Title: John Carter (2012)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Colins, Willem Defoe,
, Samantha Morton Thomas Haden Church
John Carter is one of those films that spent a hell of a time making it to the big screen; yes my friends, this was one of those projects that was lost in development hell for years and years. Different directors took a stab at trying to get a John Carter of Mars film made without any success. The very first attempt at making a feature film out of the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories was way back in 1931 when an animated film actually went into pre-production. Unfortunately, that project never came to be. Had it come to fruition that John Carter animated feature would have been the first full length American animated film ever made, but alas, that glory would go to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). Interesting thing is that some 60 years later, it’s Disney who finally got this film made! How did it turn out after all these years of preparation?
It’s obvious that a film of this magnitude was going to need a director skilled in the use of special effects. This film was to be a huge science fiction spectacle with alien beings, and spaceships and monsters. The whole film takes place in an alien world! This wasn’t going to be an easy film to make and whoever was going to helm it had to be someone who knew a thing or two about digital effects. Before John Carter finally arrived at the hands of director Andrew Stanton, the film passed through various directors’ hands, amongst them: Robert Rodriguez, John Favreau, Kerry Conran, and even John McTiernan. I’m sure all of these directors would have made an entirely different and possibly equally entertaining film, but the honor finally fell upon Andrew Stanton, the director behind films like Wall-E (2008), Finding Nemo (2003) and A Bugs Life (1998); which by the way, are all completely computer generated animated films.
It seems that studios are now handing visual effects heavy projects to directors who specialize in computer animation films. For example, last years Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) was directed by Brad Baird the director behind such animated hits as Ratatouille (2007) and The Incredibles (2004). This idea of giving fx heavy films to directors who’ve specialized in computer animation makes sense when we take in consideration that most modern science fiction or fantasy films are now mostly made up of 75% computer animation. Just look at any modern sci-fi film and you’ll see most of the images on screen are entirely made up in a computer, I guess the Star Wars films are the best example of this. But such is the nature of the beast, and so this is a good idea in my book. The big worry is, will they pay as much attention to the storytelling and making a good/entertaining film as they will to the visual effects? How was John Carter?
The film starts out with John Carter, a soldier of the civil war who is magically transported to Mars where he finds himself in the middle of a war between two factions. The planet is being overrun by a despotic race who feeds off of the planet without thinking about the repercussions, this race only thinks about what it can take from the planet, but never about what it can do to protect it. So in comes John Carter who shows his worth to the people of Mars and suddenly finds himself leading the people into a revolution!
The film is visually dazzling; it’s epic in scope. The thing about films like John Carter (which by the way reportedly cost about 250 million dollars to make) is that they don’t come around that often and when they do, we hope to hell that all that money they spent making it was worth it. Ultimately, a film might have cost all those millions, but what we as an audience care about is if it’s a good film or not, if it speaks to us, if we can connect with it, if it entertains. John Carter to me succeeds in all these grounds. We can connect with its themes because yes, we live in a society that feeds off the planet without a care in the world for tomorrow or how our actions will affect future generations. Currently, I personally see humans as a cancer that’s spreading through this planet. All we do is take, take, take. Our society, our system is currently being run on pure greed and selfishness. The question is where will this course of action take us? What I like about films like John Carter is that they address these themes and issues, which means that we as a collective are aware of our behavior; the next step would be to actually do something about it which is what John Carter is all about, making that change happen. The idea being to stop a way of life, so that we can replace it with another that is more effective and positive for everyone; for the humans that live on the planet, and the planet itself. But of course, the powers that be don’t like that. They are making too much money the way things are now , and ultimately that’s all they care about.
The film is actually quite subversive in nature, similar to Disney’s own TRON: Legacy (2010), this is the story of a people who are being governed by selfish, greedy way of government. And same as TRON, this is the story of the beginnings of a revolution, and the birth of a revolutionary leader to lead the people. It’s interesting; this is a theme that’s been popping up in so many films recently. Hell even The Lorax (2012), a children’s film, comments on consumerism and governments that lie and abuse of its people. Obviously this is a subject matter that worries the modern artist, the modern filmmaker who often times fuctions as a siphon for societies worries. Art is a reflection of our collective worries, so it makes sense that these themes keep popping on films, it means these are the things that worry us the most right now and filmmakers are using their clout to speak up about it. I personally love the fact that Disney, such a powerful company is making films that are addressing these themes. Of course, films of this nature are immediately lambasted by conservative groups and lovers of capitalism. The media will immediately say that the film is anti-capitalist and anti-American and communist in nature. Hell, it happened with The Muppets (2011) which by the way, also happens to be a Disney film! So I think it’s safe to say that Disney is all gung-ho about sending out an anti-capitalist message to the masses, Disney after all has always been of a liberal mentality. I know, it’s kind of ironic that such a huge company, which embodies capitalism so perfectly, is putting out films that address these themes, but hey, at least they are using all that money to spread the idea of change. Things need to change, that’s really what John Carter is about.
Despite what some might lead you to believe, John Carter is an excellent film. It is an excellent production. Technically speaking, everything in John Carter screams perfection, it screams cutting edge, state of the art. The only real problem with the film is that it feels like way too many other films that came before it. The basic plot feels like a mix between Dune (1984), Various Star Wars films, Avatar (2009) and Dance with Wolves (1990). It’s that story about a guy who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a place he doesn’t belong, but eventually finds his way into the hearts of those whom he was once was an enemy to, and then he leads them to a revolution! I know, been there done that right? But I will say that John Carter does present us with enough new elements and moments to entertain anyways; even though we are treading on familiar territory. But damn, some scenes where so obviously completely swiped from previous films. One moment has John Carter riding on this bike/plane sort of thing which feels like the pod race from Star Wars: Episode I (1999). Honestly I was expecting John Carter to say “now this is pod racing!” Another scene that takes place in a coliseum, in which Carter fights these giant white gorillas feels like a similar sequence from Star Wars: Episode II (2002). One scene has a princess talking straight at the camera, a scene straight out of David Lynch’s Dune (1984).
So yeah, John Carters only flaw is that it isn’t very original at times; but at other times it completely is. I loved that whole idea that he could jump such lengths! That was a really cool concept. Mars and the society of beings we meet there, that was interesting. I also liked the fact that same as Dune, this was the kind of film that touches upon many aspects of society. John Carter is about religion, politics, society and the way we live. So the positives in my book, out weight the negatives. This is a huge spectacle of a film and it shows. You see all that money up there on the screen, ultimately, I thought it was a very satisfying film and a very well made one, just don’t expect something entirely original. But otherwise? John Carter was a damn good time at the movies, lovers of sci-fi should be happy with this one.
Rating: 4 out of 5