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John Carter of Mars


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April 21, 2012

How close, and yet how far! It's difficult to enumerate the influence that Edgar Rice Burroughs has had on fiction writers over the past hundred years or so since the publication of A Princess of Mars. One thing for sure, however, Disney's recent film, "John Carter of Mars", as high as it aims, falls sadly flat in any number of ways.

It's a damn shame, too, a damn shame!

Before I launch into the meat of my criticism, let me say that a great number of things with the film came out very well actually. The problem, in essence, comes down to a messed up script, and even worse assembly. But first, let me enumerate what I liked:

  1. Lynn Collins as the incomparable Dejah Thoris looked great, and carried herself well. I think I'd go so far as saying that she's an awesome Dejah Thoris.
  2. Taylor Kitsch as Captain John Carter of Virginia, did a great job, too, with a good balance between sensitivity and stubborn insistence to do what needs to be done.
  3. The romance between John Carter and Dejah Thoris is paced quite well, I think, though in the end it (like the rest of the story) fails to come to a proper, satisfying climax.
  4. The Tharks were very well done, too, strong, proud, and varied enough in their appearances that they seemed real enough despite being all CGI.
  5. The various creatures were well done, too, though I felt that the white apes were rather too large by a margin.
  6. I liked the look and feel of this Barsoom, too, the mix of barbarism, and ancient technology.

Now, I recognize that books and film are different media, and must necessarily approach a story in different ways, but this film has taken unfortunate liberties with the story, and for no discernible reasons. In fact, I think the film's problems are two-fold: The story introduces unnecessarily complex and stupid things, and skips rather lightly past a lot of the mythology; and the story pacing is an utter mess ("uneven" would be putting it mildly).

  1. The film's first mistake was basing the whole story around the capricious designs of a shape shifting race that travels between worlds, and messes with things just because they can. WTF?! The political power plays and physical contests for Barsoom's diminishing resources filled twelve books, but they couldn't find enough there for a movie, and found it necessary to introduce some sort of evil alien gods as the enemy?!
  2. Mars' surface gravity is 1/3 that of Earth. It stands to reason that John Carter's strength would be effectively about three times normal on Barsoom, not a hundred times or more. I may come across here sounding like Sam Kinison, but three times normal strength DOES NOT LET YOU LEAP A TOUSAND FEET THROUGH THE AIR! Who the f--- wrote this shit^H^H^Hcript?
  3. And finally, the story's pacing wasn't just a mess, but replete with so much totally unncessary crap, thrown in without rhyme, context, or reason, that I'm given to wonder whether the script writers were permanently stoned. How does John Carter suddenly understand the Tharks? Why is the mysterious river Iss so unremarkable? Why is the ninth ray, the foundation for much of Barsoom's ancient technology, reduced in the film to a new discovery that must be suppressed?

The list goes on, but anyone who has read the books will understand just why the film disappoints as much as it does. The film actually has moments of brilliance, moments of sheer beauty and satisfying grace; but it's frustrating to see how much effort has been spent on this film, how much good work has been put into it, and how hard many people must have worked on it, only to have it all come out such a mess in the end.

It makes me sad.

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