Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Movie Review: John Carter

I've made it my new year's resolution to go and review all sorts of movies that were either famous box office or critical bombs. I'm doing it because so many people talk about what Waterworld, Heaven's Gate or Ishtar are like in conversation without ever seeing them. And I think it's only fair to make a judgement on these films rather than relying on 2nd hand judgements.

So, I started with the 2012 blockbuster swashbuckler John Carter. There's all sorts of things that are known about this film - how it cost $250m dollars, how the "of Mars" got dropped off the end from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs book, how the marketing was confusing and how the director got a lot of power in terms of the final film.

Having watched it, I think that all that background production stuff seeped into the critical faculties of the reviewers who generally panned it. And none of that should matter. The cost of a movie only matters to the people who backed it. For me, I just care if I got my £9 cinema ticket or £3.50 DVD rental's worth from the movie. Someone wants to subsidise my viewing? Thanks, please call again.

In brief, John Carter is about a civil war veteran who gets transported off to Mars and gets involved in a war between two countries. It's an action fantasy, and despite being very high tech in terms of the use of CG, in terms of story and characters and dialogue, it actually feels quite old-fashioned in that it plays it quite straight. Where the Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean series have their tongue in their cheek, and are made for a more knowing audience, John Carter doesn't. It plays it's genre straight, and is like watching an old swords and mythology films like Jason and the Argonauts or the old series of Flash Gordon. Except that you now have 21st century special effects rather than 1963 special effects (as a child, Jason and the Argonauts was simply the best thing ever, until Star Wars - which is itself a swords and sorcery epic), and unlike many films that tried to blend CG creatures with humans, it's quite seemless here and the action sequences are pretty good.

That's not to say that I think it's a masterpiece - the plot gets a bit flabby and meanders in places, but I certainly don't think it's the disaster that it's been painted as (and compared to Prince of Persia, the Star Wars prequels or Clash of the Titans, it is a masterpiece). If you grew up on Jason and the Argonauts and Star Wars, you'll probably really like it, and as you can get it for about £4 on Amazon second-hand, it's worth a shot.


Kj said...

Thanks, check on growing up on Star Wars. But is it in any way as crap as Stargate, which the trailer sort of reminds me of?

The Stigler said...


Now here's a problem, because I actually like Stargate!

I would say this: I like the ideas in Stargate, about the history of Ra, and I like some of the things about the characters and the interplay between Spader and Russell. Stargate tries to do more character wise, and follows some unconventional routes.

But the action stuff and visuals are much better in John Carter and it's definitely a more fantastic world to look at. Which I think is where some of my comparison with Jason and the Argonauts comes from. That film isn't strong dramatically, but it does feel imaginative.

Kj said...

That is a problem! Agreed that the mentioned elements in separation were good enough, but there was something about it that didn´t work with me. For example, The Fifth Element worked by going into silly mode, that actually worked, and I felt as if Stargate would´ve worked too if it had done the same.
But will probably watch John Carter for the heck of it. Strangely enough, I had not heard about it before, was probably not screened here.

Derek said...

I liked this film a lot. It failed for marketing reasons, not intrinsic failings. It's a good old-fashioned adventure fantasy done properly. I think that it will grow in popularity over time, as more and more people see it.

The Stigler said...


It did have a cinema release but kinda sunk.

It's partly down to the previous article about movie marketing: an little known property, not very well known actors and the trailers were pretty terrible. And it's not that great that people would tell their friends to go see it.

Ian B said...


I thought it was just kind of meh. I found it hard to care about anyone in the story, especially the bad guy whoever he was, can't remember, if you see what I mean. The budget didn't seem to have produced anything particularly awesome; nice CGI, but not extra special.

Add to that that the jumping broke the suspension-of-disbelief barrier and Dejah Thoris just wasn't pretty enough. But worst of all, Frank Frazettar wrote the book (or, er, drew it rather) on what Edgar's Mars looks like, and it just didn't look enough like that. It might have worked with more flesh on display and a higher age rating. I think this is more than trivial; many young fans i'm sure were drawn into the story, like me as a lad, by the risque cover art on the novels. Without that, I'm not sure that you've got more than a bit of hokum.

It needed to look like a Frazetta painting brought to life; it needed a real visual style to it. It didn't have that. So it was just kinda meh.

Bayard said...

I've been listening to Edgar Rice Borroughs's "The Land that Time Forgot" and "The People ditto", which, it seemed to me, would make good films, but I checked on IMDB to find that there was one made in 1975 that was good, but the 1970's weren't a great time for special effect, unfortunately the 2009 remake was panned as rubbish bearing no relationship to the book.

JuliaM said...

I loved it! It wasn't perfect (Dejah Thoris wasn't naked) but it was a damned good try at a modern take on the book.

Derek said...

Exactly what I thought! I loved the book, A Princess of Mars too, but it was obvious that the film was going to have to deviate from it because of the nudity, if nothing else. The production team did a great job even though the film told a rather different story from the book.

Robin Smith said...

Thanks, I'll go and see it now. I love mythology. Helps transcend things the intellect has no hope of.