Ever since humans tilted their heads toward the stars, they gazed in amazement, wondered what was up there, and became obsessed with it. Sometimes the home of sun gods, monsters, or anus-probing aliens, cultures switched from worshiping these strange sky objects to creating fictional tales using the awe-inspiring space setting as a backdrop. Though Disney’s John Carter is Hollywood’s latest take on space science fiction, its history goes far deeper.
John Carter is the story of a former confederate Civil War captain who has no interest in rejoining the fight. After a polite persuasion that involved being pummeled, beaten, and thrown into a jail cell, Carter returns and ends up being chased into a cave. This cave turns out to be a gateway to the stars and Carter yet again gets sucked into an even bigger battle, but this time with aliens. Groundhogs Day in space anyone?
Science fiction fans who are unfamiliar with John Carter may be quick to call it a rip off of classics that they have grown up with such as Star Wars, Star Trek, or Stargate. However, John Carter originated as the book “A Princess of Mars” released in 1912 that inspired the genres and concepts that would later be plastered all over our walls for generations to come. The ways that similar scenes are filmed, such as gladiator type fights, space battles, and teleportation, will be difficult to watch without making comparisons to the films that viewers saw first, but going into the film well aware that the book existed far before many of us were alive should help ease those concerns.
As the story combines both the 1800s and a futuristic space scenario, feelings of exploration and adventure drive the film. Audiences experience this strange alien territory alongside John Carter ever step of the way. However, a viewer familiar with the more technical thought-out science fiction will find problems with some of the action. For example, the way that John Carter shows the differences between gravity on Earth and Mars is absurd. At first, Carter stumbles around and falls as he re-learns how to walk — a logical depiction of what would happen when getting used to a different gravity. However, this scene sets up a jump mechanic that makes Carter seem like a superhero who would put Nintendo’s Mario to shame. He is soon jumping miles through the air at trajectories that are just as precise as they are stupid. Let’s not forget about Civil War Carter also being able to fight off an unfathomably large hoard of aliens by himself and killing every single creature on the battlefield no matter how fierce or advanced. What’s sad is that the alien races, space technology, and even interplanetary rapid travel are all presented at a believable level, but this jumping and fighting prowess is so outlandish that it breaks the illusion.
When the 3D in the film worked, it made for some visually stunning moments. However, the 3D was most noticeable during the 1800s Earth scenes as compared to the alien space battle Mars segments. The 3d doesn’t add enough to warrant wearing the glasses. Also, the computer animation appears quite realistic, is not used excessively, and helps tell the story rather than attempt to dazzle audiences with pointless special effects. Viewers will also notice Pixar’s influence as the film contains one of the cutest chubby dog aliens to ever grace cinema — it’s part Jabba the Hut, part bull dog and downright adorable. (Expect an action figure and Plushy to be in a store near you soon if the movie does okay). Though the film seems to be targeted toward a younger demographic and does not feature ethical or societal issues that can take a science fiction film to the next level, the humor can also appeal to many different types of people. One example includes a miscommunication about John Carter’s name when he says that he’s from Virginia state and an alien calls him Virginia the rest of the film — a humorous routine, no doubt, though it may be used a few times too many.
John Carter could have been an excellent film if handled in a slightly different way. At two hours and 15 minutes, too much of that is ludicrous jumping. While not a bad adventure in any way, the inconsistency of the realism, 3D, and a few vague storytelling moments prevent the film from fully taking off and joining the classic films that this tale helped inspire. It’s an enjoyable space adventure with a solid story, though not bound to be a memorable film classic. Until perhaps, the sequels come out.
Matt the Movie Analyst’s final verdict: 7/10