Wednesday, June 13, 2012

John Carter: A Review


Ever since I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs I’ve had a love affair going with Sword and Planet fiction. There’s a reason why three out of the four novels I’ve written fall into that genre (The Talera series).  There’s a reason why I’ve spent hours upon hours of my time drawing maps and making up worlds for my own Sword and Planet concepts.  As I’ve said before, I consider the genre to be the purest reading fun one can have. 

And so I was eager to see the first big-budget adaptation of ERB’s seminal novel.  Lana and I watched John Carter on pay-per-view last night.  Here’s my thoughts.

First, I want to be clear that I enjoyed the movie and consider it well worth the price I paid to see it.  I thought there were some very good things about it.  There were also some things that didn’t work as well, and a few things I didn’t understand.

Characters:  Generally, the characters worked.  Dejah Thoris was well cast.  She came off a bit too modern in her dialogue to me, but that is to be expected considering the book came out a 100 years ago.  I also liked the casting for John Carter himself, although I didn’t care for the attempts early in the movie to reframe him as a kind of anti-hero.  I see that as a nod to modern young audiences and I didn’t think it was necessary.  Tars Tarkas was a wonderful character for this movie, but was, perhaps, only about seventy percent the Tars Tarkas from the books. I also liked the Sola character and the loveable Woola!  Kantos Kan was well cast as well, but didn’t have enough to do in the movie.  They changed the basic way in which love develops between Carter and Dejah Thoris, and I thought the novel did a better job with that.  Still, I bought the love affair and thought it ended up being very touching.

Plot: A Princess of Mars was a very open ended adventure novel and I knew they’d have to change that for the movies.  They needed a more coherent plot. The one they chose, having the Therns as super science types who are manipulating the politics on Barsoom, was pretty thin, but there was ‘some’ justification for that in ERB’s Martian series. They could have done better at explaining why the Therns were doing what they were doing, though. I’m still not quite sure on the matter.  That said, I liked how the movie brought that plot around at the end to explain how John Carter returns to Mars.

Scenery:  Beautiful scenery.  I totally bought the world and both the ancient and modern cities.  I thought the flying ships were very well done, and the ‘wildlife,’ such as the White Apes and the Thoats were believable. This was a solid strength to the film.

Action:  The action was good and generally believable within the context of the story.  John Carter’s jumping skills didn’t always seem to be equivalent from one section of the movie to another, but I was OK with that. I would have liked to have seen more sword fights. John Carter is the best swordsman on two worlds after all. A little more “Errol Flynn” would have been good with me.

Missteps:  I was a little irritated early in the movie at how they changed up the character of Powel and how they came in contact with the Apache.  It seemed a little tacked on.  I also didn’t like the addition of a dead wife for Carter.  That was just far too cliché.  They made good use of the idea later in the story but it would have been better without that element.

All in all, though I wish it would have been better, I still liked it a heckuva lot and found it much more enjoyable than most of the movies I’ve watched lately.





35 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I read an interesting article today about the director's liking for THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and how the scene with Carter burying his wife is almost a direct steal from that movie. I agree that it wasn't needed in this movie, but then I loved the movie anyway.

Richard Prosch said...

Just read Randy Johnson's review. Now yours, Charles, and I'm ready to gallop across the plains of Barsoom!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It had been a few years since I read Princess of Mars, and the distance helped. A few changes were expected and I liked that they made the princess a stronger character.
Overall, it's the second best movie I've seen this year. I liked the mix of science fiction and fantasy and enjoyed the throwback to classic pulp science fiction. John Carter was everything I enjoy about space opera and I aspire to write something equally as epic.

Randy Johnson said...

Fine review and you brought out things I hadn't considered. Thanks!

Tom Doolan said...

Alex stole my exact post. So, what he said. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Bill, I made the same comment about the steal from Josey Wales to my wife while we were watching the movie. I was pretty disappointed.

Richard, well worth a viewing in my opinion.

Alex, you and me both, man.

Randy, glad you found if of interest. Good movie!

Tom, lol.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Great review from a fellow ERB reader! Thanks, Charles. I am definitely going to watch it.

David J. West said...

Great review Charles, I'm grabbing my copy soon-been looking forward to this for qite awhile.

sage said...

I haven't seen it but you make it sound interesting, as does the photo!

Scott Parker said...

So glad the number of people who have actually seen the film and enjoyed are piling up. APOM is one of the few things that doesn't age for me: I still feel the same way I did when I first read it back in those glorious early years after Star Wars. LOVED this movie, warts and all. It's what I want in old-school pulp/adventure SF.

Jeff M said...

Good review. Solid points. I'm disappointed that it under-performed at the box office. I do wish they would have left the title alone, I actually talked to a couple of people thought it was about John Conner from Terminator fame. I doubt if there will be others in the series. Cant complain too much though, I saw it made
which is more than I could have wished for ten years ago.

Ty Johnston said...

I've been waiting to see what you thought of the movie. I've yet to see it myself, but I wanted your opinion before doing so (since I consider you my S&P go-to guy). Sounds like I've got a movie to watch.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, you'll get a kick out of it I'm sure.

David J., I may buy a copy too. I could do a few rewatches.

Sage, She made a good Dejah Thoris. Turns out she has been in other movies but I hadn't really paid attention.

Scott, I'd definitely see a lot more movies if we had more like it.

Jeff M., oh yeah, the title. I forgot to mention that. Really an awful title for the movie.

Ty, it's good fun, even with a few flaws.

Deka Black said...

Great review Charles. Because is a perfect example of a opinion well explained. Very very good.

Btw. I've talked with people who didn't knew ERB or the Barsoom books. And you know what? In every single case, the most loved character were Woola and Tars Tharkas.

the walking man said...

