It’s now official. John Carter is the biggest bomb in Hollywood history. It’s made over $184,000,000, -nothing to sneeze at, but at a cost of $300,000,000 (that’s right 300 million dollars – imagine how many starving children that amount of money would feed), the film would have had to bring in an astounding $600,000,000 to be profitable in Tinsel town terms. Ain’t gonna happen. Too bad. John Carter isn’t a terrible film. In fact, unlike many films I’ve seen recently, I liked it enough to warrant spending time with it again when it comes out on DVD, something I don’t do very often.
There are a few reasons John Carter isn’t going to be a hit. Number one—the worst title in film history – no one knew what John Carter was about, so the audience didn’t pay it any attention. This fact, the stupid name, can be blamed on director Andrew Stanton, who, for some reason insisted that the original film title, John Carter of Mars, wasn’t overly accurate. Even though the majority of the film took place on Mars, the addle-brained Mr. Stanton thought that since the character John Carter wasn’t really from Mars, the word Mars shouldn’t be in the title—no matter how much those two words, “of Mars” might have told millions of people in the potential audience that the movie was a science fiction story and thus they’d want to see it. For some reason, Mr. Stanton’s insane thinking was given approval by an equally idiotic marketing team at Disney, the studio responsible for this turkey—all of whom no doubt still have their jobs while all those starving children in the world don’t have enough food for breakfast.
Second, the unfortunate name of the movie’s hero. Taylor Kitsch is a gorgeous, hunky guy and someday he might even be an actor, but saddled with a name that’s as boring as the name of the film, he didn’t have a chance to convince audiences to see him as charismatic.
Third, there’s not one bit of humor into the entire 132 minute running time. One thing that filmmakers should have learned from Star Wars, and John Carter is not too dissimilar to that franchise, is that a little humor goes a long way when you have strange worlds, funny looking aliens, and heroes who are cute but not too smart.
Fourth, although the film was directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, who served the same function on two of my favorite films, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, that doesn’t mean when you let the guy loose on a live action film that he’s going to do just as good a job. The people who hired Stanton for this job, gave him all that money and then let him re-title the film into stupidity, should be fired if not shot.
Fifth, the film is royally confusing and thus it got no word of mouth buzz to counteract the bad opening week reviews. And so whose fault is it that the movie is confusing? Well, the three writers should take some of the blame. Which included director Stanton, and novelist Michael Chabon, who despite his Pulitzer Prize for one of his novels, has few film credits to his name, and some other guy named Mark Andrews, who’s never written a full-length movie script before. And these three writers were basing their script on a pretty good book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, who knew a thing or two about telling good stories. How the three screenwriters managed to write a script that had film audiences scratching their heads trying to figure out what was happening is beyond me. Remember, these studios have highly paid people who area supposed to look at scripts to see if they’re going to work, especially if the movie’s got a budget of $300 million dollars. And then let’s blame director Stanton–more than any anybody else he is supposed to know if he’s got a script that makes any sense.
I was jus as confused as everybody else in the theatre, but I read some info afterward so you can have benefit of my research. According to Mr. Burroughs, there are five races of creature on Mars. The Green people, who aren’t really that green, have four arms and two legs and are about 3 stories tall and they’re the ones John Carter spends the most time with. These green people, who are not particularly nice or brave or anything admirable are called Tharks. The good guy of the Thanks is named Tars Tarkas (played by Willem Defoe). The bad Thark, and you know he’s bad because one of his curving tusks is broken off, is Tal Hajus (played by Thomas Haden Church.) The soft spoken Thark named Sola is a female and happens to be the daughter of the good Thark. Sola (played by Samantha Morton) befriends John Carter and spends a lot of time with him seeking spiritual enlightenment on a sacred river. It’s important to know that the Tharks won’t fly and so they’re pretty useless in space craft until they get inspired to break this taboo toward the end of the film.
The Red race looks very human. They have incredible, I mean really incredible palaces and other public buildings, and they all wear awesome outfits and even better jewelry. These were my favorite parts of the film. The Princess (played by feisty Lynn Collins wearing terrific red tattoos and not much else) is a priestess/scientist who is just about to find the power of the Ninth Ray, whatever that is, when she is stopped by the bad guys of the Red Race, lead by Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga, who is going to insist, typical bad guy style that the Princess marry him to bring peace to their fighting cities. Poor Princess. Even her father, magnificently outfitted warrior king Tardos Mors (played by Ciaran Hinds) pressures the poor virgin to forget that she is falling in love with earthling John Carter and take the hand of the awful Sab Than.
Compounding all these races with different hues (I guess the other hues will come in future sequels, which will never come, so we’ll never get to see them after all) are the shape shifters, guys in long robes and solemn faces. It turns out these guys are supernatural, immortal beings whose sole purpose in life, so to speak, is to cause trouble. Nice guys. The one to remember is the sleazy immortal played by Mark Strong.
So into this confusing, creature-teeming world, named Barsoom (which we call Mars), lands John Carter. For some reason, we’re never sure why. Don’t bother trying to figure out this point – just accept that one day he’s in a cave reaching for a medallion and the next he’s landing on a waterless planet. Since the gravity on Barsoom/Mars is less than Earth’s gravity, John can leap a thousand leagues in one shot – and his introduction to Mars gravity is quite appealing. When the Tharks see his jumping ability they are quite impressed, but they shackle him anyway.
Somehow John gets free, meets the Princess, falls in lust, then love, then fights to save her and everything somehow comes to an end. Don’t ask for details. They aren’t important. There is not enough logic to warrant really trying to figure out the story – just go along with the silliness and enjoy the visual–and the two leads, John Carter and the Princess are certainly fun to look at.
One of the best parts of the story are the historical sequences on Earth in which an older John Carter, well, he’s lived long enough to look older but he really hasn’t aged at all—by now we’re in the 1880s Earth time, this John Carter plans his death and burial in a mausoleum that can’t be opened–and leaves his precious journal and all his money to his favorite nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Nice.
My suggestion? Read this review so you have some idea of what’s going on in the movie. Then go see it in the theatre at the bargain matinee. It’s a good enough movie to warrant seeing it on the big screen. Then when it comes out on DVD see it again. With all the extra features on the DVD it should be a lot of fun. That’s what I’m going to do.