A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter (2012)

I am such a sucker for old-fashioned science fiction, adventure romps that a film would have to be quite dreadful (in the tradition of Clash of the Titans) for me to pan it. The first trailer that I saw for John Carter didn't give one much reason to hope  (the lead actor looked at first glance to be a weedy, pasty Conan the Barbarian) but subsequent trailers convinced me that there was a decent flick in there amidst all the CGI spectacle. Moreover, finding out that this was a science fiction classic penned a hundred years ago by the author of Tarzan of the Apes, sealed the deal for me.

John Carter hasn't seen much love from the critics which probably shouldn't surprise me these days. The divide between critical reception and mass popularity seems to be widening ever more. In this case, I expect it will be much the same.

OK, so I liked John Carter and probably enjoyed it more than War Horse -- the last thing I saw at the cinema. It probably helps a lot that I'm a big science fiction movie buff but honestly, I thought the film had more in common with Indiana Jones 1 and 2 than The Matrix or Star Trek. There's more than a passing resemblance to Star Wars but since the John Carter series was written way before Lucas was even thought of, it begs the question of who really is paying homage to whom.

John Carter, the titular character, is a former Confederate turned gold prospector and in this film version he's world weary and deeply embittered about the human loss he sustained during the war. On one occasion, while taking refuge from a group of hostile Apache, he stumbles onto a cave covered with extraordinary markings. His curiosity is quickly aroused so he investigates further. This incident leads him to a transportation device which immediately whisks him to the Red Planet, which the local inhabitants know better as "Barsoom".
Thus begins his adventures on Mars leading to different encounters which would change his life forever.

One of my favourite bits in this is the use of flashbacks as a way into Carter's history and personality. It's not overdone and manages efficiently to explains the fuel that stokes his anger.  The flying machines, looking like something out of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, were also very nice to look at.

Although the lead actor fulfilled the role of the action hero more than adequately, he was scarcely an acting heavyweight. It's not that he played Carter badly but his unshaven boy-next-door looks with his modern American accent often seemed at odds with the general scenery. Perhaps that was deliberate? I couldn't say but that was something that didn't sit right with me. He definitely looked a bit too young to be Burroughs' uncle anyhow. On the upside, he did have believably good chemistry with Princess Dejah Thoris.

To its credit, this film had a great deal more gravitas than I expected. Usually I expect these things to be silly and loads of fun, which it was. But there were also some heart moments too which surprised me a little. It caused me think that the people who put this together did have real respect for the source material whatever the end result.

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