Saturday, March 17, 2012

JOHN CARTER (2012)

Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon



Directed by Andrew Stanton



Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. March 10, 2012  8:45PM



"Tarzan of The Apes" first appeared in print almost one hundred ago and was an immediate success. He is the creation of writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs and was later made even more popular through a variety of films and television programs but Mr. Burroughs created another intriging character a year before. John Carter, a human who is transported to Mars and becomes a hero to the natives of the red planet, began life in a serial called, "Under The Moons of Mars" in a pulp magazine and was later published as a novel entitled, "A Princess of Mars" only after the success of Tarzan. Although Carter would appear in comic books and there have been many attempts to bring him to film, both in live-action and animation, but nothing was ever able to get off the ground.

Now, the character is finally getting it's due with a big screen extravaganza with Disney spending a whopping $250 million dollars to bring him to life. Hoping for a bright new franchise but unfortunately "John Carter" fails to make a memorable first impression.

Set shortly after the end of the Civil War, Edgar Rice Burroughs (a homage to the author, played by Daryl Sabara) has been informed that his uncle, John Carter has passed away, leaving behind his vast fortune to his nephew. There is also a journal that Edgar is instructed to begin reading immediately and soon discovers his uncle's secret past.

Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, was a Confederate captain who went AWOL because he no longer wanted to take sides but he is captured by Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) of the Union Army. Carter manages to escape and is chased by the army but then they must team up to battle a group of Apache Indians. Powell is injured but he is rescued by Carter and they hide inside a cave.

An imposing bald man in a white robe, who is called a Thern, appears before them but Carter doesn't hesitate to take him down. Noticing a strange medallion belonging to the Thern, Carter touches it and is transported to another world. He is greeted by a group of large, green, four-armed creatures named Tharks who are about to exterminate him but because of the planet's gravity, John Carter is able to leap great distances and has super-strength. Impressed, the leader of the Tharks, Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) captures Carter but spares his life.

Carter soon realizes that he is on the planet, Mars which is called Barsoom here. There has been a long battle raging between the human-like people of Helium and Zodanga but they want to call a truce which would require the Prince of Helium (Dominic West) to marry the Princess of Zodanga (Lynn Collins). The Prince, however, secretly plans on using the marriage to overthrow Zodanga with the help of the Thern leader (Mark Strong).

The Princess refuses to be used and runs away. Carter, who has escaped from capture, saves the beautiful Princess from harm but doesn't want to get involved in the messy politics of these two waring cities. Will the Princess be able to convince John Carter to join her cause to be allowed to marry for love?

This is the first live-action film from Andrew Stanton who previously directed the delightful Pixar animated films, "Finding Nemo" and "WAL-E" so, I'm very surprised at how bland and uninspired "John Carter" feels. The film has a few brief, entertaining moments during some of the bloodless battles and chase sequences but it feels overly long and burdened with lame and clunky dialogue. What is glaringly missing is a certain amount of fun and good humor which is what made Mr. Stanton's animated works so successful. Perhaps the film would have worked better in animation as Mr. Stanton seems to be restrained by the limitations of flesh and blood performers.

At least these martians don't have antennae coming out of their skulls but because the filmmakers have chosen to stick closely to Mr Burroughs' original vision, the film's production design still tends to look cheesy and dated. The problem is that the world has changed considerably since the book was first published and to not advance the technology for a modern audience was an error in judgement. "John Carter" has ended up looking like a bizarre cross between "Conan The Barbarian" and "Star Wars" which is not exactly how I would seriously envision life on the third rock from the sun.

Mr. Kitsch, better known for his role in the television series, "Friday Night Lights", has been anointed this year's next big thing as he is headlining not only this film but another ridiculously expensive, fingers crossed blockbuster with this summer's "Battleship". I'm not familiar with the young actor but after viewing him in action, I'm just not seeing the appeal. He certainly has all of the physical attributes required for the role but instead of him carrying the film, the film seems to be dragging him to the inevitable finish without Mr. Kitsch being able to leave much of an indelible mark. Ms Collins fares slightly better as the plucky princess but is still left with not much to do besides looking fetching while holding a sword and wearing very little. Some talented actors make appearances in front of (Ciaran Hinds, James Purfoy) and behind (the voices of Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church) the camera but none are not used to their best advantage.

"John Carter" and "Avatar" share a similar fantastical plot, spectacular visual effects and just about the same amount of crazy cash to create them but while James Cameron's film became a cultural phenomenon and mega financial success, it's safe to say that "Carter" will not even come close to sharing a similar fate. One possible reason? Mr Cameron spent a lot of time and energy making sure his project was the best it could possibly be while "John Carter" comes across like the filmmakers spent most of the money on strippers and booze, then took a long weekend to throw the film together with the left over dough.