Friday, December 7, 2012

Film Friday: John Carter (2012)

Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel “A Princess of Mars,” John Carter is a fascinating film in a way. There’s really nothing wrong with it in a technical sense -- the effects, the acting, the plot (what there is of it) are all very standard for modern Hollywood films -- but the film stinks. How badly? How about $161-million-loss-and-the-Disney-studio-head-resigned bad. Let’s talk about why this film failed.

** spoiler alert **

John Carter ultimately fails for two reasons. For one thing, it’s entirely derivative. It offers nothing you haven’t seen done before, and done better. But more importantly, this film just has no hope of connecting with modern audiences.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fans are probably thinking of killing me for calling the film derivative, but it is. You’ve seen everything in this film before. The film looks just like the four-hour pod race in the middle of The Phantom Menace. The fight scenes come straight from the remake of Clash of the Titans, and Carter himself looks suspiciously like Conan. There is not a single original element or image in this film. This robs the film of any sense of grandeur, surprise or uniqueness, and in a summer tent pole film, that’s about all you have to offer.
Indeed, what this film feels like is Cowboys & Aliens, as both films are eerily similar in terms of look and feel and level of indifference. They both take place in the American West (though John Carter calls this Mars), they both feature Olivia Wilde as some alien princess who stands apart from her people (though the version in John Carter calls herself Lynn Collins), both have American Indians (though the John Carter version are green and hate the oppressive “Red Man”), both have a hero with a sort-of unexpected-by-him superpower which sets them apart from the other locals, and both pretend to have convoluted plots which really just boil down to “walk from point A to point B until the final fight. . . all dialog is gratuitous.” Both films even use nearly identical flashbacks to dead wives/girlfriends to try to create something for us to like about the duller-than-dirt heroes.

Now, to be fair to Burroughs, his novels came first. So all those other films stole from him, but that doesn’t help this film feel any fresher. And that is a problem. But the real problem with this film is actually a little more fundamental: this film just can’t connect with modern audiences because Burroughs wrote “A Princess of Mars” in 1917, and many of the ideas in it are anachronistic to us today because we know so much about Mars and because our view of alien cultures has morphed so much. Thus, a straight adaptation of the book simply won’t work today.
For one thing, the idea of an advanced culture where cities float on weightless platforms is something we have seen often by now, BUT it doesn’t make sense to us that the people who would build such wonders would live in primitive Roman-like conditions, with mud streets, togas for clothing, swords for weapons, and a complete and utter lack of any other technology. This worked for people in 1917, when the world longed for a return to a more primitive “enlightened” age, but not today when we love our conveniences. So right away, seeing people who are fundamentally more primitive than ourselves yet simultaneously have much more advanced technology strikes a modern audience as phony. They should have created a genuinely advanced society.

There are questions of physics as well. This film relies on the idea that Carter is basically a superhero on Mars because its lower gravity allows him to leap tall buildings in a single bound. BUT we’ve all seen the astronauts on the moon, which has even less gravity. Sure, they could hop around like children, but we never saw anything that would let them make laughably stupid beyond-the-horizon jumps like the ones the Incredible Hulk made in his last cartoon movie. Carter can, and that just isn’t believable to us. Not to mention that if this were the case, the people of Mars wouldn’t be shaped like us because their muscles would be about 1/100th the size, and Carter should be able to crush them with his hands. Yet, his strength seems to come and go depending on the needs of the scene. And this isn’t nitpicking, these are things that modern audiences will immediately see as fake and will have a hard time suspending their disbelief because they know better.
And while we’re talking about audience expectations, I am left to wonder why they didn’t make Mars appear red in John Carter. To the contrary, it looks like Utah. I think this was a mistake as well. For while we know that Mars does not appear red if you are standing on it, modern audiences really have been conditioned to see Mars as “the red planet.” Making it look just like Earth stripped the film of some of its uniqueness and turned the story of “Mars” into just some fantasy world, which made the references to Earth incongruous. It should have been red.

