Disney’s $250,000,000 blockbuster film John Carter features insectoid aliens, brilliantly rendered Martian landscapes, a princess in ridiculously revealing outfits, and several disastrous battles–for all that, it’s rather boring. You’d think the story of an adventurer on Mars would at least provide some mindless excitement, but I found myself at several times in the theater wishing I had brought a book. Normally, one would have to squint to read in a theater, but with all of the explosions and the glittering gowns of the princess, the lighting would have been perfect.
I suppose it’s a pet-peeve of mine when a short book is made into a long movie. Such is the case with the equally boring Narnia films. How eighty page books can be stretched out into 2 and a half langorous hours is beyond me. The same treatment is given to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Princess of Mars, the source material for John Carter. The novel itself is about 150 pages, while the film yawns on for two-and-a-half hours.
The story concerns an embittered Civil War soldier who comes home with the intention of drinking himself into a comfortable stupor. Before he’s able to do that, he’s whisked away to Mars after finding a sort of portal in a cave. Once there, he befriends the natives before getting caught up in another civil war. He also comes to the aid of a damsel in distress and makes some friends along the way. If this all sounds familiar to you, keep in mind The Princess of Mars was one of the first noteworthy sci-fi books to ever be written, and many later works have been inspired by it (most notably Princess Leia’s metal bikini in Return of the Jedi).
The two lead actors Taylor Kitsch (who plays the eponymous hero) and Lynn Collins (the princess Dejah Thoris) for the most give such stoical and wooden performances that they would make the dramatic scenes from the Star Wars prequels seem as lively as Annie Hall in comparison. Taylor Kitsch is especially annoying as he insists on grunting everything. The highlight for me was when I realized the general in the Earth portion of the film was Bryan Cranston (Walter on Breaking Bad), but then I grieved when he was only in the film about 5 minutes, leaving the rest up to a group of boring, underqualified actors.
Despite the unsparing negativity of the last few paragraphs, I should point out that John Carter wasn’t all bad. I was frequently impressed by the artistic direction of the film. The airships didn’t look like the usual black flying objects we see in most sci-fi films. Time was spent giving the aliens a somewhat realistic anatomy, as if they were reptilian/praying mantis hybrids. And the real highlight for me was Woola, a half-dog half-frog that quickly becomes John Carter’s pal and saves many scenes from complete lifelessness.
John Carter comes out in DVD on June 5th. I get the feeling it will be better on DVD than it was in the theater, the main reason being that you can then fast forward through the terse and tiresome dramatic scenes, or check your emails during the tepid romantic moments, or read a book through the battles. I guess you would be okay not watching it for that matter.
If you’re looking for a fun action film to watch, I would MUCH sooner recommend last December’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. If you’re dying to watch a big-budget sci-fi film, I would recommend finding the 2010 film Tron, also by Disney.
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If you watched John Carter, what was your opinion of it?