It’s easy to reject a movie like John Carter. I did. The commercials look stupid. The trailers I saw made it look practically intolerable. Based on the advertising and marketing, this is what the average person might expect to see in John Carter:
1. Thundarr the Barbarian leads a band of lizard-walruses against Rome.
2. The female love interest spends all her time wearing belly-dancing outfits and gazing into the distance.
3. Thundarr and Belly-Dancing Minx leer lustfully at each other. A lot.
4. Thundarr gives trite speeches that have been done a zillion times in other movies, rallying the underdogs against Rome.
5. But there are spaceships?
6. Okay, let me get this straight: John Carter is about a flying Barbarian who leads lizard-walruses after earning their respect fighting a gladiator-style death match against a Yeti?
It all looked terribly silly and Not For Me. But my older kids were intrigued, so when I was invited to a screening, I thought why not? It could prove slightly entertaining and the kids would get to do something nice on a school night. And popcorn.
After a little research, I learned it is based on John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I had trouble wrapping my mind around. Once again, the trailer told me John Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, was going to be about muscles and monsters and little else. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a whole series of books about Barsoom, which is the Martian word for Mars. Most of the movie is based on stories found throughout the series and not just the final book in the series. In other words, the movie has deep literary roots and wasn’t dreamt up in a dive bar where black market cigarettes are sold out of the bathroom. For us tiresome moms who like to find the educational anchor in every little thing we do, this makes the movie more attractive.
I was gratified when the film opened in dreary 1800s New York. It was very Sherlock Holmes, with intrigue, rain, and a man being followed by another man. Right away, mystery is introduced. It captured me, to be honest. I liked being surprised this way because I rather expected for the film to open with Thundarr bench pressing a unicorn. The pace moves quickly. Soon, we are transported 20 years into the past to dusty, gritty, brutal Old West Arizona. This segment of the film provided many of the best laughs of the night and aptly develops John Carter’s character.
From this locale, John Carter is transported to Mars/Barsoom. I won’t reveal how or why, just that it worked and wasn’t doofy. Of course, there is little difference between arid desert Arizona and Mars, so John Carter doesn’t immediately understand he’s on a different planet. Watching him get his bearings is another wonderful comic moment of the film.
The story unfolds naturally from there. It was more exciting and innovative than I thought it would be. The visual effects are wonderfully done and for the first time in my life, I actually liked the 3D effects. They weren’t distracting or gratuitously done. My major gripes about the movie are that it bogged down a little in the middle and got a bit confusing. The Martian/Barsoom names of people, places, ideas all melded together, so I had to work to keep track of who was who and where they were going.
Totally making up dialogue here, but it was like this: “The Ruppians of Barsoom fought the Shoomwows for centuries until the Libsocks brought the Orb of Doorsoom to the Clickety-Clack when the Heebie-Dumpties rebelled against the Snugglers.” Eventually, I got this straight. I think. It doesn’t really matter. The filmmakers made it easy:
There are the lizard-walruses, the blue people, and the red people. It’s handy because they wear corresponding capes and decorated their flying machines in corresponding colors. So don’t let the Sci-fi/Fantasy proclivity to create new languages scare you off.
Be warned that children and sensitive people may be upset by the backstory explaining John Carter’s motivation. What made him the person he is? It’s pretty awful, but it’s revealed that under those mighty Thundarr pecs beats a broken heart of gold.
The end of the film has a delicious, intriguing twist involving Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. I don’t want to spoil anything.
I was prepared to warn everyone to STAY AWAY from this film. But I can’t. I’m not saying it is worth movie admission prices for all families. But if you or your kids are into that genre and have an interest in Edgar Rice Burroughs, it would make a fun spring break matinee. It’s definitely worth renting if you are a skeptic. Let it prove you wrong. I fully admit I was wrong about John Carter. It’s not my favorite movie, the best-made movie, but it’s fun and worth giving it a chance. I hope people do. The trailers have probably scared off scads of people. My 3 oldest (ages 14, 13, and 11) LOVED IT. They give it stars and thumbs-up and every accolade they can think of.
John Carter opens on March 9, 2012. It’s rated PG-13. There’s no sex or bad language. It’s all about action and war-style violence. Image used with permission of Disney.