Moreover, while we’re on the issue of Earth, John Carter makes a mistake keeping the film set in the 1870s. There is simply no point to doing this because the technological or historical state of Earth is irrelevant to the film. Indeed, the introduction to the film feels like an unneeded period piece, particularly as it is entirely forgotten once he gets to Mars. And while I know some people are saying that’s who Carter is in the books, the point is that this is not made relevant to the movie and it only serves to make Carter less relatable to modern audiences, especially as he ends up looking like Conan for most of the film and never once acts like we have come to expect characters from that era to act. If he had acted like a Southerner from the Civil War era, then it might make sense to do this, but since he doesn’t, it only adds confusion and makes it harder for audiences to climb into his head. They should have made him modern.
So what you have here is a physical image of Mars that modern audiences don’t accept, a futuristic society that strikes modern audiences as laughably false, and a hero they cannot relate to because he comes from a period piece that has nothing in common with the modern world and then his period is jarringly thrown off so he can become a fake Conan. This is filmmaker negligence. This is why this film simply doesn’t resonate with modern audiences, and that’s even before you add the boredom factor of every single scene reminding the audience of some other film they’ve seen.

I’m sure there are people for whom John Carter was a great adaptation of a book they loved. But for everyone else, the film just doesn’t work. This is not a concept that will resonate with modern audiences. It is a niche film. Moreover, it’s a niche film you’ve already seen a dozen times and done better every time. That’s why this film failed.


shawn said...

I liked the movie. Can't argue with the fact that as I watched it, that I would see many instances that I had seen before, used in the various Star Wars films- most notably the arena scene which reminded me of the same in Attack of the Clones. But as has been noted, Burroughs did it first and many films "borrowed/pay homage to" his material.

My biggest pet-peeve would be that the Red Men only had red body tattoos instead actually being red.

This is a fair review, but I still enjoyed the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Shawn. I wanted to like this and I can see where fans of the book will like it. I can also see where this would have been huge if it came out before Star Wars. But it just couldn't capture my imagination.

For me, there was too much that just didn't work and too much I'd seen before -- I kept finding myself using names like Bantha and Rancor and Conan and speeder and skiff and the such. I also wish the whole film had been a lot more red.

Still, I can see where fans will enjoy it. I just don't think non-fans will.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie awhile after it was released and it was panned so I went in with no expectations at all. And I was pleasantly surprised by it, though I do think that if I saw it after being told that it was great then it would have never lived up to those expectations and I would have thought it was crap.

I've found over the years that expectations for a movie (either low or high) have an affect on my enjoyment of the movie. So I try to read as few reviews as possible and to know as little of the movie before I see it.

The Star Wars prequels would have had to of been brilliant to live up to my expectations for them, unfortunately they sucked which made it worse. But when I saw Green Hornet my low expectations paid off and I liked the movie.

Bottom line, I liked John Carter but I do agree that it could have been better with some basic and maybe some large changes.


tryanmax said...

This is a rare instance for me in which negative reviews and publicity totally killed off all interest in seeing this film. The only thing that could get me to watch it at this point is for it to show up on Netflix, which apparently won't happen until about 2016 (so I may see it then). Until then, I'll have to remain blissfully in the dark about John Carter.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I was hoping you'd take a look at this film after our last exchange. :-)

You're right - technically, there's not much wrong to it (and Lynn Collins is hotter than Olivia Wilde!). Effects, costume design, make-up, cinematography, Michael Giacchino's soaring score... it's all 99% perfect.

I think there were a few grave mistakes made along the way. There have been volumes written about what went wrong but I'll attempt to sum up a few of the problems:

-Hiring a director who had never done live-action. I'm not saying this never works - Brad Bird did an excellent job with the fourth Mission: Impossible film - but Andrew Stanton seemed to have a slight ego problem, he re-shot footage much more than other directors, and he had more say than usual re: the marketing of the film.

