I realise that the film ‘John Carter’ has been out for some time now, a statement which is probably most true for any country that does not begin with ‘Australi-’, but over here in the land of down under, John Carter only recently made its way onto DVD and BluRay. I had been originally planning to see the feature at the cinema, but the reviews of others inevitably put me off. Even Disney itself, the major corporation involved in its orchestration had explained two weeks after the release of the film in America that the project, which had consumed a budget larger than 400 million US dollars had only raked in a total of 140 million over the course of the two weeks it had been out in the US.
So, with that said, I personally did not want others to be blinded by the bias of reviewers like I was. I usually am not the kind of guy to be influenced by the words of others (the Age back in 2009 gave Avatar a 3/5 for Chrissake!), but on this one occasion I have to admit that I unfortunately was, and am not too impressed with this at all. All I can say is that from now on I will try to do my best to keep an unbiased opinion, and not be influenced by the words of those who are no doubt paid to critique the shit out of anything and everything, and be quite negative about it too.
As for myself? Well, after what I have written, and what I intend to write, I think it would be quite obvious that I actually enjoyed the film. Yes, after been influenced by the fact that it would seem a large percentage of reviewers loathed the product, I wanted to create a piece that reflected my own, rather contradictory opinion to the stereotypical normality. I mean, none of the pamphlets from major stores around where I live have even advertised the unveiling of the product on DVD and BluRay which officially came out on the 4th of July. With those kind of marketing practices, things are looking kinda bleak for John Carter’s future.
For those who have not seen the film, John Carter is a sci-fi, romantic action extravaganza in the tradition of films the likes of James Cameron’s Avatar, Disney’s Tron Legacy, Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner, and the Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. The feature is based upon the novel ‘a Princess of Mars’ by legendary sci-fi writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote an entire series, comprised of eleven novels. If you have read the book and are familiar with the series, then you may enter the film with many expectations and may come out disappointed, so I would suggest you walk into the film with little to no expectations and wipe clean from your mind any prior knowledge you have on the subject matter.
However, do not allow the ‘Disney’ logo to upset you. Recently in my opinion, Disney is becoming more and more mature in the creation of products that are able to provide the entire family with entertainment. The children can enjoy the comedy and the visuals, and the adults can appreciate the detail of the storyline. Everybody wins, and I think Disney deserves an ocean load of Kudus for being able to accomplish such a thing.
The film revolves around, as the title might suggest, a young man named John Carter who is a Captain in the days when the wild west was beginning to die away. Originally trained and hired to fight in the Civil War, and later still the Native American Indian tribes of America and later still anyone else the army and the country wanted from him, he returns home to find it is not quite what he left.
Played by Taylor Kitsch, who at the moment is seen as Hollywood’s antagonist, the film is already given a bad reputation with all of the unbelievable jargon that has been hurled against this actor. With almost all of the films he has happened to star in over the past couple years visualised as flops, and with the media witting articles the likes of ‘Kitsch for Kitsch’, which is just downright mean for lack of a better word (in Britain, kitsch means ‘shit’, so one can understand what this article is attempting to illustrate), things are not at all looking too bright for the future. I however am yet to see Battleship or any other feature Kitsch has happened to star in, so I cannot comment on any such arguments that have been made against him or his acting in these particular movies, or the issues that are associated with the films he has chosen to participate in.
Hired once more by his government not long after his return, Carter feels more comfortable however wanting to look into a ’cave of gold’ he has discovered, money being something of grand significance to him and his prime motivator in these dark times.
Escaping from his captors and pursued by Native Americans, he finds his way back to his ‘cave of gold’, only to be set upon by an alien visitor who instantly attempts to take his life, Carter been forced to defend himself. Unfortunately for him, in all of the confusion he happens to trigger a teleportation device that sends him from Earth, all the way to Mars, which is quite unlike the planet that we know and love.
The world is at war, with three great super powers vying for a piece of the pie. These include the likes of the peaceful people of Helium, the imperial, antagonistic forces of Zodanga, and the eight foot tall, four armed, green skinned aliens known as Tharks, who are a combination of the Navi from Avatar, the Twi’lek from Star Wars and a Walrus from Earth.
Upon arrival on Mars, Carter finds he has the impressive ability to leap incredible distances, and is additionally endowed with formidable strength to match. All of this is due to his human bone density and his weight on the planet’s surface. Initially captured by the Tharks, the tribal leader of the clan, Tars Tarkas, played by Willem Defoe, sees exponential potential in his abilities, and later, the other factions on the planet too recognise the potential that he carries. The title of the film moreover, and the ‘JC’ symbol, would suggest that Disney is heavily attempting to endow the character John Cater with a sense of extraordinary Godliness.
Discovering from the Tharks the war that has raged upon the planet, it is no surprise that Carter initially refuses to participate, knowing full well the repercussion that he was forced to endure in his past from fighting back on Earth, which is rather beautifully portrayed throughout the course of the feature in flashbacks. Ironically enough, after said refusal, Carter inadvertently happens to walk straight into the war upon having a chance encounter with Helium princess Dejah Thoris, played by Lynn Collins.
