The other day I linked to news sources which are reporting that the new John Carter movie is in dire straights for poor ticket sales. Being a fan of the source material, and having read the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I decided to go see it in theaters for myself.
The good points?
It is a well lit, bright film which looks very good in 3D. Usually a 3D film will make a dark film appear even darker – so, not a problem here.
Both the costuming and sets were very elaborate and well done. They felt very true to what I remember of the books.
Tars Tarkas and the Green Men of Mars looked good to me and hit all the notes I remember of the Green Men. I felt the special effects mostly looked good.
Lynn Collins was very easy on the eyes as Dejah Thoris. The make-up and wardrobe professionals assigned to her did a remarkable job in making her beautiful in every scene of this film.
The story seemed generally true to the source material as far as I remember it. That could be construed as either a favorable or an unfavorable. I would hate to suggest that a Science Fiction classic required some tweaking – however our understanding of Mars is considerably different than it was for Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1911 when the book was written. I am going to go with it as being an asset, however it requires that the audience come to the film prepared for some serious suspension of belief.
The bad points?
The lead actor, Taylor Kitsch, in the role of John Carter left me feeling underwhelmed. Whether it was the directing or just the actors natural range, the performance felt stiff. There was a certain spark missing there.
The pacing of the story could have been more brisk and coherent. While I did not have any trouble following the plot, the film weighs in at over two hours and drags in places. My recollection of the source material was that the John Carter of Mars books were fast reads of high adventure and this movie could have been a smoother and leaner experience.
A film with some flaws but certainly not a bad film. I enjoyed going out to see it and geeked out some on the detail of the Martian sets, costuming and generally seeing the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs brought to life on the screen. I don’t believe it deserves to be the biggest flop ever – I mean it is not a film that is on par with a disaster like Battlefield Earth or anything. I think that when people have an opportunity to enjoy the film on Blu-Ray once it leaves theaters that they will generally think well of it.
It is unfortunate that Disney may have a terrible loss on their hands over the film. I do see that they put in an effort to be faithful to the novels and that is worth something to a fan of the novels. There were some very poor marketing decisions on the film, I have read, and my understanding is that the director, Andrew Stanton, made some of those marketing decisions personally that have led to this end. There is much that could have been done to give people who were not aware of the novels some context and prepare them to suspend belief and get into the adventure. That is the role of marketing.
There is quite a bit of criticism out there about the title which is simply “John Carter” as opposed to the more proper “John Carter of Mars”. I agree with this criticism because the title in its current form is rather puzzling as to what the film is. Far better that it would have been named something like “The Adventures of John Carter: A Princess of Mars”, as they do with the long titles of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The title “John Carter” is so ambiguous that it can leave people confused as to what the film is. Again, that is a criticism of the marketing of this movie.
I am sure that if this film does go on to be the most costly flop on record that there will be a lengthy postmortem on where the responsibility for it lies. However, in the meantime, I was glad to go out and buy a ticket to support the film, small drop in the bucket though that may be. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.