-The marketing was a total disaster. John Carter? Really? Someone once said that's like referring to The Matrix as Thomas Anderson. I know why they did it (he isn't "of Mars" till the end) but it was a huge mistake. They may have thought having Mars in the title would backfire, like every other recent Mars movie... but sci-fi fans also know when something's being dumbed down, and when they're being sold a bill of goods. And the ads weren't very good either - as much as I like the song, Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" was probably the wrong choice for the trailer music!

-And yes, this film was nothing we hadn't seen before. One director who was asked to helm the film (it might've been Robert Zemeckis) said something to the effect of, "Not interested - Lucas and Spielberg have already plundered from it." Sadly, if the film had been released as recently as, say, 25 years ago, we'd still be talking about it today. But today, it's old hat.

I liked the film. Some of the plot gets a bit convoluted, and I think it was a mistake to portray Carter as a total dick at the beginning...

...but in a world of endless sequels, prequels, and superhero flicks, this one could've filled the void, especially for parents looking to take their kids to a fun, relatively harmless movie. And maybe I'm reading too much into things but there was a nice, old-fashioned, non-cynical aspect to this movie and afterwards, I actually felt good.

rlaWTX said...

this is one of those that I'd like to see - just because. Even recognizing the legit critiques, I'll still watch it it when it pops up - but I won't seek it out...

(I also enjoyed watching Cowboys & Aliens...)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think expectations matter a lot. If you go in thinking something will be horrible, it's easy to be pleasantly surprised, but if you go in expecting a good movie, then it's easy to be disappointed. I went into this one expecting total crap. What I found was a movie that wasn't crap, it just wasn't at all interesting. I really struggled to care about anything going on. The characters felt cardboard and indifferent. The world felt unreal. The conflict was irrelevant to me. And the action felt like it was pro forma.

And the more I thought about it, it was all because none of it felt the least bit real to me. I think to make this movie better they needed to give Carter a genuine personality and make the world more believable... and red.

T-Rav said...

Meh. Honestly, this was not a movie I had any interest in seeing at any point. I don't know if I consciously thought this, but I think it did register in my mind as Cowboys and Aliens: Part Deux, and I had no interest in seeing that movie, either. I don't know why, but all the previews for both movies left me cold and bored.

Also, between this and Battleship, Taylor Kitsch or whatever his name is ought to sue the studios for killing his movie career right out of the gate.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I was curious just because it failed so miserably that I wanted to see why everyone stayed away in droves. So when it came to HBO, I watched. Although, with the title change to John Carter instead of John Carter of Mars I almost missed it because it sounded like a heist film.

I can't recommend this one, not even from a train-wreck perspective. If you watch it, it will be like watching the Star Wars films that take place on Tatooine... only not as good.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I actually encourage everyone to see all the films we talk about, if for no other reason than to judge for yourselves. I see our blog more like a film discussion group. :)

tryanmax said...

Andrew, maybe they should have named it John Carter of Tatooine? Of course, Disney hadn't purchased LucasFilm yet, but that simple revision alone could have probably saved it at the box office.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I was amazed thinking about this film how much Lucas and Spielberg totally plundered this film. Scene after scene... image after image... I could connect to Raiders or Star Wars. I had no idea they basically ripped the guts out of this book to make their films, but they did.

That's why I think that if you were going to make this film, you really had to modernize it and spin it. Yes, you still have Bespin and Bathas and the Rancor, but they need to look incredibly different. Similarly, if they're going to do sword fights, there needs to be some reason -- like lightsabers.

I think the title was awful. Dropping the "of Mars" stripped the film of any sense of what it was. Not that that would confuse people in this day an age, but it certainly makes you think the film lacks an identity.

He's a horrible character. He's unlikable, he has no qualities at all -- not funny, not honorable, not nasty, not anything... he's just a prop. And the idea that an equally plastic princess will fall for him is so utterly uninteresting.

I think this story can still be made, but it really required something much bolder than a straightforward telling.

I also think they focused on the wrong plot. They should have focused on the guy in the gray robe throughout and made him more menacing. At is it, he's almost just a narrator, and he's the most interesting character in the story!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I kid you not. As you watch it, you think of everything you saw on Tatooine.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The marketing for this was just horrible. I remember seeing the trailer and my first thought was "so what?" and my second thought was "what does that have to do with Mars?"

