It’s a tricky business out there, trying to introduce a new science fiction or fantasy character to the cinematic masses. Once they finish the movie they’ll ask many questions in regards of it’s entertainment factor, visual effects, music, story and characters. If you mess up on one of those, it’s really hard to stay focused on the plot sprawled out on the monstrous screen. That’s the big dilemma that Andrew Stanton’s “John Carter” falls into, and that’s whether or not they manage to hit all of those marks that are listed above and not misfire. Sadly that’s not the case.
Some of you may remember “John Carter” either by the beautifully painted images done by Michael Whelan or the gripping stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. For the rest of you, let’s refresh your memory. The story of “John Carter” centers on a Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) who, by a stroke of fate, ends up being transported from Earth all the way over to Mars, known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. There he runs into fearsome creatures that he would only imagine running into during his wildest dreams and encounters a beautiful woman, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) the princess of Mars, who’s on the edge of desperation to find a strong enough person to save the planet. It’s a wonderful premise, filled with mystery and the strong possibility of adventure. So now the question is how could “John Carter” turn into a miss rather than a hit of a movie.
First, let’s go through it’s good points. Despite what some people may argue, the visual effects are pretty outstanding. You can see where a nice percentage of the budget went, and that should be taken as a compliment in the highest sense. There are one or two instances where the lighting on a human character doesn’t match exactly with the overall lighting layout for the world surrounding him / her, but it’s forgivable when you’re comparing to other scenes like when Dejah and John both enter the temple that further confirms that the Civil War veteran is not from Barsoom.
Since we’re on the topic of visual effects, there are a couple of scenes where you’re not sure where to look, which brings us to the direction. Andrew Stanton is one of the staples for Pixar, proving his skill behind the camera by churning out such classic CG-animted movies such as “Wall-E” and “A Bug’s Life.” You would imagine, with a fantasy world of this proportion, that the director wouldn’t have too hard of a time displaying not only the vastness of this new world but properly conveying a story from the script to the screen. Unfortunately he shows off the majesty of Barsoom but his direction is at times messy and hard to follow. It feels like he doesn’t find his rhythm until nearly over halfway through the story line, and by that point audience members such as myself have tuned out.
Speaking of tuning out, we bring up the subject of Michael Giacchino, a well-established composer who’s been friends with the Disney family for awhile. The man is one of the best composers out there, creating memorable scores for such movies as “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Star Trek” and even the recently released “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” One would immediately think that his score for “John Carter” would be an immediate home run but turns into a strike instead. The score is too reminiscent of Marion’s Theme from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It’s understandable as to why modern day filmmakers, composers or what have you would lightly honor and mimic something done from one of their inspirations, but Giacchino’s main score hits a little too close to this particular theme to the point of where it’s just flat-out distracting. Love the guy, he’s a wonderful composer, but it doesn’t make the outstanding score mark this time around.
Now we get into the actors, one of the main backbones of the entire production. For some movie-goers, the film makes or breaks depending on their performances. One would have their concerns about Taylor Kitsch if they’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights.” For all they know, he’s just that random guy who was flinging around kinetic energy for a few minutes in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” In “John Carter” he does show a bit of acting range, but between the slightly sloppy editing and beginning story line it’s hard to see that at times. It’s no fault of Kitsch’s, it’s just that we don’t really get to see what he’s capable of until the second half of the time. Lynn Collins is fairly strong in her portrayal of an exotic princess who’s got tougher skin than one would believe. Everyone else is on-par with their acting talents but nobody comes off as spectacular.
The story is interesting enough, along with the editing choices, but both end up as a bad combination during certain parts, especially the prologue. You don’t want movie-goers sitting through the first fifteen and last ten minutes of the movie trying to decipher what they were just shown and explained through voice-over all at once. A movie should have enough verbal exposition to lead the audience in the right direction yet at the same time have enough action, proper direction and strong actors to convey that well enough that it merits no oral explanation. If there was one part of the overall movie that was the weakest, the editing and jumbled pieces of plot point are such. Still, the concept of their being an entire civilization on Mars is great, and once the movie finally finds it’s legs it’s outstanding. Unfortunately it takes awhile to do so. If they had shaved off the first fifteen minutes and gradually explain to us some of the events that are going on in Barsoom then it could have been better.
Lastly, let’s touch upon the 3D. Plenty of major movies subject themselves to the gimmicky third dimension in theaters in order to enhance the film watching experience. However, the 3D doesn’t really help out at all in “John Carter.” Why? Because you immediately forget that you’re wearing the 3D glasses five minutes in. The 3D does nothing amazing and is easily forgettable. If you do plan on seeing “John Carter,” save an extra couple of bucks and don’t watch it in 3D.
“John Carter” suffers as a movie that has a group of people whose heart is in the right place, wanting to successfully execute a stellar science fiction / fantasy story but trips over it’s own shoelaces in the overall execution. It’s unfortunate that the movie doesn’t find it’s cinematic footing / picks up until the second half of the movie. If it were like that in the first place, some of us would be singing a different tune.
Direction: C –