Thursday, October 11, 2012

Back Where It All Started From - Review of "John Carter"

I know this review is coming out of left field, but hang with me here for a second - you'll be glad that you did.

I wasn't going to watch this movie.  Didn't see it in theaters, didn't see a reason to buy it on DVD.  I think I was more geeked-out over "The Hunger Games" when "John Carter" came out, to be honest.  Shoot, I didn't even know what it was supposed to be about (the movie trailer looked cool, but the title was a little bit "Guys, that's what you're calling it?")

Fast forward to September - I'm checking in the newly released books at work and I see that somebody has released the third omnibus of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars" series.  Two thoughts came into my mind (1) Wasn't that the guy that wrote "Tarzan?" and (2) Wait - that movie took place on Mars??

(It takes me a while to get there, but I eventually do).

Turns out this series has been around for a hundred years (the first story came out in 1912) and was what inspired the creation of things like Superman and Star Wars (and that's just what was listed on TV Tropes).  Basically, anything you love about superhero stories or science-fiction, this is where all that stuff came from.  Which, sort of floors me that Burroughs is more well-known for Tarzan than John Carter of Mars (and it's key to get the "of Mars" part in there because "John Carter" by itself sounds more like some Hatfield and McCoy-esque historical miniseries than sci-fi).  Me? I'm more impressed with an early-20th century writer taking on the story of a man displaced onto another planet than a man displaced onto another continent (people were doing that last one every day back then).

Long story short - I found out what this movie was really supposed to be about and decided to watch it for myself.  My reaction?

Holy. Crow. This. Is. A. Fantastic. Movie!  I don't know what to sing praises to first - the storyline, the special effects or the characters.

The story starts out with John Carter in 1888 New York running from some shady-looking guy.  Cut to John's nephew, Edgar (as in Rice Burroughs.  Yeah, I know) going to visit his uncle, only to find out that his uncle has suddenly and inexplicably passed away.  Edgar ends up reading his uncle's journal, which tells the story of how Captain John Carter, formerly of the Confederate Army, was in Arizona Territory after the Civil War searching for gold.  He winds up in a cave with strange markings, shoots some freaky-looking alien guy and gets transported to this deserted place where every step he takes launches him about twenty feet in the air.  John is taken prisoner by the Tarks (the green Martians that everyone talks about), learns the language and makes friends - of sorts - with a female Tark named Sola.  Oh, and the Red Men of Mars (or Barsoom, as they call it) are in a heated war that comes to the Tarks.  During the battle, John rescues a woman named Dejah Thoris of Helium (who was shown earlier to be working on a weapon to fight against the Zodanga).  John's enhanced abilities to fight and jump come from the fact that Mars' gravity is less than Earth's, but the people of Barsoom see him as a skilled fighter (which, he is in his own right).  Dejah is revealed to be the princess of Helium and asks him to help her people fight against Zodanga so they don't take over the already-dying planet and also so she doesn't have to marry this Creepy McCreepster that's just bad news all the way around.

John, Dejah and Sola (and Woola - the Thark-dog-lizard-thing that is just utterly adorable) go off to find the sacred river that will let John get back to Earth (the sacred river had a name, but I can't remember it).  When they find it, Dejah figures out how to make her weapon work, but they all get attacked - and John kicks some serious ass (all intercut with scenes of John discovering his wife and daughter dead during the Civil War - it's a really great character moment).  Dejah's father shows up with Creepy Dude that wants to marry her and carts her and John back to Helium.  John ends up back with the Tharks who want to kill him, but he kills their leader and he's now the leader of the Tharks, so he takes them all back to Helium to stop Dejah and Creepy Dude's wedding.  And... the rest? Spoilers!

Trust me, it's much better than I'm making it sound.

Disney studios took a big hit at the box office for "John Carter," culminating in the resignation of Rich Ross, the film chief of the company.  Personally, I blame their marketing department for screwing the pooch on this one.  They had a quality product here and, from everything I can tell, their marketing campaign didn't reflect that at all.  I think if people knew the history of the series - who wrote it, how long it's been around, what it was really about - people would have seen this and there would be sequels.  Which, I want but I'm not going to get.  Stupid studio people, screwing up things that I like.

Bottom Line: "John Carter" is a quality sci-fi/action movie that deserves a second look, even if Disney wants to forget it ever existed (this coming from the folks who disavow "The Black Cauldron," which is an enjoyable movie in its own right).  If you haven't already, go rent... no, better yet, buy this movie.  It is money and time worth spending, especially if you're a fan of modern science fiction/ fantasy (and if you get the chance, check out the novels too).


  1. But Chrissy, movie goers don't want to know what it's based off a book. Movies based on books don't make money! Especially when the book is 100 years old! Movie goers are too stupid to appreciate something like that! I haven't seen John Carter, but your review makes me want to watch it.

    1. It's a good thing I know your brand of sarcasm, Keith. :)

    2. I saw John Carter in Imax in March . I found others who loved the movie on Face book and websites like www.backtobarsoom. Andrew Stanton the director envisioned a trilogy and we are campaigning to get Disney to reconsider and allow the next 2 films to be made. Come check out the group We are having an event December 1st, at a theater in Santa Monica to show John Carter once more on the Big Screen. We were at Comic Con in July in San Diego, collecting signatures on a petition and telling people to give John Carter a chance.

  2. Great review! I loved this movie and saw it multiple times in the theatre, but I would not have given it a chance based on the ridiculous trailer that Disney put out if not for the fact I was already familiar with the source material. I hope there is a sequel - I know it's a long shot but, "leave a Thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer." And if you are also a Firefly fan, then you already know that fans CAN do the impossible (we got a movie for a cancelled TV show, right?). So spread the word about how great John Carter is and, if you buy a copy because you love it, go ahead and buy TWO copies, one to keep and one to loan. Because that's how Browncoats roll.

    Thanks again for the great review!

  3. Always glad to read a nice John Carter (of Mars) review! I agree with you completely - this is one of my all-time favorites, like someone took all the coolest elements from my favorite sci-fi and fantasy flicks as a kid and combined them seamlessly, only with much better effects. I've since started reading the books and enjoyed those as well.

    It's a shame Disney sold this quality product - as you say - short by such a lame marketing campaign. Let's hope they realize that there is indeed a growing audience for more John Carter movies.

  4. Im from New Zealand, Im 19 years old and had never heard of John Carter.. I seen it on Box office on t.v, read the synopsis and decided it sounds cool enough so paid to watch it. Had no idea that a movie called "John Carter" based on a man from america who mysteriously teleported to mars only to set eyes on a vast wasteland and intense encounters from martian like savages Could Be such a F#$cking awesome movie. It sent shivers up my spine watching the intense battle scenes and the whole concept had me in a whole new world. When it ended i was so hoping for another 40 minutes atleast so i watched the bugger again. Now to this day none of my mates knew what it was nor had heard of it. Some of them bought it and some rented, But they all felt the same way as me.. LOVED IT!! Can't begin to imagine what the critecs were thinking but the marketing and promotional campaigns cant have done anywhere near the job they should have done. These type of movies catch my eye and i usually know about em before they come out but John carter seemt like it was hidden away until i luckily stumbled upon it. People in new zealand are beggining to watch this movie and are loving it SO BRING US A SEQUEL!!!!!!