It took one hundred years for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first, and in my opinion best, creation to make it to the big screen.
In March 2012, the movie “John Carter” was released in theaters worldwide. It was poorly marketed and abandoned by Disney, panned by the critics and largely ignored by the American public. What a shame. I really enjoyed this movie! I saw it the day it opened and at least a dozen times on DVD. The attention to detail is quite extraordinary and I always see something new that I missed during an earlier viewing. The director Andrew Stanton and his team really show their love and appreciation for the source material.
Mars is a dying world brought to life by modern CGI imagery. The Green Martians and other native species looked pretty real to me and I never once doubted their existence. Once I came to grips that this movie is just “based” on the novel series I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
This movie is not a straight up adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. It is firmly based in the Barsoom series but decisions were made early on to change some things for a modern audience. The most notable change in the movie is the main character of John Carter himself. In the book John Carter is an ageless soldier of fortune who loves to fight; he even smiles when he fights. The movie John Carter, well played by Taylor Kitsch, is a war-weary widower who is tired of fighting. That’s about as polar opposite a shift of the hero’s driving motivations as you can get.
Let’s move on to the real star of the movie. Lynn Collins plays Dejah Thoris; she completely owns the character and for all intents and purposes practically steals the movie. Changes to the character are made once again. Book Dejah is an incomparable beauty, the Princess of Mars, a woman who is so desirable an entire world goes to war over her. Movie Dejah has been “Xena-fied” (a word that I have just created). She is a warrior/scientist who is now a pawn in a global struggle for power. In this case I think the producer’s attempts to empower the character actually belittle her. To me Book Dejah is a much more interesting character. Alone and friendless, captured by the savage Green Martian,s she is able to survive using her wits, not her sword skills.
The characters do work in the context of this new movie. The battle scene with the savage Warhoons could have been just another ordinary fight scene in a lesser movie, however it is transformed into something really special thanks to the addition of John Carter’s first family. This movie is a visual masterpiece! The twin cities of Helium are spectacular. The dead sea bottoms are vast. The green martians majestically ride their thoats. Flyers powered by “the eighth ray” soar the skies.
Conceived as the first part of a trilogy, it’s poor box office performance seems to have doomed the chance for Stanton’s story to be told. Once again, what a shame.
Now for my biggest gripe. Ever since I was a boy I have known what a Red Martian looks like. In the movie the decision was made early on to portray the Red Martians as red TATTOOED martians. To me the tattoos are ugly and distracting. I can’t believe someone thought that putting a tattoo on Lynn Collin’s lovely face was a good idea. In fact her hair covers the tattoo for most of the film. Stanton and his makeup team claim that every time they tried to use makeup to create a Red Martian skin-tone, the actor would just look sunburned. Frankly, I don’t buy it. There are several scenes in the movie where Dejah Thoris has a red tint about her because of lighting and she looks fantastic, just like a real Red Martian!
If you (like most of the free world) skipped John Carter, do yourself a favor and watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
This clip contains a pretty big spoiler moment… a pivotal battle sequence in Disney’s John Carter. Note that it’s not just a pointless excuse for action and violence. This scene wordlessly defines the core of the character while illustrating the memories that motivate him to fight. Classy… and awesome!