DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton
May Contain Spoilers!
John Carter [Of Mars], is Disney’s live action version of Edgar Rice Burroughs first novel of the series, A Princess Of Mars. The film barely broke even but was considered at flop and one which Disney could hardly afford. John Carter begins as it means to go on, with its title. Originally to be named John Carter Of Mars, stupid sounding though it was, it at least gives the movie going and PAYING audience some idea as to what this was all about.
But instead, fearing any creativity and favouring marketing over all else, this film was then mis-marketed as the next Star Wars, which it most certainly is not. It is more a kin to Dune (1984), but only because it’ sandy! But so was Tatooine so there you go…
This film then makes its second blunder, by book-ending the main plot with a wrap-around story of John Carter’s death and discovery of his past adventures, on Mars. This just goes on for something like 30 minutes at either end, or at least it certainly felt like it and considering that was a 130 minute film, it only left 100 minutes for the J.C. on Mars plot.
And there was mistake number three: Western anti-hero, played by the vacuous and uncharismatic Taylor Kitsch, ends up being sent to Mars in a contrivance right out of Stargate: SG-1. But when we get to Mars, this is clearly just the same Californian mountain wasteland which we have just seen on Earth, only with a slightly yellower tint to the atmosphere. It turns out that here, Carter hand leap really high, he befriends and alien race which resembles something out of the Star Wars prequels, as does most of the look of this film, and we are exposed to a ton of clunky exposition.
We spend a lot of time learning about aliens with strange names, interacting with strange aliens in flibberdy-bod land etc… and are expected to take the city of Helium, seriously. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Science Fiction but this is precisely how NOT to do it. It just seemed stupid, contrived and highly derivative, with your mind being thrust back to Stargate (1995), Star Wars (1977) and Dune, to name bust a few.
It seemed that any and every idea was mined for this project but the visual style was bland, along with everything else. There was no chemistry between any of the leads, least of all, Carter and the Princess, but neither were we calling for any. It was just boring and a real let down. Andrew Stanton is a solid director to Pixar, with Wall-E (2008) and A Bugs Life (1998) to his name, but this was his first live action movie and it showed.
But at the same time, this was surprising because even the vast amounts of animated set pieces and production design were still pretty dull for an animator of his calabar. I feel that the pressure was on from Disney and they crushed this project. The Earth scenes, though overly long and troublesome to overall film, were shot well and it was the Martian portion which left me wanting.
I just don’t see a market for this type of film at the moment, and I would say that ever cynical Disney, in a reckless attempt to open a new franchise have just picked the first one that came up and have wasted what may have been an interesting adaptation in the future, when the time was right. But right now, it hasn’t worked.