Full disclosure: I had no intention of seeing John Carter in the theater, and I certainly had no intention of seeing it on opening night. But, a friend was all “What are you doing Friday?” and I was all “Nothing, what’s up?” and she was all “Wanna see John Carter?” and I was all “Yeah, okay. Why not?” Long story short (too late): I’m glad I did.
I’m a fan of a pulpy space opera–whether it’s Star Wars, Flash Gordon, or Farscape (all of which owe their existence, in one way or another, to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series)–and John Carter delivers a pretty pulpy and splendidly spacey opera. The movie captures the very essence of pulp fiction: a thrilling, action-packed adventure.
I’m a fan of prosthetics, animatronics, and various and sundry other practical effects, so I was worried that the CG effects would be overwhelming, like the opening space battle in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; however, they whelmed just the right amount, like pretty much every second of The Lord of the Rings. Of course, like Tolkien’s epic, I don’t think you could have done Burroughs’s story justice without computer effects.
John Carter–like the novels on which it is based–combines aspects of sci-fi, fantasy, romance (in the classic sense) and westerns. Like the novels, John Carter is a frame story, introducing us to Carter through his “nephew” Edgar Rice Burroughs, who inherits Carter’s journal upon the titular character’s death. I imagine this might strike some audience members as being a bit twee, but you have to remember it was a common literary device at the time–for example, The Shadow stories were said to be factual accounts “told to” Maxwell Grant by the Shadow.
John Carter of Virginia was a cavalryman in the Civil War; when hostilities came to an end, Carter headed west with a desire to find his fortune and live out the rest of his life in peace. Events conspire, shenanigans occur, and Carter finds himself on Mars…which, coincidentally, resembles the United States that he just left–there are two warring Red Martian city-states vying for dominance, while tribes of nomadic Green Martians control the wilderness. If you’ve ever seen a western, you know that the one man who wants to be left alone is the guy who’ll end up right in the middle of things when shit goes down. There’s also a princess, who’s a scientist and pretty good with a sword (okay, you don’t often get that in a western).
John Carter has everything: action, laughs, the aforementioned sword-wielding scientist princess, Taylor Kitsch in a loincloth reenacting the scene in Return of the Jedi when Leia escapes from Jabba the Hutt and blows up his sail barge. Basically, I’m already looking forward to the day John Carter comes out on DVD.
(True story: the only problem I had with the movie was finding out that the voice of Tal Hajus was Thomas Haden Church and not Lance Henriksen.)