Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Watcher - John Carter

I approached Disney’s John Carter with an open mind, I was a blank slate ready to be drawn upon. I had seen the trailer but this only really gave a loose idea of what the film was about, the visual elements were what brought me to see it.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is an American Civil War veteran who is worn and weary, fed up of fighting other people's battles and is searching for fortune deep within the Arizona desert. All the while being hunted down by General Powell (wonderfully played by Bryan Cranston) to be re-enlisted into the Confederate army. Carter craftily escapes several times but keeps getting brought back, when he finally manages to get free he runs right into Apache territory! Luckily he stumbles upon spiritual ground and a mysterious cave where the Apaches will not follow.

In the cave he finds the gold he was looking for and so much more... Suddenly transported to a strange planet where he’s stronger and can leap for miles. He is then captured by a green-skinned, four-armed warrior race called Tharks lead by Tars Tarkas (William Dafoe).

The world he is on turns out to be Mars, or Barsoom as the natives call it and all is not well. There is a war between the Heliumites and the Zodangans, mirroring the war that John left behind. Both tribes are humanoid in appearance and are only really told apart by their choice in red or blue coloured sash. Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) the Princess of the Heliumites is in need of a hero, and our protagonist fills that slot nicely.

Beautiful winged warships powered by light battle in the skies of the red planet - the civil war rages on. Sab Than (Dominic West) leads the evil Zondangans in the battle for the city of Helium and Dejah’s hand in marriage. The whole thing being secretly orchestrated by the Therns - an ancient race of powerful monks lead by Mark Strong’s Matai Shang.

Is John Carter the man who can stop the war, save the day and fall in love with the princess? Well it is a Disney movie! One complaint I have is that Collins as Dejah is not particularly likeable and Kitsch is rather dull as Carter. Not much of a surprise as they were both in the terrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” as Gambit and Silverfox, but I do feel that they’re assisted well by a stellar supporting cast. Some I have mentioned already but others like Ciarán Hinds, James Purfoy and Samantha Morton are all also superb.

Now you might find this blasphemous, but I didn’t know the story of John Carter was based on a series of novels! So when the credits rolled and I was informed of this fact, I decided to find out more. The American author Edgar Rice Burroughs produced a lot of work between the late 19th and early 20th Century and is mainly known for being the creator of Tarzan. He also wrote many sci-fi and fantasy works like “The Land That Time Forgot” and of course his “Barsoom” series which John Carter is pulled from.

The main problem most people will have with the movie is due to the original stories being such an inspiration for so much; a lot of what we see just feels a bit deja vu. I felt very reminded of Avatar as a lot of the main story points are the same - a man transported to another planet via an alternative version of himself, one who falls in love with the Princess and helps save their race. James Cameron even said himself that he wanted something which fitted into the Burroughs' mould. This isn’t even the first film to be based on “A Princess of Mars”; in 2009 there was a direct to DVD release of the same name starring Traci Lords!

Director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E and Finding Nemo) succeeds in creating a visually beautiful, fun, action film. One battle sequence which is cut with an earlier tragedy is excellent and shows he can also inject emotion when needs be. However I think the problem with him doing justice to Burroughs’s work is that it all feels a bit dated. Just remember its origins and what they’ve inspired over the years. So go, give it a chance and judge for yourself.

Stefan Harkins is really enjoying re-watching the classic Nineties X-Men cartoon.

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