Wednesday, March 7, 2012

John Carter Review

What's up Internet?  The Bearded Bullet is here to discuss his thoughts on the film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom book series, John Carter.  The first book written by Mr. Burroughs was way back in 1912.  After the film version its insane to think about how forward-thinking he was in terms of the technology and ideas present throughout.  I'll admit that I have never read any of the books, nor had actually never knew of their existence until the film was announced several years ago.  I enjoyed both trailers and held out hope for the film.  Many accused John Carter of borrowing from beloved franchises such as Star Wars or Avatar, when in fact, those very franchises borrowed from the Barsoom series from a century ago.

For those unaware of the series (as I was), the title character, John Carter, is a former Confederate solider from Virginia who is searching for a cave full of gold in the deserts of Arizona in 1881.  After being arrested and conscripted into the Arizona cavalry, John escapes, finds his cave, and by a series of interesting events winds up teleported to the surface of Mars.  Without going into too much detail, John becomes embroiled in a three-way Martian civil war that threatens to bring the entire planet to its knees.

For its time, this plot is insane.  Its difficult to attempt to view this film for what it represented a century ago rather than what it means in today's cinema.  That said, the story, on the whole, is a fairly refreshing take on the reluctant-hero trope found in plenty of films.  Its is an amalgamation of numerous film franchises: mix Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and Cowboys & Aliens (I know...woof) and you get John Carter.  And I'm actually okay with that.  The problem is that had I been completely unaware of this film's source material I probably would feel completely different.  And I fear that filmgoers may either stay away because of that fact or leave the theater feeling cheated.  Especially when some of the imagery of the film seems to steal directly from Star Wars Episode II - the arena scene in particular.

There is very much to like about this film.  The visual effects are stunning; however they did it, I actually felt that John was on Mars rather than a green screen set or a desert in Utah.  The fidelity of the effects is truly staggering.  A good two-thirds of the cast is wholly CG and they looked fantastic.  I would argue that the effects are on par with and at times surpass those of Avatar (which, to me, is the gold-standard for digitally-created characters).  I had some reservations going in about how realistic it would look to have John bounding around on screen (considering the gravity on Mars is much less than that of Earth) but again, I completely bought that he was jumping hundreds of feet at a time and killing foes with ease.  John Carter raises the bar for what motion-capture should be.

The characters outside of John and possibly his love interest, Dejah (played by Lynn Collins) don't get all that much attention.  You, as the viewer, are thrown into this world embroiled by conflict as much as the protagonist is.  We don't get to know the main villain, Sab (played by a wonderfully devious Dominic West), much at all outside of him being a totally evil dude.  The rest of the cast is treated in the same manner; they all put in great performances but don't get treated very well in terms of actual character development.  However, taken into context of John himself and what he's going through one could excuse such neglect.  Being thrown into this chaotic, new world, John would be just as confused as we are and might not have time to get to know the people around him.

That leads into my main complaint with the film - I was very confused for a good majority of the run-time.  Names, titles, and places are being thrown around like nobody's business.  For instance, the word for "leader" or "king" was being used to describe two different characters; I initially thought that the word was the name of Cirian Hind's character, Tardos, and was very confused when it was used to refer to Willem Dafoe's Tars.  And for the record, I had to look up all those names on IMDb.  Even though most of them are used numerous times throughout the film, its difficult at times to understand what the characters are saying, even when the dialogue turns into English.  John Carter is one of those films that it would be beneficial to see twice.  Because its awesome and because its confusing.

Along with the visual effects John Carter gets two other things very right: action and comedy.  JC is a much funnier film than I would have anticipated.  Its not a comedy by a long shot; rather, it has a light-hearted feel to it that felt similar in tone to something like 2008's Iron Man.  Great action, good laughs, but can get very serious when it needs to.  Speaking of action, JC has some excellent set-pieces.  The digital effects really shine during these elaborate sequences and the camera floats around with ease, providing some breathtaking cinematography.  The opening shot alone was a sight to behold.  Going back to that "serious" part that I mentioned - John Carter has some pretty heavy emotional stuff going on.  There's one scene in particular, during a large fight, that gave me chills - its one of the most moving and impactful moments of the film and of any film I've seen in quite awhile.  The tonal shift was handled with aplomb and felt quite genuine.

I could keep on going about how much I loved John Carter.  I think it must be mentioned that this was Andrew Stanton's first live-action film.  He, along with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol's Brad Bird, is a Pixar man, having directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E previously.  Both John Carter and MIGP hit grand-slams as being first-time-live-action directorial efforts.  I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys well-made action/adventure films.  I saw JC in Imax 3D and I would highly recommend that experience; the 3D was quite good and the visuals are gorgeously stunning on the large screen.  John Carter is, so far, my favorite film of 2012 - I cannot wait to see it again.  And one last thing: Woola is the most adorable alien-dog I have ever seen.

John Carter is a stunningly well-made action/adventure film that needs to be seen.

Bullet out.

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