Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I Thought of John Carter

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris
Yeah, I know the movie is entitled John Carter, not Dejah Thoris, but I'd rather look at Lynn Collins than Taylor Kitsch. Besides, in many ways she's the central figure of the film.

This review is going to be a little different than some of the ones I've posted. Confession time:  As much science fiction and fantasy as I've read over the past [ NUMBER DELETED] decades, I've never actually gotten around to Burroughs until now.  (Please don't judge me.)  Every time I've intended to, something has disrupted my reading schedule.  Which is not to say that I'm not familiar with the basics of at least some of his work.  I just don't have a strong working knowledge of the details.  I'm about one-third of the way through A Princess of Mars right now, and I will definitely read the other books in the series.  So I won't discuss where the film deviates from the written work; there are plenty of people more knowledgeable than me to do that. Start with Ryan Harvey's review.  Instead, what I'm going to do is approach the film from the perspective of someone who would be a member of the general public rather than a fan.

Having said that, and acknowledging I want this film to succeed, I think it scores a home run.  At no time does the movie insult the audience's intelligence, or at least not much.  More on that in a bit.  The plot is coherent and makes sense.  The characters behave in rational ways, with motives that are believable.  There are plenty of little moments that develop the characters.  This could have been a brainless mishmash of fight scenes and bombastic dialogue. 

Instead, we've got people, regardless of how many arms and tusks they have, about whom the audience comes to care.  While the CGI is great and in many ways makes the movie, what ultimately propels the film is the story.  This could have been another Avatar, all fancy CGI with no depth, originality, or individual characters.  Thank God that didn't happen.  Instead there's a real respect for the source material here, and it's evident in almost every frame.  I've not gotten far in the book, but I was picking up on details.  Yes, there are a lot a changes from what Burroughs wrote, but the film remains true to the spirit of the novel. 

John Carter battles the White Apes
The CGI brings Barsoom to life.  The aliens are believable, as are the cities and the flyers.  This one has got eye candy galore.  And I'm not talking about Lynn Collins in that sentence.

Speaking of Ms. Collins, she steals half the scenes she's in.  Her character is a little different than Burroughs wrote her, at least as she's appeared in APoM to the point I've read.   Dejah Thoris is every bit Carter's equal in courage and heroism, especially early in the movie where she often surpasses him in these qualities.  And she's better than him when it comes to swordplay.  The character of Dejah Thoris as she's presented her is one that very possibly could go down as a model for strong female characters in fantasy.  If there's one thing she's not, it's a damsel in distress.

I only have a few complaints.  First, the movie opens with a prologue which is nothing more than an infodump.  I found it confusing, and I knew the basics behind what was going on.  I'm not sure what the general audience thought of it. 

Second, and this point and the following one are where I felt my intelligence insulted, every time the moons of Mars are shown, it's the same picture.  Even Burroughs knew and discussed that the moons have very different orbital periods, something we've know since long before Burroughs first put pen to paper.  There was no variation in their relative positions or any discussion of waiting on the moons to align.  I bring this up because it does have a bearing on the plot near the end.

The last thing, and this probably bothers me more than anything about the movie, is that at times there doesn't seem to be a great deal of consistency in Carter's enhanced strength.  When he's first captured by the Tharks, he breaks his chains and escapes from the nursery where he's imprisoned.  Later, during the arena scene, he can't seem to break the chain holding him in the arena.  He seems to have whatever strength he needs do what whatever the plot requires at that time.  Ditto for how high and far he can jump. At least some of the time.  There are other times when he clearly has limits on what he can do.

Still, those things weren't nearly enough to spoil the movie for me.  It was well handled all the way through.  The fight scenes are great, the characters have depth, and the story never flags.  John Carter is fantastic and an example of how to Get It Right.  Go see it.  And take a friend.


  1. Glad to hear it. I'm looking forward to getting my eyes full of it.

  2. I hope to see it very soon. And I must confess that I have had the same status reading ERB as you.

  3. I really hope to see the movie next weekend. I wanted to help its opening weekend, but I just can't manage it. (I really don't understand all the 'opening weekend - make or break' attitude/hype nowadays, what with all the various ways to view a movie after its release.)

    Yes, Dejah Thoris is far more passive in the original novels than in modern adaptations. (movie, Dynamite comics) In fact, I remember being impressed with Thuvia (Maid of Mars) because she sticks her dagger in some bad guys along the way, which is more proactive than Dejah ever did (in the original novels.)

    1. The only reason I was able to see it this weekend was because my wife took our son to stay with her parents during spring break. On the whole, I think I like the movie version better than the book simply because Dejah Thoris is so much more assertive. I've never been crazy about passive heroines who always need rescuing.

  4. I've read the ERB books years ago and was excited and frightened when I saw/heard about the movie, especially being a Disney picture. But I have been hearing decent things about the movie and, when I get a chance to see it, I am hoping I will be pleasantly pleased...and also hope it brings back a bit of the nostalgia and excitement of reading the books way back when.

    1. I hope you do enjoy the movie, Peter. While the movie wasn't perfect, it could have been a lot worse. Overall, I think they did a good job of updating the material for a contemporary audience.