Posted on 3/11/12 06:55 AM
Many films go through the process of development hell, a time where no matter what effort is made, a film can never get working properly. Sometimes, it may result in the film never being made at all. John Carter is an example of one of those projects that took a very long time to get off the ground. How long, you ask? Well, consider the fact that this film could've been made more than 8 decades ago. Back in 1931, Warner Bros planned to do an animated film based on author Edgar Rice Burroughs' series of novels about the fictional planet of Barsoom (known to us as the planet Mars). Had the film been made, it probably would've been the first feature-length animated movie ever, even before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
However, this never came to see the light of day and ever since then, filmmakers like Ray Harryhausen, Robert Rodriguez, and Jon Favreau have all been attached to this project at some time or another. Now, 100 years after the character had first appeared back in 1912, John Carter has finally made it to the big screen, helmed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton in his live-action film debut... and yet the film is highly expected to be a huge box-office bomb. It's sad because in reality, John Carter actually isn't that bad of a film. In fact, it's pretty good for what it is. Granted, it still has its problems mainly in regards to its pace and writing, but it's a solid sci-fi flick none the less.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a former Confederate Army Captain from Virginia in the 1800's who one day, while hiding from Apache Indians, is mysteriously transported to the planet of Mars, known to its natives as Barsoom. Once he arrives, he gets caught up in a long-going war between the two alien races that inhabit the planet; the tall, four-armed Tharks and the human-like Martians of the city-state of Helium. Carter learns that the planet is dying as Helium's princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is being forced into marrying Sab Than (Dominic West), the leader of the city-state of Zodanga, which is apparently supposed to save Barsoom but in reality spells disaster for all who inhabit it. It is up to Carter to save the planet from the impending doom as well as figure out a way to get back home.
The main problem with the film is that it is too long. 132 minutes already is a hefty runtime for a film, but it doesn't help when it goes at a really slow pace where most of the time nothing is happening. What it needed was a couple of more action scenes, mainly in the middle of the film. For example, that scene in the trailer where Carter fights giant white apes in an arena a la Attack of the Clones doesn't happen until the later half of the film and at this point, it doesn't blend well with the current situation at hand. So not only is the pacing in the film incredibly slow most of the time, it's also really inconsisent. As for the writing, it's okay although when they 'explain' the backstory for Carter, they only show it through flashbacks and never actually dwell on it through dialogue.
While the writing isn't exactly that great, it is backed up by a solid cast. Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins both do good jobs as the leads and aside from them, the film has a fine supporting cast including Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas, leader of the Tharks, and Samantha Morton as Tarkas' daughter Sola. The biggest surprise of this film is that it also does a good job of adding humor into the film, primarily from Tarkas (who keeps calling Carter 'Virginia' because he thinks that's his name) and especially at the beginning of the film where Carter displays an 'act first, think later' approach to everything when he is meeting with a Civil War colonel and trying to escape at the same time.
John Carter isn't as impressive of a live-action debut as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was for Brad Bird and considering the possible bad box-office returns this film will get, odds are director Andrew Stanton will probably not be able to make it into live-action again after this. It's a shame because like Bird, Stanton is an incredibly talented director with a keen eye for storytelling as shown in his films Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Here, it didn't really work although he's not to blame for it. Rather, it's the source material. It's been around for decades and I believe that the main reason why this will bomb at the box office is because not a lot of people know about this series. So, all in all, John Carter is not a great movie but for a early-year 'blockbuster', it's entertaining and actually is worth the price of admission.