* FILM REVIEW - Forget everything you may have heard about the movie ”John Carter”. I’ll share things about this movie (without spoiling it for you) that you’re not likely to read anywhere else. To start off, if you like adventure, if you seek beauty, if you want to be amazed, amused and inspired, then you should find a theater where this movie is showing, and see it, as soon as you can. If you don’t, you’ll be missing an opportunity to experience one of the most breathtakingly beautiful, technologically astonishing, profoundly romantic and truly sweeping cinematic escapades ever. This is the kind of movie people see several times in order to catch scenes, costumes, lines, sounds and other details that they might have missed before, due to the rich sensory experience of the film. The four people seated in front of me at the show last night, said it was their sixth viewing of the film. (It was my second).
“John Carter” is an escape into another world. It’s a lush and elegant adventure. The story is based on a book written a hundred years ago by, Edgar Rice Burroughs, who might just be the first science fiction author of all time. (the brilliant mind behind the classic “Tarzan of the Apes” series). It’s the first in a series of 11 adventure novels, about a war and world-weary, former confederate cavalryman, a strong, stubborn, tough yet broken man, who’s paid dearly any debt his society (or government) had imposed upon him.
Consequently, he seeks only solitude and wealth, through gold mining in the wild west of New Mexico, circa 1880. His prodigious skills as a soldier are so coveted, that those who would recruit him for their wars pursue him relentlessly, and his adamant avoidance of war for its own sake, is a prominent theme of the movie. “War is a shameful thing”, our hero says as the bodies of the dead are tossed upon each other, in one scene. (When was the last time you heard a hero say something like that after a battle?)
At the height of one suspenseful moment, John Carter is suddenly transported to Burroughs’ own mythical version of Mars, a sea-less planet of vast deserts, primitive as well as advanced civilizations, cities of brilliant glass and shining blue metal, as well as villages of stone built into the sides of mesas, ancient Roman-style arenas where barbarians watch alien monsters destroy each other. In the sky, steam-punk styled flying machines with delicate, translucent wings reminiscent of dragonflies, glide across the twin-mooned Martian skies. Here, he discovers abilities he hadn’t possessed before, meets fantastic creatures who challenge his body and mind…and in this strange new world, he eventually catches a glimpse of that dear and heart-rending quality in other beings, that elemental spark with the power to reignite the flame of being truly alive.
It’s a story of redemption, following classic, timeless archetypes, based on a seminal work, and the greatest, most popular film-makers of all time borrowed heavily from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic novels. If you want to see an original, from which our perceived “classics” are based (Super man, Star Trek, Dune, Star Wars, Avatar et al) then see this movie. George Lucas even paid homage to Burroughs’ work by using variations of his names for alien creatures, such as the beasts of burden “Banths” of John Carter which Lucas called “Banthas” in his films. The Siths were evil insects in “John Carter”, evil Jedi in the Star Wars films. Even the princess names, “Leia” and “Dejah” bear a similarity, as do their sexy/fun/glamorous and yes, gorgeous space bikinis.
The cast is mostly lesser-known actors, yet they make a particularly strong impression. They seem new and exciting, beautiful and mysterious. Though there is humor along with some catchy lines, there is no smug hamming it up (ala Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp) The sincerity of the lead actors, Taylor Kitch as John Carter and Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah keep the movie feeling fresh.
The character of Princess Dejah Thoris deserves praise as a noble model of feminine intelligence, athleticism, courage and strength of will, as well as exotic physical beauty. Yes, her red face tattoos, brilliant swordsmanship and electric blue eyes are amazing to behold, but the fact that she is also a scientist (a professor, in fact) yet so modest that she does not tell John Carter she’s a princess, is impressive on another level. Dejah Thoris is a woman to admire.
And some very interesting statements are made in the film. For instance, when John Carter asks the sinister, shape-shifting orchestrator of evil, Matai Shang why he doesn’t simply kill him, the shadowy figure played to chilling perfection by Mark Strong, replies, “We do not cause the destruction of a world, Captain Carter. We simply manage it. Feed off it, if you like.” He implies a power behind the throne, even a “conspiracy” of self-appointed elites who enjoy playing deadly games with the lives of others. Perhaps this theme struck a bit to close to the bone for mainstream media critics, hence the film’s unreasonable treatment and initially harsh reviews.
The film is glorious and charismatic. The score by Michael Giacchino’s is subtle and tender during romantic moments and grand and sweeping in epic scenes. It seems strangely exotic and original, at the same time familiar enough in instrumentation and arrangement that it never distracts. It manages to achieve what only a truly great soundtrack can; never to lead, cloy or follow, but gracefully and seamlessly, to enhance the story on the screen.
Above all, this timeless story is about the enduring human spirit. It’s about hope. The warrior king of the Tharks says wistfully of John Carter, “When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.” And indeed, it is this belief that fills us all with new life in our crestfallen world. It is this glimmer of hope that inspires us in our quest, no matter the odds. As our hero implores his young nephew, “Find a cause… fall in love… write a book.”