Discovering that the people of Helium are in mortal danger at the hands of Zodanga, Carter find he has quite a decision to make after appearing on the radar of Mar’s enemy number one. Sab, played by Dominic West, is the Zodangan Warlord who is attempting to reign supreme, and decides that he will spare the people of Helium a grizzly fate if Princess Thoris chooses to marry him. Escaping from his vile clutches, which I guess was her way of saying ‘hell no!’, she falls into the hands of John Carter, later explaining to him that she can help get him home, which is exactly where he wants to go back to.
However, she, like many of the characters of the film, has an ulterior motive. She wants Carter to help her people, just like Tarkas wants him to help his. Funnily enough, the other antagonist in the film, Matai Shang, played by Mark Strong, wants Carter to get back to Earth as well, fearing his abilities could prove quite resourceful in the battles that lie ahead and could ultimately destroy the plans that he and his shadowy brethren have put in motion.
Discovering that the way back home may not be as easy as ‘one, two three’, Carter finds that he can either sit back and watch Mars inevitably destroy itself, or choose a faction to fight beside. Due to the fact that the film is based around a war, it is safe to say that the film is partially more violent than other Disney features you may be familiar with, with a small portion of blood almost always covering a certain part of your hero’s faces.
Moreover, just like with Avatar, one look at the film will forever alter your perception on what a Hollywood film company can accomplish in a movie. The film’s special effects are absolutely flawless, unsurpassed even, and are beautifully detailed, the vibrant world of Mars coming to life before your very eyes with unbelievable description, the sheer intoxication of the visuals being something out of a dream. The gorgeousness of the design is only surpassed by the feeling that surrounds you as you watch the feature and are mesmerised by the physicality of its design, for you won’t just see the beauty of the Martian planet, but feel it, as it travels up and down your spine.
This is to be expected from a film with the Disney logo on it, and just like with other Disney features, the way the film is written will be able to appeal to all ages. There are moments of humour, both verbal and slapstick that will appeal to children and adults alike, and about half the time you will find yourself chuckling at one thing or another. If you’re not chuckling, then your mouth will probably be partially open as you gasp in awe at the special effects as mentioned previously.
That is not to say however that the action is not present, which it certainly is. There are pieces of sci-fi mumbo jumbo been utilised by all manner of races and some pretty quirky flying vehicles that are a combination of butterflies meeting the winged beasts from Avatar. The characters however feel more happy using swords rather than guns, and that makes for some brutal close up and personal scenes. Well, brutal by Disney standards at least, which is not saying much because the ability to draw blood in a film with the Disney logo is about as easy as pulling teeth out from a live Great White Shark. On occasion though, these fight scenes may end too soon, and leave you wanting just a little bit more.
Humour, action and special effects aside, the film works best when it is being straight up romantic and emotionally powerful. Yes – as with many Disney products there is a romantic story to be found which is one of the more powerful themes, and you keep wondering when and if something might happen. When Disney is playing with this concept seriously rather plan toying around with other ideals in a more comedic manner the film is no doubt at its best. I will admit, the film will not draw you to tears, but you will no doubt feel touched by the affection and deeply connecting storyline that is told during these moments of Disney greatness. By the end, you may feel that it is one of those cheap, romantic endings, but who really cares when you are on the verge of bawling your eyes out?
Moreover, in regards to the actors, Defoe does an impeccable job, as per usual in his acting, proving not only that he can successfully act his way out of any situation, but that he is just as capable as playing motion capture as he is playing in a normally filmed feature. Lynn Collins on the other hand plays a ravishing blue eyed alien princess, who, with her gorgeous good looks and her fancy sword fighting skills will no doubt have the hearts of fan boys racing across the globe, and for numerous different reasons.
Additionally, Samantha Morton appears in the feature too as Sola, a fellow Thark and a sweetheart who is frequently tortured for putting toes out of line, who joins the fight with Carter and the others when the going gets serious. As usual, Morton proves she can change her accent as easily as I can change my clothes.
As for the other characters, almost all of them are not quite as well focused upon as those previously mentioned, and sometimes you might have to wonder why Disney even bothered to choose such a star studded cast when one, their parts are quite small, and two, due to the digitalisation of the characters, half of the actors you won’t even be able to recognise. I mean, if you were not told that Tars Tarkas was been played by Defoe, you probably wouldn’t even suspect him to be in the film period.
One thing I would note that could have perhaps been done better is the heightening of the film’s bad guys. True, they are present, but the film focuses so strongly on the major protagonists and barely has enough room for the stories of the enemy that at times you may find yourself forgetting them entirely. However, when they do appear, they often make up for their lengthy hiatus by attempting to do something either really cunning or quite unpleasant, and Matai Shang is especially an intelligent villain who is capable of even besting the one, the only, John Carter in a couple instances.
As for the release of the film on BluRay and DVD – as with many Disney features, the dialogue between characters is often incredibly soft. However, as soon as the music pipes up and the actions starts rolling, your choice to put the volume up to ‘32’ seems to have been a bad one as you find yourself blown across the room by the sheer thunderous force of the digitalised sound quality.
All in all, I cannot find too much at fault with this film, and perhaps that is my deteriorating eye sight, but I am at a loss as to why other reviews manage to criticise the living tissue out of this feature. The film has supposedly been in the works for about two years and has jumped around from one company to the next, and if you ask me it has almost certainly been worth the wait to finally add it to your movie collection today.
Oh, and be sure to keep an eye out for John Carters’ Martian pooch – quite possibly one of the most amazing animals ever in cinema who is destined to join the ranks of Lassie, Beethoven and Lucky.