You know for once i can't think of one smart ass thing to say. I must need a nap.

Lyn Perry said...

I saw the movie on the big screen and it was a lot of fun. Didn't think it deserved the panning it received. A little long, but overall an entertaining adventure. I've not read the original, so clarify something for me - did John Carter go to Mars or was he faxed there like in the movie? :)

Chris said...

I don't have anything to say that others haven't said, other than to join the crowd who liked it. I saw it in the theater and will likely see it again now that it's out for home consumption.

Joe Bonadonna said...

I am mostly in agreement with you. The problems I had with the film are not worth mentioning. I watched it again and enjoyed it more the second time around. For all its faults, I believe this film has legs.

Charles Gramlich said...

Deka, I thought they were both great. I liked Woola a lot in the books as well.

Mark, I hope you feel better soon. :)

Lyn, in the book, he was trapped in the cave and paralyzed by a gas. then he strained very hard and something snapped and he suddenly found himself outside under the stars. He lifted his hands to Mars and was drawn there. Like in the movie, his body was left behind on earth but he also had a body on Mars.

Chris, this may be one I'll buy and I don't say that about many movies.

Joe, yeah, the second time you can skip over the little things and go with the flow more.

jayraven05 said...

Good review Charles. I like how you divided it up into sections and talked about each. I hadnt thought of Josey Wales angle that Bill mentioned. The major "steal" I noted in the movie that kinda bothered me was JC's flyer escape between the moving legs of Zondanga. Exciting but done already in both Empire (tantans) and Return (forest chase). I did love the brief night scene of JC flying to Helium under the moonlight. Readers of the series must have also appreciated that since its a frequent one in the books. Shows the majesty of Barsoom. I liked the "telegraphing" to Barsoom idea better then the mystical approach ERB took in the books. It especially worked based on the new version of the Dejah character when she explained it in the image on the floor to Carter. Making it more technical seemed an appropriate updating to the times for me. One thing not mentioned often is the nice addition of a green spark on the rocks when JC is being fired at. Thank god they didnt go with a laser beam type thing (around the time of Star Wars they sure would have). I also liked having Dejah in full armor briefly. Really helped to make her a more then one dimensional character. And JC firing that big cannon! Now THAT was ERB action.

jayraven05 said...

Good review Charles. I like how you divided it up into sections and talked about each. I hadnt thought of Josey Wales angle that Bill mentioned. The major "steal" I noted in the movie that kinda bothered me was JC's flyer escape between the moving legs of Zondanga. Exciting but done already in both Empire (tantans) and Return (forest chase). I did love the brief night scene of JC flying to Helium under the moonlight. Readers of the series must have also appreciated that since its a frequent one in the books. Shows the majesty of Barsoom. I liked the "telegraphing" to Barsoom idea better then the mystical approach ERB took in the books. It especially worked based on the new version of the Dejah character when she explained it in the image on the floor to Carter. Making it more technical seemed an appropriate updating to the times for me. One thing not mentioned often is the nice addition of a green spark on the rocks when JC is being fired at. Thank god they didnt go with a laser beam type thing (around the time of Star Wars they sure would have). I also liked having Dejah in full armor briefly. Really helped to make her a more then one dimensional character. And JC firing that big cannon! Now THAT was ERB action.

Charles Gramlich said...

jayraven05, thanks for the input. Glad you enjoyed. I agree, the 'telegraphing' idea worked better than the original mystical ERB concept. I should have mentioned that. Definitely a good update. I too liked the green sparks.

laughingwolf said...

not seen; can't recall reading the book... may see it on dvd - if i can find it

The Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for the review! I've been seeing a lot of this movie since it was released; I haven't read the original book by Burroughs, but it sounds like an interesting story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, if you read Swords of Talera then you know the kind of book and movie it is.

Golden Eagle, the original book is awesome. Of course, it might not be as powerful to you now since you've read lots of things probably that are derivative of it.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, thanks for the fine review of A PRINCESS OF MARS and its film adaptation JOHN CARTER. I am yet to read the book or see the movie and it won't be long before I do both. Not long ago I read TARZAN: AT THE EARTH'S CORE in a couple of sittings. It had some amazing characters, creatures and settings. Your review has rekindled my interest in ERB's work.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, I like Tarzan at the Earth's core quite a bit. Also good are ihs "the Land that Time forgot" series.

X. Dell said...

As they say, never judge a book by its movie. Your review reminds me of my reaction to seeing Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, good advice!

Travis Cody said...

That kind of impression was my biggest fear when LOTR was in development. I was so worried that I would like it, but wish it had been better. Fortunately, I'm left with no such feeling. I love the entire movie series.

Of course, now I have that feeling back about The Hobbit.

cloudia charters said...

Was the the no-where name that caused it to bomb in the theaters, I wonder...

Erik Donald France said...

Cool. Seems to me like the biggest mistake was the movie title. Why not have called it John Carter of Mars?

Lyn Perry said...

I'd heard that Disney was gunshy with Moms from Mars cartoon flop and didn't want anything to do with the planet, but who knows marketing? lol

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles:

Just saw "John Carter" for a second time and I have to say it was much better than mainstream media made out. It seems to me they got all the borrowings - from Star Wars etc. - backwards. Burroughs was there first.

I agree with your points about some of the weak spots but that's because you know Burroughs and Carter. Solid review.

Don

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles:

Just saw "John Carter" for a second time and I have to say it was much better than mainstream media made out. It seems to me they got all the borrowings - from Star Wars etc. - backwards. Burroughs was there first.

I agree with your points about some of the weak spots but that's because you know Burroughs and Carter. Solid review.

Don