Good point on Kitsch... of course, he was pretty weak as an actor, so I guess they studio could sue him too.

rlaWTX said...

When this project was announced, I remember reading (on BH, I think) conversations about why it wasn't going to go well - and most of them centered on the idea that everyone had already plundered Burroughs work so thoroughly.

PikeBishop said...

I started watching it a few weeks ago on Showtime and it held my interest.

I think it was a case of "Waterword syndrome" with all the negative publicity. When I finally saw Waterwold, I couln't get the "Most expensive film ever"...."Kevin's Gate" stuff out of my head, and probably would have enjoyed it as a Saturday matinee movie on its own level.

I didn't mind the keeping the story in the 19th Century and, while not a fan of sword and sorcery, I do like the Jules Verne style, scientific romance/proto Sci fi genera, which I consider this to be a part of.

The writing and exposition was a bit lacking at times. I felt they explained too much at some parts and left us with big questions in others. A script doctor was definitely needed. (I still don't get the moving city thing.)

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think that is a problem for this movie, although it's one they could easily have avoided if they had tried to make their effects look different. In other words, not only is it a problem that the work had been plundered, but the visual choices they made made that worse by reminding you time and again of Star Wars. Ultimately, I think the bigger problem is that you just can't relate to the characters, the society, or the story -- there is nothing here for modern audiences to latch onto as relevant to them or believable.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, A script doctor would have helped a lot. To me, the writing had a really disconnected quality to it -- there were moments where large amounts of plot were passed between characters verbally (far too much to take in at once) and then long moments where the dialog was utterly pointless. All in all, I think the script was really poor at connecting with people.

I also think they were struggling to find a purpose to the story. They focused on Carter because he was the hero, but he's really just walking through somebody else's story. They needed to focus on that somebody else. And in that regard, the really interesting story was the immortal, but they never really gave him a real job to do in the story except act menacing.

Michael K said...

"So right away, seeing people who are fundamentally more primitive than ourselves yet simultaneously have much more advanced technology strikes a modern audience as phony. They should have created a genuinely advanced society."

That aspect does not seem to have affected people's perception of the original Star Wars with the scenes on Tatooine. Or because it is clear Tatooine is the armpit of the galaxy people don't mind seeing a street with both hover craft and draft animals.

I think that is what grates me about the Dune movie and miniseries. You have human civilization populating the universe yet it seems most people live like they are in pre-industrial socities and slavery is widespread.

P.S.: I want a post about the new Star Trek trailer!!!

Anonymous said...

Michael -

Andrew might have something in mind but I'll be discussing the trailer in this month's links article, but it won't be for a couple of weeks.

Needless to say, the posting schedule is pretty packed for the rest of this month!

T-Rav said...

To be frank, and with all due respect to the Burroughs fans (all eight of them), no one actually cares that this was story was "the first," or at least they don't care enough that they feel compelled to watch.

It's kind of like Fantastic Four versus The Incredibles. Yes, the former predates the latter by like forty years. Yes, The Incredibles did sort of ripoff the superpowers of a few Fantastic Four characters. Does that mean if you saw The Incredibles and liked it, you ought to go see Fantastic Four because it was "the first"? No. Movies and audiences don't work that way, so they won't work that way here either. (And also, Fantastic Four was a bad movie.)

LL said...

I enjoyed the movie -- what's wrong with me?

So did my kids.

I did read the John Carter books when I was in high school and found them generally interesting, but had no particular expectations for the movie. It was obvious that Disney threw a TON of money into this production.

Some of the acting (the cast from HBO's ROME - on Mars, for example) was a bit - strange. But overall, I sat through it without looking at my watch, and that puts it ahead of most of what Hollywood spits out these days.

ambisinistral said...

Where do you guys get the idea this is movie -- which is terrible -- suffers because it adheres to Edgar Rice Burroughs books?

