Review: John Carter

I saw John Carter opening day in the UK and I was pleasantly surprised. Given that I’m British and we have a talent for understatement, let me rephrase that in an American-friendly fashion.

This film is goddamn awesome. Go see it right now!

Liberties have been taken with the story – somewhat – but it’s recognisible. The racism and sexism of Burroughs’ writing (a product of its time) has been tempered with some modern sensibility, but by no means has the naive charm of the story been destroyed.

The effects are excellent, the CGI is grounded and is not disruptive or included ‘simply for the sake of it’. The landscapes are gorgeous, the props solid and while, perhaps, it’s a little less colourful in palate than it could have been it doesn’t succumb to the ‘beige = realistic’ mistake of many CGI heavy films.

First the little nitpicky criticisms:

1. Not enough nakey: there was no way Disney was going to go with the original. Tits were out of the question and loose-flapping wang was absolutely never going to happen. It’s a pity we can’t see the ‘real’ vision brought to life but this is as close as it gets and I can deal.

2. 3D: I saw the film in 3D. It had absolutely no reason to be in 3D and while the 3D didn’t ruin the film it did detract from the experience. In many of the wide landscape shots it made the travelling figures/mounts look like little toys and spoiled the sense of scale they were trying to convey. If you can see it in 2D, see it in 2D.

Now the gushing praise:

I haven’t felt like this about a film since, perhaps, the original Star Wars. It was wonderful, truly wonderful. There was nothing cynical about it, nothing knowing or nodding. It didn’t make fun of itself or view itself in a self-deprecating way. It was a great, ‘old fashioned’, adventure film.

I mean, I loved it. I felt like I was ten again. I want to go charging around a playground having pretend swordfights and rescuing princesses (fortunately, as a gamer I can do some of that).

The Tharks were believable and harked back to some of the best illustrations of those there ever have been and while the creatures weren’t always true to the book descriptions they were close enough.

Carter wasn’t a huge, buff, hero, more an everyman of the type you can relate to physically. A break from the book, certainly, but also one that I think is an improvement. Dejah Thoris is, equally, a believable beauty rather than a barbie girl and the ending scenes had a palpable chemistry and a look of convincing adoration in her eyes worth a hundred more explicit love scenes in a hundred other movies.

Martian women have always been fierce in the novels and in another break they introduced her fierceness a lot sooner in the story. Again, I think this improved it though I do think it will upset purists. It was one of the chief things that concerned me going into the film (along with the atrocious marketing) but I left reassured and happy.

I sincerely hope they’re able to follow up with sequels and that they remain this true to the books in the future. The perfect balance between respect and modernisation.

Just, see it in 2D if you can.

Style: 4

Substance: 5

Overall: 4.5

Here’s some Michael Whelan cover art to end with. The original had no panties 🙂 Also here’s a download of a Barsoom compilation, which is public domain in Australia and Canada, but ABSOLUTELY DO NOT DOWNLOAD IF YOU LIVE ELSEWHERE. I certainly didn’t.

One response to “Review: John Carter

  1. Awesome was exactly the word I used.

    There were so many ways this could have gone wrong, but didn’t. It was a great movie and it faithfully captured ERB’s Barsoom. They didn’t just buy the name and did whatever they wanted with the property. Burrough’s vision was respected.

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