Film Review : John Carter
● By Justin Buettner
Based on a Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, John Carter is a former war hero who seeks only gold after his family is murdered in battle. While escaping authorities he stumbles upon a portal that takes him to the planet Mars. Immediately he is thrust in the middle of a battle for control of Mars between three warring factions, including that of a princess that wins his heart and an alien being that saves his life. But will the war weary John Carter stay and fight?
Good science fiction films are able to keep the science simple and use simple story structures to tell their tales. Films like the original Star Wars trilogy and more recently Avatar paint in very broad strokes so within the first couple of scenes you know who the “good” guys are and who the “bad” guys are. They don’t over complicate their stories. That is not the case with John Carter, which spends a great deal of the movie in exposition mode trying to explain the science behind what is happening on screen. That’s in addition to trying to explain why the three different groups of beings that populate Mars are at odds and why heavenly beings called Thurns wants to manage the destruction of the planet. There are just too many storylines without much clarity as to why many of the characters act the way they do.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of John Carter is John Carter himself. For a great deal of the film he is genuinely unlikable. He is a selfish character wanting only a cave full of gold. He claims he does not care for anyone, but inexplicably saves several people/aliens for no clear reason other than it moves the plot forward. Overall John Carter is a joyless character. His goal of gold is superficial as it is never really known why he wants it. Once on Mars Carter seems listless and the film feels like it lacks a clear direction as John Carter’s wants and needs until ninety minutes into the movie.
The effects were also a bit disappointing. For a movie that carried such a hefty budget I expected a more creative look. The terrain of the planet looked much like a high desert. The alien animation was done well, but it’s nothing an audience hasn’t seen before. The effect that did not work well in my opinion was Carter’s leaping ability which was showcased often in the film. The gravity defying jumps looked rather hokey and because they looked fake it drew me out of the movie.
Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, made his live-action film debut with John Carter and he may have bitten off more than he could chew. John Carter was an ambitious project by any director’s standards, but probably a losing battle for a first time live action director. The movie has an odd pace to it and it lacks the epic or iconic styled cinematography that this type of story demanded. The movie just felt rushed for the most part, trying it’s best to fit within a two hour running time. So scenes that should have carried more weight were over without so much as a blink before the characters have moved on.
The screenplay, written in part by Andrew Stanton as well, needed a lot of work. In addition to the problems listed above, the filmmakers included a very ineffective bookend to the movie that stole far too much of the movie’s precious running time. The earth bound scenes set in the late 1800’s took way too long to develop, didn’t add anything to the story or the characters, and were completely unnecessary to the movie. I realize that John Carter is based off a book (that I have never read), but the screen adaption left a lot to be desired.
I know that the review so far has been a long harsh critique of the movie, but despite all its problems John Carter defiantly does have elements that work. There are scenes in the movie that are quite good. It’s in these moments that John Carter shows how much promise the story has if only it had been in the right hands, which is frustrating. People who like science fiction films will have a good time watching John Carter if their expectations are adjusted low. It has just enough action and the characters are just likable enough to make the movie watchable, it just should have been so much better.
Films like John Carter : Avatar, Planet of the Apes, and The Time Machine
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.