It doesn't which, and I'm not speaking as a fanboy here, which is why the story suffers. There's too much plot grafted on to what is a silly escapist fantasy (plot summary of books: boy meets girl, girl gets kidnapped by scoundrels, boy rescues girl, girl gets kidnapped by more scoundrels, boy rescues girl, etc., etc., etc).

Since it's been nearly 50 years since I've read it I checked the plot summary at Wikipedia to make sure I was remembering it correctly and one statement they made that hit the nail on the head was calling it a travelogue that just moved from place to place until it ended.

That's what Star Wars got right when they swiped stuff from it -- the movement from one fantastic locale to another -- that was strangely missing in this movie.

In the book John Carter wasn't a metrosexual traumatized by the Civil War, he was an alpha male with a goofy Victorian sense of honor, the hots for a Martian princess and a brain the size of a pea. There weren't just two cities states in some sort of a world ending war, there were dozens of them scattered about Mars endlessly scheming and squabbling in between maintaining Percival Lowell's canals. Finally the Thern -- the guys in the grey robes -- didn't have mystical powers they were just a sect that scammed people to take a pilgrimage to their temples to enslave them.

The movie sucked because it completely missed the sense of fun in Boroughs old pulps. This movie was way too talky, over-plotted and nowhere near silly enough for its own good.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I had that same thought... "hey, he's from Rome!" LOL!

Like I say, I don't think this is a horrible film technically at all, I just think it suffers from not feeling at all original and from a few bad choices that made the film hard to connect with modern audiences.

I think the film would have been better served either by admitting it was a niche film and catering more directly to the fans of the books or by modernizing itself and trying to deal with the non-fans. As it is, I think the film never had a chance to succeed.

AndrewPrice said...

Michael, I think it didn't bother people on Tatooine because Tatooine really was portrayed as the ass-end of the universe. This was a poor farm world with sparse settlements. Everything they bought was second hand. Everything they owned was run down. It made sense, especially when you then got contrasts on other worlds and on the Imperial ships, which were much sleeker and more like we would expect in an advanced society.

But in John Carter, it really is like the only technological advance they have is floating cities or speeder bikes and everything else is stuck in 500 BC.

That is my complaint about Dune as well, the people live in primitive industrial conditions which detract from the sense that this is a real universe.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Out schedule is indeed packed at the moment. Perhaps early next year though?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think that's right. Fans will always point to their stuff coming first, and that's fine because they are fans. But non-fan audiences, general audiences, don't give credit for something coming first. They simply go based on what they saw first and what they liked best and the order it was actually made doesn't matter to them.

Tennessee Jed said...

This one has been on my DVR for a while. I got about 20 minutes into it, and was called away. At the time, my main thought was "gee this is so slow developing" but the point is, several weeks later, I have not been compelled to go back and finish it. I had never been a fan of Burroughs books (which is to say I had never read them, not that I read them and didn't like them) but was not surprised when it bombed. Your reasoning seems sound for the verdict you render. Hell, how many people really still care about a Jeremy Brett interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

I did really enjoy Taylor Kitsch in FNL as Tim Riggins. He is a strong silent brooding kind of hero in the mold of Clint Walker, and in that regard, feel he is somewhat limited in range. I can only hope he does a good job as Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, That's an interesting perspective: this film was nowhere near silly enough for its own good.

Being a more tongue in cheek film might have helped this film a lot. It certainly would have given the film character, which was lacking here.

On following the books, the film doesn't follow the books precisely on plot points, but I think it tries to keep a general feel of the books by playing it like a straight Victorian-era book. It reminds me in that regard of the Alan Quartermain books and why they never work as films either -- different worldview that is no longer accepted by modern audiences. We don't believe in lost societies anymore that all live like Ancient Greeks but have incredible power. In the 1890s they did. And when you play them to that sensibility, you just can't connect with modern audiences.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You make a good point about Holmes. Characters from prior eras, portrayed straight, are very niche properties with limited appeal. You can take someone like Holmes or Carter and make them modern and draw big audiences, but if you try to play them in an older style, it's very hard to draw an audience.

