For those of you eagerly awaiting my opinions on The Hunger Games, the film only released eleven hours ago (at time of writing) so cut me some slack! I’m looking forward to it just as much as you are, trust me, but for now let us talk about a film almost no body is talking about if the box office records are anything to go by!
Now Showing this week is John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton of WALL-E and Finding Nemo fame. John Carter is an American Civil War vet who in a desperate attempt to escape having to continue fighting stumbles across a hidden cave out in the wilderness, and in this cave he murders a man carrying a strange medallion. Upon coming into contact with the medallion, Carter is magically transported to the planet Barsoom (known as Mars by earthlings) which is itself suffering a conflict similar to a civil war. Two human factions are at war, one side clearly good and the other clearly bad, and the princess of the the good side is being forcibly wed to the leader of the bad as a means to end the conflict. The princess has escaped however and meets Carter, who vows to protect her. And as a bonus, due to his different body chemistry and Mars’ difference in gravity, he has super strength! That’s pretty much the idea of the film without me describing the entire thing which would be dickish of me.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered, it all sounds very melodramatic. And that is really the only big issue I had with John Carter, it was VERY melodramatic. Carter himself is a buff, husky superhero; he’s fallen for and wishes to rescue a princess from a wrongful marriage; the clean line between the good guys and the bad guys etc. it’s all part of the melodrama formula. While this certainly wasn’t a deal breaker and was entirely tolerable, it wasn’t the most riveting plot-line ever. And that was going to be a huge complaint from me, but first I did some research into the film and discovered that not only was this film based upon a novel series (“John Carter of Mars”) but it was based upon a novel series that was originally published in 1912! That’s right, the story of John Carter was originally exposed to the world exactly one hundred years ago.
I don’t know about you, but that blew my mind. Suddenly all the aspects of the film where I thought “oh that was totally taken from (insert established sci-fi franchise here)!” should actually have been “oh this is where (insert established sci-fi franchise here) got that idea from!” I did some further digging and saw that so many huge franchises are influenced by “John Carter from Mars”, the most hilariously obvious one being the Superman comics. Seriously, think about it; both Superman and John Carter are humanoid beings, transported from their home planet on which they were normal, to a new planet where the fact that they aren’t from said new planet results in them being superhuman. I know right?!
Anyway back to my original point. The early 1900s was the time in which melodrama was slowly becoming less of the norm in the realm of theatre and film was still in its infancy, so the fact that the stories of “John Carter of Mars” are really melodramatic kind of makes sense. So if John Carter wasn’t melodramatic, it would be unfaithful to the source material. But I feel that unless you are aware of this then John Carter will feel like this overly cheesy and unoriginal sci-fi film because it’s full of things we’ve all seen before, we just didn’t know that those things were influenced by the original books.
On an easier to explain and more positive note, the film looks amazing! Not only in the quality of the computer graphics and the seamless-ness between actual characters and animated ones, but also in the art design of everything. The look of the insect-like, solar gliders was awe inspiring the first time you saw one; as well were the quadruple armed aliens known as the Tharks. The film was full of interesting architecture from the human civilisations and the Thark compounds, all of which seemed fitting to the characteristics of each society. And some of the creatures were awesome, especially the weird dog/frog that follows Carter everywhere!
So all in all, despite the melodramatic nature and the complete lack of explanation as to why the hell there are humans on Mars, John Carter was quite enjoyable. I’m certainly not going to put it in my top ten, but it was nonetheless a fun and well executed sci-fi adventure. Don’t let the crappy box office stats deter you, I’d recommend checking this one out.
See you next time!