Friday, March 09, 2012

JOHN CARTER: The Film Babble Blog Review

JOHN CARTER (Dir. Andrew Stanton, 2012)

None of the history of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars matters to me. I’ve never read the novels or comics, and only just learned the century old background of the character, so I only see this film as another big 3D CGI’ed sci-fi/fantasy spectacle – just another CLASH OF THE TITANS or THOR, this time with a even less appealing hero.

Taylor Kitsch (aptly named), who I’m also new to since I’ve never watched Friday Night Lights, plays that hero - a Confederate Army captain in the Civil War who is transported to Mars (called Barsoom by its inhabitants), where he joins in the planet’s ongoing battles against invading aliens.

Kitsch is imprisoned by tall lanky green creatures with 2 sets of arms called Tharks, who are presented through the motion-capture performances of Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, and Thomas Haden Church - though I could hardly differentiate between these creatures that all look the same (sorry if that's racist to Martians).

There are 2 humanoid factions which are at war with each other over Barsoom’s resources – one is from the kingdom of Helium in which its Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is being pressured by her father Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium (Ciarán Hinds) to marry the leader of the other faction from the kingdom of Zodanga led by the evil Sab Than (Dominic West from The Wire) in hopes for a truce.

Despite that all of this is covered in lots of lengthy exposition, I couldn’t tell you how another race - the shape shifting Therns - are caught up in this. I got lost in all the talky-ness, finding myself just waiting for more action sequences that involved flying barges reminiscent of Jabba the Hut’s from RETURN OF THE JEDI.

There’s lots of sci-fi similarities to everything that’s ever had “Star” in its title, but even with its legendary pedigree, JOHN CARTER never makes any element its own – I feel like in a few years I’ll be changing the channels and come across it and be like ‘is this Farscape? Battlestar Gallactica? Fringe?’

The $250 million budget is certainly up on the screen in the overblown chaotic displays of swords and sorcery on the red planet (which resembles the desert planet Tatooine in “Star Wars” more that it does Mars), but I was often disoriented by how cluttered and uninvolving it was, especially through my 3D glasses.

It’s far less impressive a live action debut, than director Stanton’s Pixar partner Brad Bird’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL last year, and that’s a shame since Stanton has done such excellent work in the animated classics FINDING NEMO and WALL-E.

It’s also off putting that the screenplay by Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon (!) is so dense and impenetrable - I’m sure it’s less so to folks who are previously familiar with this material, but again I can’t speak to that.

As for the romance between Kitsch and Collins, there are no sparks – something that would’ve surely helped up the stakes in the last third – so yet again, no resonance.

I will give credit to the film not being without humor. The Martians (Barsoomians?) calling Kitsch ‘Virginia’ because they misunderstood his intro is amusing, as is a bit with Bryan Cranston as a Civil War colonel back on Earth.

Otherwise, Disney's JOHN CARTER is a film mainly for geeky sci-fi minded kids, and hardcore fantasy fans, but I bet even they will only find it intermittently entertaining.

More later...

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