I’ve been putting writing a review off, because I just don’t even begin to know where to begin. It’s the book I’ve most wanted to see a film made from.
Well, frankly – I could see it. I could see every moment of the book translate. I never expected to ever have a “history” with JOHN CARTER, when Jim Jacks invited me to come aboard JOHN CARTER, it was 2 weeks after REVOLUTION STUDIOS had engage me to make a few films for them, but just when we were about to get going over there, REVOLUTION went the way of the DoDo. Working on JOHN CARTER OF MARS at Paramount was one of the most amazing & frustrating experiences in my life. But when it ended, I didn’t go into a depression, cuz around the same time, I met Yoko and life took a far more blissful turn than the fortunes of Hollywood could ever shine upon me.
In that time though, since I worked on the film, I really tried to avoid all news of Andrew Stanton’s film. I knew the story would have to be in relatively solid shape with Andrew, because Pixar preaches STORY above all else. But I loathed the casting. Disliked every single still released. Pre-hated several elements – turned down set visits twice… I just, I couldn’t cover the film like nothing had happened.
I still work with Jim Jacks, and one day the world will see the awesome that we’ve been working on for years, but in a way – I just didn’t want to write about the movie. I felt that my experience trying to make this film had perhaps ruined any chance I had to just passively watch this story told. Then Disney called saying they wanted to show me the movie early. The PR folks seemed beyond confident that I’d love it. I felt they really had no idea what they walking into.
The night before the screening, I was whining my whiny ass off to a friend for 3 hours about not wanting to see the movie. That it was a now win scenario for me. If I hate it, the world will say I was a jealous bitch. If I somehow miraculously loved it, it would just make me insanely angsty.
Before the movie played, I said quietly to myself… “You just saw EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Dad gave you PRINCESS OF MARS, here’s the movie!”
NOW – I do have a few problems with the film. But honestly – they’re pretty minor. Because, overall…
I LOVE JOHN CARTER!
Well, technically I hate that TITLE. But the movie called JOHN CARTER, is just kind of jaw-dropping. When the first scene began playing, I was in critic mode. I feel starting with narration and a scene on Mars is the most wrong-headed decision of the entire film.
Had I not known the second and third books as well as I know the first, if I was completely ignorant of the universe of BARSOOM… I would absolutely feel that was too much too quick.
I’ve seen the film twice now. The second time with a wonderful audience of your fellow AICNers here in Austin. 1 guy flew in from L.A. to check it out. That’s hardcore. Anyway, the opening on Mars is completely unnecessary. I think it makes the film start off needlessly clunky.
Then John Carter sends a telegram to his nephew named Edgar Rice Burroughs… Next Edgar is on a train racing somewhere reading the telegram… He’s told his Uncle died unexpectedly and was locked into a crypt that could only be opened from the inside and… his Uncle wanted him to have his journal. Crack open book…
NEW MEXICO, on the backside of Hell. The Cavalry/Apache wars are going on, the military wants John Carter’s military recorded skill set working for them. John is bitter, wants to be rich, he’s tracking a cave of legendary gold.
Then, he’s on Mars. He has his troubles adjusting to moving on Mars. He finds the hatchery. He meets Tars Tarkas. Doesn’t understand much of anything. Then he can.
I’ve known the rhythm of this film my entire life since age 9 or so. I’ve drawn these characters. So at what point was I just dazed by the film?
The first time Tars Tarkas sees John Carter leap. The look on his face, it is awe & wonder. I love that it is the ALIEN that initiates reasoned communication with the cornered dangerous human. I’ve always loved that. I love that this is a story about a man on Earth, becoming essentially Superman on Mars. That premise appealed to me.
I love that John Carter doesn’t fly, he bounds & leaps like a Fleischer SUPERMAN. His increased strength. But most of all… What I love more than how fucking awesome WOOLA was… or how magnificently that Andrew Stanton captured Sola. No, what I love most – is that the story is still a romance.
You see, Disney is selling this like it’s a crazy action film – and there’s crazy action in this. The fight with the Warhoons is my personal highlight.
When PRINCESS OF MARS came out, the covers had a little subtitle that read simply, “a romance.”
I’m not sure what marketing amateur got hired at Disney… DISNEY… that talked DISNEY out of calling this PRINCESS OF MARS. You still have the action stuff you can stuff into the commercials and trailers… but they seem so bent on selling this like an action spectacle – and it does have action spectacle… but if I had to compare this film to any film that exists out there… I’d point at something like EL CID. The film isn’t EL CID great, but it aspires to be. And if they get to tell the first three it will certainly feel that way. Right now – this is just the introduction. The wonderful gateway to BARSOOM.
At one point during the screening on Wednesday – I actually caught myself geeking out so hardcore that Tars Tarkas was having a conversation with John Carter. Or like when the audience roared laughing when Tars slaps John Carter in the back of the head at one point – and realizing THEY DID IT! They made TARS TARKAS real for people.
The audience was reacting to the fates and actions of the CG Characters with the same weight they were regarding the living characters. They had done it. People were following how a man could go from slave to Jeddak – and know what that means by the end of the film. That when you look upon John Carter on Mars – and you look at his costume, he earns everything he wears. It all has meaning and memory.
I won’t lie. Watching JOHN CARTER for a second time, I totally reverted. I became a child watching JOHN CARTER again. For the second time. And this time, I could soak it in. Watching for the performances and stop gazing at the amazing happening around the characters.
Disney’s trailers don’t convey the film at all. The movie has a soul, it’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first story. The one he wrote when he thought that perhaps nobody would ever publish something of his. So he wrote himself into the story, Charlie Kaufman style… Rudyard Kipling style… But more than that, he would tell his children stories of John Carter that were never written. Anecdotes. He had artifacts from Barsoom as his Uncle Jack called it.
People keep bringing up AVATAR and ATTACK OF THE CLONES, but this is actually nothing much like those films at all. The visual dynamics, the types of shots. JOHN CARTER is kind of classically shot, lots of long shots, constantly establishing the scale and antiquity of this place. It really is hauntingly beautiful.
Bringing the Therns forward in the story is something that we never discussed – and honestly it was a thought I’d never had. I think it necessitated a bit too much exposition, but as a result a great deal of the heavy lifting for the story that is to come has been seeded. I had Burroughs fans and complete novices tell me how much they loved the movie. Even though I’d been shouting about how much I’ve loved this film for a month. Even though Copernicus, noted super-genius, went gaga for it. That Mr Beaks liked it, Quint liked it, Merrick liked it… Folks on other websites loved it – and the talkbacks have raving reviews all over. Most of them really seem to like the film, but have personal reservations about some of the adaptation, a few moments of extended exposition.
Here at the end of the review, I am just smiling though. Thinking of watching it again. I’ve heard some people complain about the dark 3D at some screenings. I can say that I’ve seen the film twice on Screen 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse – and both times it was spectacular.
3D is still a tricky thing depending on the theater, dim bulbs and ill-adjusted equipment can make it a painful process. I found the 3D to be wonderful. But I tend to like 3D when it isn’t sloppily handled – and this definitely wasn’t. I can’t believe I’ve seen Tars Tarkas talking in 3D! Woola running across the surface of Mars. John bounding to catch his soul mate. I love Burroughs and it is about time my favorite character of his had his day on screen.
I was joking about that word count in the article headline by the way. I'm not insane.