Saturday, May 18, 2013

John Carter

Over a year ago, when John Carter came out, it was the subject of a discussion in a producing-centered class I was taking in college. It been a financial bomb at the box office and there were several articles that talked about the project's arduous behind-the-scenes reshoots and marketing problems. As for reviews, the film received a mixed reception (if one wanted to, they could perhaps link one to the other, but more on that in a moment). During my class, a common point that was even noted in writings on the film, mentioned how this movie was clearly a franchise starter for a franchise that few were familiar with and those that weren't had no clue what the central premise was, based on the previews and trailers.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (who appears as a character in the film played by Daryl Sabara) is more famously known as the creator of Tarzan the Ape Man. He had written another series referred to as the Barsoom stories (Barsoom is the name of Mars according to its denizens) that featured a hero known as John Carter later to become known as John Carter of Mars; this film is based off of the first book A Princess of Mars. The stories had a bit of a sci-fi pulp feeling to them. It was interesting how they mixed swords and hand-to-hand combat and royalty with flying ships and alien races and a sprawling metropolis. It is probably one of the numerous influences (subconsciously or not) on Star Wars, a series that features numerous alien cultures reminiscent of some sort of familiar life style (samurai Jedi Knights, politicians on a city planet, desert traders at 'old-west' outpost). So we as an audience have seen the movies the character has influenced, therefore almost making this presumably loyal adaptation seem rather... underwhelming.

The story of the film is chock full of mythology. The introduction to it all seems long and as the movie goes on another aspect of life on Mars or a new character is explored and this happens again and again and again. Even by the end of the film, I still felt like I was being only introduced to something larger that builds and builds and builds. This left me feeling cold and emotionally distant towards the story at times and that is something that franchise movies from The Dark Knight Rises to The Avengers tend to avoid. They want us to sympathize with the characters. I'm fine with empathizing, but John Carter wants us to like him and there aren't all that many unique characteristics about him. He's the good guy who is out of his element and the movie just seems to meander from there. It's classical and simple in that way, but for all of what I just mentioned, the movie does excel at being momentarily sentimental (towards the end especially) and there are some fun moments and unique characters (Lynn Collins in particular is great to watch).

This is the live-action debut of director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E). It was mentioned how he often rethought and reshot many of his setups; discovering what he wanted on set as opposed to  before the matter. I'd hate to let press affect my understanding of the film but as someone who is always just as interested in the making of (trials, tribulations, and all), I have to wonder if that is why the project feels like it needs tighter plotting. I like how a director like Clint Eastwood or Steven Spielberg can make classical films in a modern setting, but Stanton with John Carter just seems to wander and never find an emotional through-line.