John Carter

13 03 2012

If you liked Avatar and Star Wars, then you might like John Carter. While it’s not as good as either of those movies, it heavy-handedly tells an epic story about a 19th century Civil War veteran’s trip to Mars.

The storyline is actually adapted from a series of eleven books by a man named Edgar Rice Burroughs. Published in 1917, Burroughs’ work is considered the forerunner of many modern science fiction stories. His first novel, called A Princess of Mars, forms the basis for this movie.

As you may have guessed from the title of the book, John Carter is set on Mars. In the movie, the characters call the planet ‘Barsoom’. It stars Kelowna-born Taylor Kitsch as the title character, a former Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a strange cave in the deserts of 19th century Arizona. Instead of finding gold nuggets, he finds a key that takes him to Mars.

Conveniently enough, Mars and 19th century Arizona are not all that different from one another. At least, not at first glance. They’re both dry, barren deserts that seem devoid of any major settlements.

However, it doesn’t take long for John Carter to meet up with a group of twelve-foot tall barbarian aliens with four arms called the Tharks. Just like the Anasazi in Arizona, these aliens have carved a dramatic looking city out of the sides of a cliff.

That’s not all that the Anasazi and the Tharks have in common. They’re also being pushed out of their land by white men with frightening technology. The two human cities on Mars have been battling for thousands of years, and a dangerous new technology threatens to give one group the upper hand.

John Carter arrives just as this battle is reaching its climax. One group has proposed to end the conflict by marrying a princess (Lynn Collins) to a prince. This seems like a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but, as the movie explains, one group has hidden intentions that threaten to destabilize the planet.

John Carter eventually gets wrapped up in this plot and makes an effort to rescue the princess from her unwanted marriage.

The plot shouldn’t be difficult to follow, but something about the storytelling makes it so. Some key aspects of the plot – like what exactly this strange new weapon can do – are never fully explained. None of the villains are ever fleshed out, and it’s difficult to figure out the reasoning behind many of the characters’ actions.

Fortunately, the storytelling is overshadowed by some fantastic visuals. The human and alien societies are especially interesting to look at. Stunning panoramas reveal massive Martian cities set against the desert background. Unfortunately, these societies are never investigated as fully as in movies like Avatar.

Releasing the movie in 3D was a poor decision. It is used so subtly that it never really adds anything to the movie. And, to make things worse, 3D tends to make many scenes appear darker than they actually are, as if viewing the movie through thin gauze.

This is particularly noticeable in any scenes that take place at night. And unfortunately, some of the most intense moments of the movie occur at night, making it difficult to follow the action. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good 3D movie, and after watching John Carter, I still think that 3D has a long ways to go before I start to like it.

Like most Disney movies, John Carter has some cute and funny moments, as well as several thrilling action sequences. However, the storytelling and dialogue always seems to miss the mark.

Ultimately, the plotline behind John Carter seems interesting and epic. Unfortunately, Disney’s take on it doesn’t quite live up to the standards it sets for itself. The fantastic visuals and otherworldly setting can’t make up for poor dialogue and heavy-handed storytelling, and John Carter needs a few major tweaks before it can compare itself with films like Star Wars or Avatar.

3 stars out of 5