And I think in this case, the whole idea doesn't really resonate at the moment -- some guy with a sword fighting CGI creatures on Mars. No... not very interesting. That's neither science fiction nor fantasy nor will it have appeal beyond either of those audiences.

Kitsch was entirely not memorable in this film. In fact, none of them were memorable.

El Gordo said...

"And while I know some people are saying that’s who Carter is in the books, the point is that this is not made relevant to the movie..."

That´s a shame. I haven´t seen the film but I have read the book a couple of years ago. It is anachronistic, but in a way I liked. Carter´s past as a soldier is relevant in the book because Carter is a proud warrior. To be exact, a happy, ruthless killer who uses his strength without hesitation. He decides what is right, what is wrong, and then he crushes what is wrong with his bare hands. He is certainly an active protagonist, and you get the impression that he thrives in his new environment, that he is made for it in a way.

Of course, you were never going to see that in a modern movie. John Milius could have pulled it off, but there is only one John Milius and Disney wouldn´t hire him.

For a pulp novel published in 1917, the imagination is impressive. I may be wrong but I cannot remember floating cities in the book. The Martians had flying machines, advanced weapons and powerful energy sources. Oh, and everyone´s as good as naked. A good movie could have made it work for modern audiences. Based on your review, I´d say the book made more sense, in its way, than the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I think that you can read in the idea that Carter is a warrior if you want to. BUT it certainly doesn't come from the movie itself. In the movie they make him more of an authority hating rebel on Earth and then kind of a doofus who can fight when he is backed into a corner on Mars. In fact, in yet another nod to political correctness, the Princess seems to be a better warrior, which makes no sense if he has super-strength.

What also bothers me about him being a Civil War Southerner is that except for the intro, which is entirely pointless, it only comes up in one scene where the immortal identifies him as a southerner because he said "sir" -- something he never says at any other point in the movie. Essentially, once he gets to Mars, his character morphs into just some dude with a sword and the hots for a princess. It would have helped a lot if they had given him an actual characters and maintained it.

And honestly, the other characters suffer from the same problem. They're all very generic and even now I'm not sure what any of them are really after.... it's just kind of walk, fight, break up marriage, walk, fight, roll credits.

Patriot said...

As one of "The Eight" Burroughs fans.... This was never one of my favorite books of his. I still think they have never made a good Tarzan movie based on Burrough's original books.

In that vein, Robert E. Howard, a few years later, accomplished the same thing with his Conan series. In fact, I think I remember reading something somewhere that said Howard was heavily influenced by Burrough's..and Lovecraft? Anyhoo.....I would love to see adaptations of some of Howard's other characters. While Conan was his biggest hit, Kull, Solomon Kane....and my favorite 'El Borak' (Francis Xavier Gordon) are pretty complete characters too. They should make movies about these other R.E. Howard heroes and leave the 'John Carters' to lit history. Who the hell ever thought Carter would make a good film hero?!

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, That is a good question. My guess is that this project came about because the money people in this case were fans of the John Carter books, and that may have blinded them to the limited appeal of the whole concept. My guess is that they all loved the idea and they thought, "if we all love it, then there must be millions more who love it -- and look what Lucas did with the parts... this is going to be a huge hit!"

They also were probably blinded by the word "franchise" and thought that if they could make this work, they would make a billion dollars doing all the books.

In the end, this film strikes me as being created by people who didn't understand that the rest of the public would not see it the way they saw it.

T-Rav said...

Speaking of Lovecraft, has anyone read his stuff? Because I haven't, but the little I know of it makes me think he was on some high-grade cocaine when he was writing. Just my impression.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I tried reading some of it and wasn't very impressed. But it's not my style, so it's hard for me to judge.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I think that was the attitude of the director, Andrew Stanton, who was the big John Carter fanboy and who must have assumed that this universe was as familiar as the Star Wars and Harry Potter universes. He was gravely mistaken.

