John Carter (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">John Carter</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, February 2013) Maligned upon release as one of the biggest flops in recent memory, John Carter may not be a great film, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its initial reputation may suggest.  This big-budget adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars may have made heroic efforts to pump some dramatic interest in its now-familiar source material, but it remains a product of another era in many ways: John Carter isn’t naive science-fiction as much as it’s studied science-fantasy, operating with the handicap of adapting a work that helped codify the Science Fiction subgenre.  If John Carter feels intensely familiar or even nostalgic it’s not entirely because the filmmakers have chosen to stay true to familiar genre formula: it’s because the material itself shaped the genre.  Still, a lot of money (250$M) has been spent by director Andrew Stanton in a quest to put Burroughs’ hero on-screen and much of it is visible to the naked eye: The film is crammed with special effects, fully-animated characters and lavish set-pieces.  It’s a spectacle of the highest order, and that aspect alone may justify a viewing even through the other aspects of the film may be lacking.  The film has been in development for a very long time, so seeing it on-screen is a bit of a marvel.  There’s a sense of missed opportunities, though: for all of the impressive work done in order to transform Burroughs’s rough adventure novel into a coherent three-act script, there’s a sense that the film is indulging into nostalgia rather than trying to deliver something new.  It’s old-school SF, so old-school that it may not have deserved the revival.  Taylor Kitsch is bland in the title role, but at least Lynn Collins seems to step out of the covers of pulp SF magazines as Martian princess Dejah Thoris.  The special effects are plentiful for those who like that sort of things, and the wide-screen visuals often mask dull moments in the plotting.  Direction-wise, Stanton has an odd sense of rhythm and editing that work against the picture: Carter’s exaggerated feats look silly no matter how carefully explained.  The script does have a few good moments (surprisingly enough, even the framing device works well) but it’s cookie-cutter stuff, made even worse by the deliberate naiveté of the Science Fiction being practiced here.  So: See it for the visuals.  Don’t expect much from the rest.

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