John Carter (2012)

Alas comes the end of my brilliantly Photoshopped header photos because I’m lazy, I only have like two photos of my own face and seemingly, my colleagues thought they weren’t very good. Either way, you can read my opinions on last years Disney mega-flop, John Carter, after the jump.

In Lehman and Luhr’s Thinking About Movies, they ask “what is entertainment?”. They flippantly assert that fun may be “doing something with no socially redeeming value” (1999/2008: 101) and posit that “only the most mediocre of genre films rely entirely on conventions”. It leaves one to wonder where they’d place John Carter (Stanton, 2012) on their two sided scale between entertainment and profundity, a film void of fun, socially redeeming value, based entirely around genre conventions.

The 19th century set film tells the tale of Confederate soldier turned renegade gold hunter, eponymous John Carter. Upon the discovery a cave filled with gold, he is accosted by a bald headed Thern (Inter-terrestrial peace keeping God servers) who he proceeds to shoot dead. He is then transferred to Mars via said bald aliens magical pendant.

It’s from this point that Pixar animator Andrew Stanton’s live-action debut becomes muddled and confused. After a brief moment dealing with his increased jumping ability thanks to Mars’ low gravity, Carter stumbles upon the four armed, twelve foot, green alien Thark tribe. Though possessing a clear political hierarchy and the ability to build guns, on the contrary to this, they also throw rocks and treat their women with little respect. These are obviously the Native Americans in this ham-fisted Civil War analogy.

The “Americans” then in this metaphor come in the form of the inhabitants of rival cities Zodanga and Helium, led by Dominic West’s Sab Than and Ciarán Hinds’ Tardos Mors respectively. Impeded by a spray tan and Clash Of The Titans (Leterrier, 2010) costume knock off, Hinds is in the wrong place for an actor of his caliber whilst West treads the same bad guy territory he has before in the likes of 300 (Snyder, 2009) and Punisher: Warzone (Alexander, 2008).

Adopting almost verbatim the look of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Prince Of Persia (Disney’s other live action franchise hopeful gone sour) Kitsch makes an admirable mess of his role as Carter, handling action with ease even if he struggles to bring any weight to ostensibly emotional scenes, in which he borrows the sullen, monosyllabic grunt that Sam Worthington had previously monopolised. The film also borrows liberally from the sword and sandals kind of action those two aforementioned movies dealt in, a strangely contradictory concept when spaceships also appear in abundance.

That and many other oversights and questions seem unanswered, the brief introduction to the stories lore covers much ground in a small amount of time but does not have time to cover what is presumably a dense, fully realised universe. Visually, the film is quite striking but it’s narratively flawed from clunky dialogue to underdeveloped plot points. (For instance the Tharks are a completely alien race complete with language whereas the inhabitants of Helium and Zodanga happen to look exactly human whilst also speaking perfect English, millions of miles from Earth.)

The books upon which the film is based are now celebrating their centenary although this is not readily apparent in this crass, mega-budget unmistakably 21st century blockbuster. Had John Carter been filmed four decades ago prior to Star Wars (whose awful second Episode, Attack of the Clones is essentially, ahem, cloned by this film), a film clearly influenced by the books, then it may have been regarded as a seminal progenitor to the Science Fiction genre. As it stands, John Carter is a bland, unnecessarily dense and heavy handed piece of work. It is too similar to too many films to have it’s own identity.

– Oliver Drew.

Ollie sketch91


Lehman, P. and Luhr, W. (2008) Thinking About Movies. 3rd ed. UK: Blackwell Publishing, p.101.


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  1. Pingback: An Oliver Drew Retrospective – (Y): 1 Month On | (Y) Creatives

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