I don't even know if Burroughs' name was used in the marketing. It wouldn't have saved the film but it might've helped: "From the visionary creator of Tarzan..." etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's the problem when you get too close to a project -- you lose perspective and you start to think that everyone else thinks like you do. That's very common with humans.

I would think that whoever really controlled this project just was not able to realize that the public wasn't in love with this property.

Also, let me point out that a lot of people have mentioned Tarzan... I think Tarzan is another example of an anachronism. We no longer find the idea of someone raised by animals to be exotic and we know not to buy the idea that they end up growing up as superheroes -- they end up as basically retarded and deformed. So I don't think a straight Tarzan movie would work either these days.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Don't mention that last part to these people! :-)

ambisinistral said...


I think you're mistaking john Carter for science fiction when it was actually a fantasy. Audiences have no problem accepting fantasy if it is presented that way. One of the problems of the movie is that you never get the sense that the Mars of the story was a dying planet who's races were all slipping into barbarism. The movie drained Percival Lowell's Mars of its wonder, and that was a huge mistake.

And El Gordo is right -- the John Carter of the books is just a two dimensional action hero who uses his Earthly muscles to slap around anybody he declares a villain and really bears no resemblance to the whiner in the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Oh boy. I can promise you that a Tarzan movie will tank.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, I think you have a blurring problem here with science fiction and fantasy. Putting them on Mars and giving them advanced technology by definition makes it science fiction and makes people think science fiction. And that carries with it some expectations that aren't met in this film.

You are right about the film's version of Mars -- there is no wonder there. It would have helped a lot if the planet was at least visually stunning.

Mycroft said...

I have to disagree with your comment that since the movie was derivative it was destined to be a flop. Last years biggest movie was blatantly derivative - you know, Dances With Smurfs aka: Pocahontas with Upsy-daisium - yet it made a billion $$$.
As a fan of the books, I enjoyed the movie but admit it was deeply flawed. The opening narration on Mars was terrible and resulted in multiple leaps through time (that were in no way clear) to tell the story.
Start on Mars and explain the conflict between the two cities...
Jump to Earth with Carter sending a telegram to Ned and continuing until Ned starts reading the journal...
Then flashback to the old West where Carter is an a$$...
Then back to Mars where the cities are at war like in the beginning of the movie only now you find out that the movie started in the past. WTH!
I actually had a friend of mine ask if this was a time travel movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Mycroft, A film can be highly derivative and still be successful, the thing is, it can't feel derivative to the audience and still be successful. Dances With Smurfs was a direct rip off, but it didn't feel like a rip off to most people because the imagery didn't feel derivative. In other words, you weren't staring at it saying "seen that... yeah, seen that too."

Plus, I think the real sin here isn't the derivative part, though it certainly doesn't help, it's the fact the film simply didn't work with audience expectations.

If John Carter was playing with the timeline, that really didn't come across. It came across as a very simplistic "here and now" story.

Mycroft said...

That's my point. They weren't supposed to be playing with the timeline.
If you cut out the intro on Mars, you have a standard bookend story that starts on Earth with Carter "dying" and his nephew Ned learning about his adventures from his journal ... and flashback to the beginning of Carter's adventure.
And the end returns us to Ned in the "present" rushing out to the crypt, etc...
But Stanton added an introduction that explains the Martian conflict, then jumps to earth 10 YEARS INTO THE FUTURE without telling the audience.
Maybe that little detail contributed to the difficulty the audience had in suspending their disbelief?

AndrewPrice said...

Ah, I see your point. The film is assembled very strangely at the beginning. It feels like they didn't know how to start the film so they started it three times -- the narration, Ned's story and then Carter's story.

Another thing which bothered me near the end... if he really was just sending a copy of himself to Mars then why is the Earth Carter so desperate to "get back to Mars" when he's never really been there and can't actually go there?

Mycroft said...

