacchino's score, which is perhaps his best yet. The score is epic and sweeps across the plains of Barsoom.

For years I had waited for someone to bring John Carter to the big screen and it was worth the wait! I cannot wait to see John Carter again!

Long live John Carter of Mars!

1 comment:

  1. Despite occasional moments of silliness, the old-fashioned sense of adventure and brilliantly rendered aliens elevate this above other derivative big-budget sci-fi fare. I still wished that Kitsch did a lot better in this lead role but he was only there for eye-candy really. Good review.