Before a curious hacker took a red pill; before a xenomorph wiped out a bunch of Colonial Marines; before a farm boy, a crazy Corellian smuggler (who shot first), and a walking carpet saved a Rebellion; before NCC-1701’s five-year mission; before a deposed duke tamed his first sandworm; even before the 3 Laws of Robotics were graven into a Foundation; a disillusioned and haunted Confederate war hero went looking for gold and ended up on Mars.
Watching Disney’s John Carter in a cool, dark theater is a good, exciting, and not terribly educational (not that that’s a bad thing) way to spend a cloudy afternoon with someone you love. That is precisely how my beloved Budge and I spent yesterday afternoon. In the end, she liked the movie more than I did, although I did like it a great deal. It is pure escapism at its finest and the cinematography isn’t too shabby either.
I must admit when I saw the first posters announcing John Carter’s pending arrival back at the end of summer last year, I had absolutely no idea who the character was, who created him, or what the whole mess was all about. None of that proved the slightest impediment to my enjoyment of the film.
For those who have not checked out Wikipedia for themselves, John Carter is the creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs — yes, THAT Edgar Rice Burroughs — the guy whose OTHER major character made Johnny Weismueller famous. Carter is the central character of Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, which give the history not only of John Carter, but also of Mars — known to the natives of the books as “Barsoom.” Their publication in 1912, first in serial form and later as pulp novels stands as a seminal moment in the entire genre of science fiction. Fittingly, the movie came out on the same date as the first book.
Before I go any farther, let me caution anyone sucked in by the “Disney” nameplate. The movie is PG and with good reason. Limbs are hacked off, creatures are branded with hot iron, and copious amounts of blood — blue though it may be — splashes across the screen. In fact I was nearly certain the adorable little six-legged dog/lizard creature was going to get killed and I was fully prepared to storm out of the theater as soon as that happened. Thankfully, to ease the minds of the other animal lovers in the house, the little fellow survives the entire movie and plays the hero on one or two occasions.
The movie plays true to most of the source material, from what I can gather anyway. However, even if you know nothing about the background works — I certainly didn’t — the movie is still fun to watch. Much like Dorothy steps from black and white into Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz, we get cued in that John isn’t in Kansas anymore when the picture goes starkly desaturated. Most of the blue tint comes out and what is left is a light, slightly yellowish haze that captures fairly accurately the look of the Martian landscape sent back to us by the Mars Viking probe and its 21st century descendents.
One knock some people have made against the film is its abuse of scientific knowledge. First of all, it IS a science FICTION film so a little suspension of disbelief is necessary — just as it requires a huge dose of disbelief in traction to think that every alien race in the cosmos is not only bipedal and at least passingly humanoid, but also that every one of those aliens speaks the Queen’s English better than my former students did. However, if one realizes that the science of the film FITS FAIRLY WELL with the science of the times of the novels, it becomes much easier to give the directors a pass.
The movie is worth seeing and it does have all the elements required of a great action flick. The damsel is in distress and fleeing an arranged marriage, the evil general turns out to be merely the puppet of an even viler overlord, and the little (if 12′ tall can be considered little) green men end up saving the day. There’s even a slight twist at the end that those with more knowledge of the source material than me might have seen coming.
Taken as a whole, John Carter wasn’t the very best sci-fi movie I’ve seen, but it is far superior to many of the worse ones I’ve endured. It is worth seeing and I give it three and a half of five stars.