My suggestion as simple fix to the existing movie with minimal cost:

1. Cut the introduction on Mars. Let the audience learn about the conflict when Carter does. Use the standard bookend story format.
2. Since Carter transports to Mars in a different manner than the book anyway, have Barsoom be an alternate dimension/universe version of Mars. This would also help to support his super-strength (you did realize the Carter probably influenced Superman, right?).
3. Use CGI to add color to Barsoom so it doesn't look like Nevada. Also to make the red Martians, you know, red.

If I could reshoot large chunks of the movie, I'd also change Carter into Virginia Gentleman from the book rather than the unlikeable character they used.

ambisinistral said...


That's because they screwed up a major portion of the story by making the Thern something they never were in the book. They weren't major movers of the plot with magical powers to zip here and there invisibly, there were no magical amulets and the Thern certainly never appeared on Earth. They were just another race.

In fact the only magical character in the series is John Carter. This is done because Carter would be too old as more books were cranked out so Burroughs just rolls out some hokum about Carter never aging and, since it fantasy and not sci-fi [ :p ] he never really has to flesh out the idea beyond that.

BTW, in the end of the first book, since the thern aren't much of movers and shakers in the plot, John Carter asphyxiates himself turning on some sort of atmosphere machine and wakes up back in the cave in Arizona.

AndrewPrice said...

Mycroft, I think those changes would have helped. I really can't believe they skipped "red." How do you do a Mars film and skip red???

I did realize that Carter probably influenced Superman, hence my "leap tall buildings" quip in the article. In fact, looking back at it, it's amazing how much in our pop culture might draw its roots back to these books!

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, That would explain why the whole subplot with the Thern seems so under-developed. It feels like something that either got created out of whole cloth and tacked on or was something much larger which they cut up very badly. It almost feels like it was added to support the sequel they were hoping for.

shawn said...

Tenessee Jed said- "Hell, how many people really still care about a Jeremy Brett interpretation of Sherlock Holmes."

Everyone knows that the real Holmes & Watson are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Although I do really like Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

shawn said...

Whoops, that should read Tennessee Jed said.

Kit said...


"Speaking of Lovecraft, has anyone read his stuff? Because I haven't, but the little I know of it makes me think he was on some high-grade cocaine when he was writing. Just my impression.

As someone who has read a few of his works. I'd say opium is more likely, but cocaine is a probability.
What do you know of his works?

And, Shawn, sorry, but Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes.

Mycroft said...

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are great in Sherlock, but I'm finding that I really enjoy Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in Elementary as well and possibly better. And I say that as a guy that opposed it initially due to the relocation to NYC (another tv show set in NYC, how original) and the PC switch from John Watson to Joan Watson.
I had no idea who Miller was before Elementary and had never been a big fan of Liu - not that I disliked her, I was just very meh.
However I appreciate the idea of introducing Dr Watson as a companion for recovering drug addict, Holmes. And Miller's Sherlock is neither as sociopathic as Cumberbatch, nor as frenetic as Downey's, but displays a believable combination of both.
Of course, thanks to Sherlock, both of my daughters want to see The Hobbit and the next Star Trek movie. Heh.

AndrewPrice said...

Mycroft, I knew Miller from Trainspotting and Hackers. I liked him a lot. I've always like Lui because she's different than everything else out there in the actress world. I haven't see the show though as I rarely venture to the networks anymore.

Kit, "Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes"... yeah, I feel the same.

PikeBishop said...

I find Elementary rather enjoyable as well. My pitch for it is "Monk, if he were an actual human being."

A friend finds it a combination of Monk and House "Brilliant but quirky mixed with a total F**king A** Hole."

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Old news but a free e-book was just released on Amazon about just what the hell happened to this movie.

You can find it here.

I did and it's sitting comfortably in my Kindle cloud reader next to your two books. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott! I just downloaded it and will check it out.

Kit said...

I second the talk on the titles. "Princess of Mars" is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi title. "John Carter" sounds like, as Andrew, said above, a heist film. Or an Oscar drama.

"John Carter of Mars," "Princess of Mars," or "John Carter and the Princess of Mars" would all have conveyed, at least in some sense, that the feeling of a pulp adventure film.

Post a Comment