19 March 2012

John Carter Reviewed

    In this era of one sequel too many and re-imaginings of movies that didn't need to be remade, it's a rare treat when the Action / Space Opera crowd gets a wholly original idea brought to life for our viewing pleasure. Just such an offering has been placed before us in the waning days of Winter 2012, a movie based on material so original that it's considered the Ur Space Opera, the material that Lucas, Roddenberry and almost everyone else who made a Science Fiction movie in the 20th century either stole from or found inspiring; A Princess of Mars, brought to the big screen by Disney and director Andrew Stanton as John Carter. Though crippled by a muddled advertising campaign and left to die of exposure by the critics, John Carter is a great film that you have to go see.

    NOTICE: As always with my reviews (sporadic as they are) I'm not going to dig into the plot, but I may mention things relevant to the story to make my points, so ye be warned of possible spoilers below!

  • Did you watch Avatar and wish that all those mind-blowing FX had some story substance (at least a story that we hadn't all seen at least twice before, i.e. Ferngully & Dances with Wolves)? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Did you see Clash of the Titans remade or Immortals and wish that there had been more flying ships and energy beams? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Are you a fan of Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars and always wondered what Croach the Tracker's people probably look like? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Do you like having a good time and watching good movies (see what I did there?)? Then you need to see this movie.
    John Carter, as I had so hoped in my previous post #SaveJohnCarter, lives up to my own billing as the origin story of origin stories. Giant ships locked in combat, a chemical that allows you to communicate in the native tongue, human and alien working together, weird energy beams, etc.; if for no other reason go to see the material that inspired all the other movies we love ("the ninth ray" is deliciously quaint, I must point out; very 1930's serial), but be pleasantly surprised when instead of spending two hours groaning about how you've seen it all before you marvel at how entertained you are at the majesty that Andrew Stanton has brought before you. Seriously, this guy did Wall•E, people. He knows how to tell a tale.

    Wait, what? Oh yes I did say two hours. It's not a 90 minute cartoon, folks, and the length is a blessing; there are so many fast-paced movies where the action is impossible to follow (I'm looking as YOU Transformers / Michael Bay) that it's nice to have a movie where I can tell who is fighting whom, what's going on, and I then have a few moments to consider what just happened before the next action sequence begins. This movie breathes, people. My butt wasn't even sore when it was over. You know how people complain after sitting through an unenjoyable movie that their butts hurt? Not the case here at all.

    Speaking of complaints, and before you think I'm a Disney plant (oh, for some of that sweet, sweet, Mickey Mouse money) I did have some issues with the movie. Firstly, I understand that because of budgetary, planetary alignment, and atmospheric issues they had to shoot in Utah instead of Mars, but I can control the tint of the photos I take with my iPhone on my iPhone. Are you telling me that in a movie where a goodly chunk of the characters are eight foot tall CG warriors with four arms, green skin, and tusks (so life-like; uncanny valley stuff, seriously) that they couldn't make the ground more rust-colored, nor the sky a little pinker? That would have been nice and not taken me out of the moment when Captain Carter gets himself teleported to Mars.

     Update: I conditionally retract this statement, because of this YouTube video: http://youtu.be/Q7UL8hvlk7k

    Speaking of being taken out of the moment, there's the soundtrack; specifically the orchestral music (the sound effects were pretty cool, especially the sound the little one-man flyers made. I want one of those, with all the levers and so forth). You spent so much on CG Thark that you couldn't afford a composer with an idea for an original melody? With a long weekend, a case of Red Bull, and Domino's on speed dial I could put together a more inspiring theme for the soundtrack on my iPad. I don't mean to imply that John William's Superman theme should have blared at us every time Captain Carter leaps into the sky (am I the only one to think that Superman's original power set was inspired by this?), but a compelling musical score adds a deeper layer to the cinematic experience. This score felt like Michael Giacchino was doing Stanton a favor, checking a box off on a list of "Stuff We Need To Make Movie". Giacchino brought us the score to The Incredibles, which I love, so we know he's talented. Maybe Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, et al have forced me to expect it, maybe I'm biased in favor of memorable brass lines because of my own instrument of choice, but the absence was noticeable to me. Obviously these are forgiveable omissions, and if John Williams has taught us anything it's that you can always go back and fix it later and then re-release it into theaters because we'll go see it!

    The fear, as I stated in #SaveJohnCarter, is that by failing to be a mega-blockbuster Disney will not only refuse to make the rest of the Barsoom novels into sequels, but that Disney and other studios won't want to take a chance on any new ideas (yes I see the irony) in the future. One hopes that once enough of us get the word out that this is a good movie that Disney might change their metal and their hearts, because I'm working on a novel that I think would be an awesome Sci Fi film, and I'd like to option it. I mean, GO SEE JOHN CARTER!

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