Movie Review: John Carter (3.5 of 5)

March 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

So I read the reviews (pro and con) and procrastinated as long as I could, but when my wife and youngest daughter both expressed an interest, I couldn’t put it off any longer.  We went to see John Carter (of Mars) on Saturday.  I didn’t spring for the 3D version, preferring to spend my money on sodas and popcorn instead.

I liked it … quite a bit.  My wife liked it okay.  My 13 year old loved it and wanted to see it again while my 15 year old hated it and complained all the way home.

A number of reviewers were outraged at the liberties taken with the story.  If you could point to a single movie that didn’t have significant changes from the book, I might understand that complaint.  But overall, John Carter is remarkably consistent with A Princess of Mars.  Yes, they made changes, but at least a loyal fan could tell that this movie was based on the Burrough’s book – unlike I, Robot which had more in common with Jack Williamson’s Humanoids series than anything Asimov wrote.  And despite one idiotic reviewer, the movie producers stayed faithful to the names and language of the original and didn’t violate Heinlein’s prohibition (which he broke himself) on Martians named Smith.

Carter is still a former Confederate officer from Virginia.  He mines for gold and get chased by Apaches.  The movie provides a less metaphysical method to transport Carter to Mars.  Tars Tarkus is still 10 feet tall, green and has four arms.  Yes, Tars is now Jeddak of Thark from the start rather than fighting his way to the top, but some things have to change to make a movie.

I am not going to list everything they did right, nor everything that they changed.  I will note that I agree with Harry Knowles that they made a mistake by starting the movie on Mars with a narration to explain the political landscape of Barsoom.  The movie would be greatly improved if they had started with Carter on Earth and let us learn about Barsoom politics when he does.

The movie has good effects and more humor than expected – well played humor, at that.  I would have liked to see a banth, but at least they were mentioned.

And the ending was awesome.

I don’t know the actors and don’t care to look them up.  Their performances were acceptable, but not outstanding.  I found it a little distracting that Carter looked like Christian Bale when he had a beard, but looked more like Brandon Lee once he got a shave.  This Dejah Thoris may not have been the most beautiful woman of two worlds, but the actress was easy on the eyes and her portrayal was not quite the Xena, Buffy, River Tam warrior princess that I’d been expecting due to other reviews.  I can accept a woman with a sword killing swaths of bad guys as long as she doesn’t go ninja-fu on them.

To sum up:  a good action movie that was reasonably faithful to the source material.  Unless you are one of those guys that will never forgive Peter Jackson for leaving Tom Bombadil out of the Fellowship of the Ring, you’ll probably enjoy it as I did.

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