In 1912 the world was first introduced to the stories of John Carter by author Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was a benchmark for science fantasy and planetary romance. Great directors of our generation have plundered these stories to the point that this original masterwork (known as A PRINCESS FROM MARS) doesn’t seem that original anymore. It’s too bad because this film deserved more pomp and circumstance then what it got. Now, it has the potential to be the biggest flop since THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH. I guess movies about planets don’t work.
Let’s make some things clear. JOHN CARTER came before AVATAR. At least its ideas did. James Cameron admits to taking direct inspiration from the Carter books. Also, you think it’s a funny coincidence that there is also a Dr. John Carter from the TV show ER? You would be wrong. John Carter was named intentionally by Michael Crichton after the original Carter. George Lucas was inspired by FLASH GORDON, which was inspired by, you guessed it, the Carter books. And do you think THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES would exist today without these original works? Maybe, but they wouldn’t be the same. You get the point, these books started everything. So to say it looks too similar to AVATAR or many other sci-fi movies mashed together, you must understand the context. But the question still remains: Is the movie still good?
Yes. The movie starts off like you are watching COWBOYS AND ALIENS, but instead of focusing on the ‘cowboy’ angle, it takes you to an alien world (Mars) and you spend most of the movie exploring the culture. To say John Cater is a cowboy is a little simplistic however. He is cowboy-like, but he is also a civil war veteran with different training and skills put to good use later on. What makes this movie better than C&A is that it is much more exciting and also the world they create is more interesting. It is like AVATAR, yes, but I think it’s a little better because it’s not shoving messages down your throat about how we are ‘killing mother Earth’ and ‘humans are evil’. There are also cute puppy-like things and a grown dog-thing that follows Carter around which adds comic relief. Sometimes the comic relief gets mixed in with the action, but to a fault. One big action sequence has Carter in a 1 vs 100 battle (maybe more) and the scene intercuts with a traumatic incident in his past that fuels him through the battle. The scene is dramatic and it works, but there is one shot where they show the dog-thing attacking and it is hilarious. Basically he is flying full speed at an opponent with his huge flip-top head wide open. I have to see this movie again just for that shot. It was funny, but it kinda ruined the big dramatic moment. Another sub-par moment in the movie is a dialogue scene between Carter and the princess when she realizes he is telling the truth. The whole scene is awkward and what they say to each other doesn’t make sense. Fortunately this scene ends, and the momentum quickly builds all the way to the big finale. I don’t really have anything else bad to say about JOHN CARTER. It’s pretty solid all around. The main villains are interesting and remind me of something from a certain sci-fi TV show that’s playing now. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. But remember, these villains came first.
Travis Else is a good friend and a fellow film fan and buff (possibly more so).
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