Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Carter - A Film Review

It is the dawn of the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War and John Carter is a warrior without a war. Returning home to find his family dead, he headed west and took up gold prospecting. Trapped in a cave after he got caught in the middle of a fight between hostile Apaches and the the US Army soldiers out to forcibly conscript him, Carter suddenly finds himself in a desert wasteland unlike any he has seen before. It is then that Carter discovers that wherever he is, he is faster, more powerful and would be able to leap tall buildings if there were any buildings. Discovered and then adopted by the Tharks - a race of green-skinned, four-armed creatures - it is then that Carter comes to the realization that wherever he is, it isn't Earth.

There is little I can say about the plot of John Carter beyond that set-up. Those already familiar with the character, second only to Tarzan in popularity among the creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs, will know what to expect going into this movie. And I would not spoil things for the rest of you, for this movie is a real treat. But even those familiar with the original novels will be surprised, as the script adds in elements from the future Barasoom novels in order to better develop the world. While based upon A Princess of Mars, this film builds upon its' own mythos to become something greater. This is no surprise given the talent involved includes WALL-E writer/director Andrew Stanton, Samurai Jack writer/art-designer Mark Andrews and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Michael Chabon.

This is a gorgeous film and the creative team did an excellent job of visualizing Barsoom, making it a place not unlike the deserts of Earth... at least until you see the two moons in the sky or the multi-legged creatures that pass for dogs. It then becomes more conspicuous for what is the same rather than than is different. The acting is also top-notch, with Taylor Kitsch ably playing Carter as a world-weary warrior who seeks something to believe in fighting for. Willem Dafoe gives one of the best performances of his career, lending his voice to the Thrak chieftain Tars Tarkas. But the best performance of all belongs to Lynn Collins, who portrays Dejah Thoris.

Collins totally nails the character of the Martian scientist and princess, who goes into battle against her father's wishes rather than submit to a forced marriage for the sake of a peace treaty. While some may crack-wise about how this is hardly the most original conceit for a movie made by Disney, we should be so lucky as to have Dejah Thoris counted among the Disney Princesses. A princess who can translate ancient languages, develop complex energy weapons AND sword fight in a wedding dress? What's not to love? I predict we'll see more than a few cosplayers in the coming year who will attempt to portray the character. And not to typecast Collins as the smart, beautiful woman warrior, but if there's any justice in the world this movie will inspire someone at Warner Brothers to think twice about a Wonder Woman movie. Just saying.

If you fancy yourself a fan of fantasy or science-fiction of any flavor, you owe it to yourself to see John Carter if only for its' historical importance. Many of your favorite series and characters owe a lot to John Carter. Are you a Firefly fan? John Carter was pulling the "warrior without a war, looking for something to believe in" act long before Nathan Fillion ever slipped on a Browncoat. Do you like superheroes? The whole idea of gaining super-powers merely by living on another planet that inspired Superman came from the Barsoom novels. Like Steampunk? Check out the the first science-fiction story (or at least the first I'm aware of) that featured airships. And if you don't care anything about the history of your fandom, it's a damn fine movie on its' own. Highly recommended.

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