Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

John Carter of Mars

OK, ignore the reviewers--they don't get it. If you are a Burroughs fan, you should see this movie. If you like "Star Wars, "Flash Gordon," or any other science-fantasy adventures, you should see this movie. If, like me, in the '70's and '80's you scarfed up "sword and planet" novels by Leigh Brackett, Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, Alan Burt Akers, or others, you will like this movie.

We went out to see it on the 13th, and really enjoyed it. OK, it's not a great movie, but in my opinion, it's a really good movie and worth seeing.

It's been a very long time since I read "A Princess of Mars," so I can't really speak to how closely the film plot follows the book, but the general arc is there, and the adaptation seems reasonably respectful although with a few modern additions that don't detract.

In fact, it's pretty evident that the film writers and designers did a lot of homework. Carter's Martian outfit strongly resembles the way he was portrayed on the cover of the 1917 edition of "A Princess of Mars," and Dejah Thoris' costumes are much in that mold as well. (Thoris, with her kohl-lined blue eyes, black hair, and initial gold-tissue gown also gives us a homage to another desert queen, Elizabeth Taylor as "Cleopatra.")

It really requires this eras' CGI technology to do justice to Burrough's conceptions of the four-armed green Tharks, eight-legged thoats, and other Barsoomian creatures, and I am pleased to say that the designers and animators did excellent work, making the beings very believable. They just looked right. The Barsoomian cities, landscapes, and devices were similarly well done.

Decent acting all around, with good work by Taylor Kitsch as Carter, Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, and a nice supporting cast, including voice work by Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas. Mark Strong seems to be the master villain in half the films I've seen in the last couple of years, but he manages to make each one individual, and the cerebral yet active Matai Shang is a very formidable antagonist.

I have a couple of objections: the major one is to the beginning sequence, pitting Carter against the local US Cavalry, and making him out a sort of "Outlaw Josie Wales". This was somewhat saved by Bryan Cranston's performance as the ironical Colonel Powell, but on the whole was brutal, ugly, and unnecessary.

Other quibbles are mainly artistic: dialog was sometimes pedestrian, and I missed some of the classic bits from the Carter novels that could have easily been included. Finally, Burroughs more or less correctly described the "racing moons of Mars," whereas in this movie, both moons sit serenely in the sky in unlikely conjunction--an artistic decision I understand but disagree with.

Overall, excellent fun and a joy to behold. Pay no attention to those who claim it is an incoherent mash-up--they are not with it.

Recommended for all fans of classic science-fantasy and those who are still kids at heart. (And, pretty kid-friendly at that-no bad language, no sex, and minimal gore. Of course, lots of sword-swinging violence so too intense for the quite young.)

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Tags: fantasy, movies, science-fiction

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